August 21, 2013

An Interview with Dave Otte: The Bud Clark Commons

By Nigel A. Fenton
Dave Otte, the architect behind the Bud Clark Commons in Portland, Oregon. 

I recently sat down with my fellow alum from The University of Texas, architect Dave Otte, and asked him a series of questions about his award winning building 'The Bud Clark Commons'. In 2013 the “Creating Community Connections” award was given to Holst Architects by the American Institute of Architects and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for its altruistic attempts to alleviate the homelessness problem in Portland, OR. The Bud Clark Commons is an eight story building located in downtown Portland that provides health, shelter and counseling to help people transition from living on the streets and into a permanent home. It's a huge endeavor to tackle such a major issue facing our society but to attempt this with a building design is an even greater task. To get a better understanding of how such an project was tackled I asked Dave a few questions about the process.

Nigel: Were there any design sacrifices made to accommodate for the function inside the building?

Dave: The functions define the design of the building and the facade is a reflection of the interior functions. The windows are shaped differently in order to accommodate the small living units. Originally the design asked for a full block building built of wood. It also included retail on the bottom floor facing 6th st. However, the design was changed so that only half the block was built up. So, rather than wood, concrete was used because the building height was increased beyond the structural capacity of wood. The retail was then removed since it was no longer necessary.

How was information gathered that informed the design of the building and how influential were the occupants in the design process?
The research process focused on meeting the context, providing safety and making a good design. We looked at precedents that included: The Blanchet House, which is nearby; The Austin Resource Center For the Homeless, where we got the idea for an art studio and passive security that provides a line of site between the workers and the occupants; LA and Seattle were two other cities we looked at as well. We noticed that commonly cueing will occur around this type of project, so our design accommodated for that but also provided a welcoming environment.

How does the Bud Clark Commons fit into the Holst portfolio? Are there any plans in the future to design similar building?
Locally Holst is designing a similar building that has a service function on the ground floor and housing above in the Elliot neighborhood of Portland. It's meant to help treat for drug and alcohol abuse and will include 32 apartments above it. There's also another project with a similar mission in Gateway that teaches seniors how to use transportation. However, I suspect that privately owned facilities like Bud Clark will start popping up in the near future.

Have you been back to the Bud Clark Commons building since its completion to check how it's performing?
I actually live nearby it so I pass it everyday. I visit at least once a month. Every six weeks the design team will host dinner for all the occupants. This was originally a way to get everyone involved but has become a tradition that we've continued. The building is performing very well. We did have to upgrade the grey water system though. You'd be surprised at the things people will flush down the toilet. It probably would have been wise to install a bank of Toto toilets.

The Bud Clark Commons, designed by Holst Architects

As our meeting began to wrap up I had to ask Dave the most important question I had for him:

So, looking ahead to the Fall who do you think Mac Brown will choose: David Ash or Case McCoy?
(Laughs hysterically) I think David Ash proved himself in the Alamo bowl. That beat down on the Beavers should prove that he's the better quarterback. It helped that McCoy didn't show up. I guess he was busy watching someone else.

Nigel is a student at the University of Oregon studying for his Master of Architecture degree. You can see his work on his website


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