The Willamette Center was created in 2016 to provide much needed temporary housing and a service center for women and couples experiencing homelessness in Portland, OR. The 1947 vintage building had a wide variety of office and warehouse uses and tenants over the years, including the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Olive Farm. Multnomah County bought the building in 2016 and tasked Merryman Barnes Architects to undertake a fast tracked renovation of the 11,400 sf building to provide shelter for up to 125 homeless individuals. The County’s “A Home for Everyone” program, with on-site management by nonprofit Transition Projects, Inc., came with a minimal budget, an aggressive schedule and an emergency need for shelter for women and couples.
The heart of the Willamette Center is the circulation and gathering area near the restrooms, eating areas, and sleeping room. While the program called for the kitchen and eating areas to be closed off from the other areas used during the night, the design team wanted to open up this area for light, visibility, and wayfinding. A sliding translucent door in the newly created opening addressed both needs. Panelite provided a colorful, semitransparent material that enhanced the space better than just glass. Even a small sample was enough to sell the concept to the project team: Multnomah County, City of Portland, Transition Projects, Colas Construction, and the City of Portland Housing Bureau– in spite of the very tight budget for this project.
The Willamette Center renovation project took only 6 months from design start to occupancy in order to meet the need to provide shelter before the winter rains started. With help from Panelite, the design team was able to select panel sizes and colors that were immediately available. When a suitable fabricator was unable to perform under the project’s tight timeline, the general contractor, Colas Construction, stepped in and had their experienced carpentry staff fabricate the doors. As they were not as familiar with all the possibilities for the Panelite fabrication, the design team provided a very simple design consisting of stainless steel frames and off-the-shelf barn door type support.
The result of this team effort and a creative product is a light-filled, positive environment for folks who need not just basic shelter but a place that provides a safe, comfortable and beautiful place in contrast to the challenges of a tough day-to-day existence. [From Linda Barnes, Merryman Barnes Architects]
Architect: Merryman Barnes Architects: Linda Barnes FAIA, Lale Ceylan
Engineering Consultants: DCI Engineers, MKE & Associates, Inc
General Contractor: Colas Construction, Inc.
Photos: Sally Painter or Lale Ceylan, as noted
Panelite Product: B-TCOT