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Drastic Rebuild Resurrects Graves' Landmark Portland Building
Engineering News Record
Troy, Michigan, USA
Media, Engineering
Nadine M. Post
Date Published: 
Historic Landmark, Renovation, Restoration, IPD, Portland, Oregon, Postmodernism
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2020-08-21 20:53:25
2020-08-21 21:01:03
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James Esing/JBSA
Fifteen minutes into a 105-minute job interview for the $195-million overhaul of the long-troubled Portland Public Service Building in Oregon’s largest city, owner’s rep Mike Day threw a curve ball to the unwitting design-build team of Howard S. Wright Construction Co. and architect DLR Group. Already hard at work solving Day’s first faux crisis scenario—a budget buster that threatened the viability of the makeover of the notoriously dysfunctional landmark—they had to regroup.

Designed by the late Michael Graves and considered the building that solidified the postmodern movement in architecture, the leaking 15-story icon—colorfully whimsical on the outside but dubbed the tallest basement in the world because of its dark and dreary interiors—had persistent envelope failure problems that started five years after it opened in 1982. It also had antiquated structural and mechanical systems.

"The project had a lot of moving parts and things to figure out,” says Todd Miller, vice president of operations for Balfour Beatty Construction, doing business as HSW.

That’s why Brenes-Morua, Wells and Day knew they also needed a special type of project delivery, not construction management-general contracting normally used by the city.

In 2015, based on studies of all the failing building systems, the city decided to fix the building rather than raze it. That was the signal for Brenes-Morua to research a contracting approach never before used by the city.

Called progressive design-build by the Design Build Institute of America, DBIA’s twist on conventional design-build involves progressive contracting. Under the model, the design-build team is engaged one phase at a time. If the team meets its targets for one phase, it proceeds to the next.

“The city could stop us along the way if we were off schedule or off budget,” says Miller.

The city needed—and was granted—an exemption from the state legislature to use the method. All state and city approvals were in place by the end of January 2016.

In anticipation, Brenes-Morua had already received permission from the city to first hire an owner’s rep, rather than an architect. Day CPM provided “another set of experienced eyes and ears” for the city, she says.

As the city’s manager of the all-but complete makeover, Wells knew progressive design-build was important. But it was not enough. “I felt very strongly that we needed collaborative design-build” delivery, with progressive contracting, she says.

Collaborative Design-Build
Collaborative design-build also incorporates the building team behaviors of Lean Integrated Project Delivery. "We were incentivized to succeed, truly in the spirit of IPD,” but without the multiparty agreement, says Miller.

The guaranteed maximum price was eventually set at $147.3 million. “If we were under budget, we got the opportunity to share 50% of the savings with the city, up to a certain amount,” he adds.

Scott Bevan, principal for the MEP consultant, PAE Engineers, is a big supporter of collaborative design-build because it offers a forum to allow people to do what they do best.

The hybrid delivery model worked. The project, substantially complete last December, came in “several-million dollars” under budget, says Wells.“It was absolutely successful,” adds Brenes-Morua. “I don’t think we would have the facility we have today had it not been for the delivery strategy,” she adds.

Wells adds, “it’s a fantastic methodology if you have hurdles and know you will need to problem-solve.” For a straightforward project, “you don’t need it,” she says.

It was no secret that the makeover of the Portland Building was anything but straightforward. The project had “a lot of potential barriers” beyond its leaking concrete exterior walls, says Wells. “This could have had some really bad outcomes,” agrees Day.

Before beginning the reconstruction, HSW-DLR Group was charged with evaluating, based on cost and schedule, whether to relocate the city’s 1,300-person staff to leased space or to phase the work, which would take much longer. Based on the evaluation, the city decided to vacate the building, despite the extra costs involved, to minimize the project’s duration.

The rebuild has space for 1,600 employees. Design began in August 2016.