Centering a Town: 6th. Effort/Suspension

This effort was loosely inspired by a study of Louis Kahn’s Exeter Library.

Though the result of that study was to realize how subtle and complete his building is and how far mine falls short, how limited my means are. Still, I wanted to create a community center that had a simple, coherent, yet monumental cast that might stand out on the plaza and distinguish it from the other buildings in St. Johns while at the same time fitting in. See the Centering a Town: First Efforts for site, background, and program.

It was the arcade that surrounds the first floor of the library I most wanted to look it. The dark openings at the bottom, paired with the openings at the top, on the same grid (almost) of the windows, help give an otherwise stark cube lightness, depth, and the energy of contrasts. In my building the arcade also provides a vital function I have neglected in previous efforts, shelter from Portland winter rain and summer sun.

The original Central Hotel on the site, built over a hundred years ago, had such covering.

Side view, along Philadelphia. The windows on the first floor can be used for exhibition, and the arcade provides protection for viewers and encourages entry. The space might also be used in outdoor presentations and community events on the plaza.

I also wanted to pick up the brick in the other buildings and design a complement to the St. Johns Bridge, only a few blocks away.

Imagine all the dark gray bands the same color as the bridge. Like the roadway of the bridge, the two upper floors appear suspended between the upright piers, capped horizontally at the top. Their glass fronts and the thin bands of the floors separate them from the brick structure and lighten their mass; the vertical piers spread the load. While the essential function of a bridge, as I said before, is to lift and extend, the function of a building is to contain and support. Metaphorically it presents the notion of structure for the communal efforts inside.

Corner view at the intersection of Philadelphia and Lombard.

Front view, facing Lombard, easily anticipated by the side. The dimensions and windows are in a proportion of 3 to 4, about 72 x 96 feet (which exceeds the dimensions of the site a bit).

Program/Interior Design

Refer to my first post for program and plan. Here, the exhibition area is limited to one floor with a tall ceiling, above which rest the classrooms. The arcade, however, cuts into the first floor space, leaving room only for the theater, a lobby and exhibition space, and the restrooms and small utility, maybe a small office.

Three options:

Keep the black box theater where it is, rising through the second floor. A place for stairs needs to be found, which would take up more first floor space. The shaded area indicated in the diagram below would be open on the third floor.

Move half the theater below the ground so it only rises one level. The open space would extend two floors.

Remove it. The theater is a duplication anyway, as there is a sizable community center with auditorium space only a few blocks away. This leaves the space open all three floors.

I took the third. Above, the plan of the second and third floors. Six rooms bend around a large open space, ground to roof, about 48 x 64 feet, 35 feet high. Walkways allow access to the rooms, while the open area is a platform for rest, study, or small gatherings. It would have an excellent view of the bridge and river. It may seem like a lot of wasted space for a modest building with so many demands, but I followed a rule that I broke elsewhere, that every room should have windows.

Rear view. The solid brick area blocks view of the hamburger place behind. Restrooms and utility for the first floor are placed here (and I need to figure out the same for the other two floors—I’m not clear about necessities and building codes).

The rear corner. This is the view one sees leaving the bridge, and it is the most interesting aspect of the building. I have inverted the suspension design to show the rising structure of the open space within.

The skylights could be louvered to control the effects of sunlight.

This space presents design challenges that could be interesting. The side is a common wall and presents a face of solid brick. Walkways connect the rooms, and a network of stairs could be placed on the side wall or could go elsewhere. Vertical and horizontal members could be added throughout to present a grid. Combined, the structure of the framing of the open space and stairs could be made of steel, presenting a complex, delicate lattice. All could be painted the same green.

The floor of this space could be a place of retreat, gathering, or exhibition, especially during the long season of rain. It’s a way to experience rising openness when the elements keep us inside. It could have a small garden, or a tall sculpture, or even a tree—Kevin Roche’s Ford Foundation comes to mind.

I like to think that all windows could open and provide ventilation throughout the building, that only some heating is needed. But it is in effect a greenhouse, which wouldn’t function on cloudy days and would be a problem on hot, summer days. I don’t know enough how to handle heating and cooling.

An aside. The site would be a good place to have a building that both uses and exemplifies for the neighborhood energy efficiency. I just don’t know enough about the technology nor have the means to represent it

This design does have a low-key formality and presence. I must confess, however, that its symmetry and repetition make me restless.


Picture of Exeter Library via Wikipedia

Picture of Central Hotel via St. Johns Review

Other Designs

Other designs for this project, along with background material and more photographs of site, can be found here and at these posts.


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