I have been working on the renovation and addition of Portland State University's School of Business Administration for almost a year. This project is unique for a number of reasons, but probably most of all because of the makeup of the architectural team-a partnership between SRG and Behnisch Architekten, an international design firm with offices in Germany and Boston.
As we were pushing through the Schematic Design (SD) phase late last year, the team made the decision that the project would benefit from SRG co-locating at Behnisch's Boston office for a three week period to help finish up our 100% SD documents. We felt that it would be a great opportunity for SRG and Behnisch to build our working relationship, understand each others strengths, and learn each others processes-all things that would pay dividends as the project moved forward. I was chosen for the task.
Although I knew this trip would be less about vacation and much about work, I would be lying if I said I wasn't excited to spend some time in a different city, one that I had only visited once during my childhood. I would also be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous to spend three weeks in an unfamiliar office-especially an office of Behnisch's caliber. I talked to some formerly-East-Coast co-workers and put together a plan for my weekends (where I would go, what I would see), packed a suitcase, and left for Boston in early October.
It's a rare opportunity to witness the work process of another firm and become ingrained in their day-to-day culture without moving jobs. Behnisch's Boston office operates like a design studio. Their team of eighteen is located in a small downtown office with minimal overhead. Models cover most surfaces in the office: a 3D printer runs tirelessly throughout the day. Meetings and conversations are brief. They work, create, discuss, iterate, and revise; and then they work some more. Their PSU team is structured to efficiently produce all the requisite material for the SD phase. There is a project architect to lead the work, a tectonic lead to get into the details of systems and materials, a digital model lead to generate 3D models and images/renderings, and an intern to build physical study and finish models. It's a beautifully efficient process, an inspiration to be a part of and learn from.
I got to know the city by seeing the sights on the weekends. Thankfully the weather during my time there was spectacular- most days were sixty degrees and sunny. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, I would eat a quick breakfast then pack a day bag and head out on a walk. I averaged about twelve miles walking each day. From MIT to Harvard, from the Running of the Charles (the annual regatta) to the Back Bay, from Faneuil Hall to the North End (the cannolis!), from the Paul Revere Trail to Charlestown to the Bunker Hill Monument and a beer at the Warren Tavern (oldest in the country!), from Boston Common to the Trinity Church to the Boston Public Library to the Prudential Tower to Fenway-each walk was an urban hike through history, a history that we simply don't have on the West Coast.
Boston is a founding city of this country, an academic mecca, a dynasty of sports, and home to a very talented architecture firm. I am thankful for my three-week experience in the city, and look forward to spending time there again and continuing my relationship with Behnisch and PSU.