Shedding Light on an Emerging Campus

Library and Student Services

Portland Community College, Southeast Campus

This pair of three-story buildings frames a plaza and creates a bustling hub for student activity. Serving a diverse student community that reflects a growing international population, the Library and Student Commons was created to engage students with a wide variety of academic and career advising needs.


105,000 sf


Portland, OR

Year Complete



LEED Gold (Library) LEED Silver (Student Commons)

2014 Honorable Mention, Best of Education — IIDA Oregon Design Excellence Awards

We are building a monument to community, a haven for learning, a point of pride for the neighborhood and a sign of great things to come for Southeast Portland. We are already seeing the beginnings of this transformation. For example, this spring our enrollment at the Southeast Center is showing the healthiest change of all of our major instructional locations. I expect that this will gather more and more momentum so that the Southeast Center will grow by leaps and bounds. Jeremy Brown, Former PCC President

A Fresh Take on Student Services

Innovative thinking informed both buildings’ design with the priorities of student success, flexible learning, energy efficiency, and user comfort as the primary focus from beginning to end.

The Student Commons consolidates a variety of student services and amenities in a central location. Traditional services are available, such as the Business Office, Financial Aid, Registrar, Admissions and Advising, along with other critical functions, including the Testing Center, Orientation Lab, Career Center, Bookstore, and student study spaces.

Creative programming established a library that contains traditional library services but also combines Computing Resource Center, Student Learning Center, Tutoring, Volunteer Literacy Services, general classrooms and many study areas.

Bringing Daylight In

Natural daylighting is a critical factor in the creation of activated space. In order to bring penetrations of daylight into the building core and achieve environments that encourage interaction, all while staying within a modest budget, SRG had to innovate. Working with UO’s Energy Studies in Buildings Laboratory, the design team developed “cones of light,” a set of daylight reflectors that pass through the third floor to enhance the daylighting on the second floor. The results were illuminating. Not only do the reflectors draw light from one floor to the next, they are apertures that literally connect the occupants of the spaces on each level, and support the project’s energy reduction goals.

Each conical reflector is made up of small triangular aluminum tubes whose spacing varies from top to bottom. The space between the bars allows some light to filter through, while the bars themselves bounce the remaining light to the floor below. It’s possible to see through the entire structure, creating a wonderful airy quality and adding significantly to the character of the space.

Cooling at Night

The Library uses a variety of passive sustainable design strategies (in addition to “active” mechanical and electrical systems). Focusing on night flush, the building opens up at night during the summer, allowing cool air to circulate and cool the exposed concrete slabs. These cooled slabs then temper the building’s heat throughout the day by slowly releasing their cooled temperature. Expanding the comfort range plays a big role in this building as well, relying on ceiling fans and air circulation to increase comfort during the warmest times of the year. As in the Student Commons, radiant ceiling panels and ceiling fans also help to moderate temperatures as required.

Strengthening Community Bonds

The surrounding neighborhoods which this campus serves are home to over 70 different immigrant populations. Creating a special place that honors this diversity was a powerful emotional design challenge. The goal was to develop a very strong sense of place by creating a clear and vibrant urban edge, highlighting the difference between inside and outside the campus.

Inside it feels like a special and protected place where learning is nurtured and the wide variety of cultures are all included. The diverse population inspired the super graphics in the glazed stair towers that anchor each end of the building: pixilated, colorful world maps show all 12 time zones encircling the globe. On the street side, active retail and a café set the stage for a neighbor-centric pedestrian environment that integrates and serves the college and the community. There’s also a large central plaza that can accommodate festivals and markets. All of these features enrich this part of Portland and contribute to a very livable city’s sustainable future.