Background + Scope of Work
When commercial and residential real estate management company SteelWave acquired the building where the former Camera World was located in Downtown Portland, they knew a more dynamic, mixed-use environment would thrive in the cavernous space. As their first project in Oregon, they wanted to make an impact by using a hospitality-based approach to deliver a Class A office space, similar to spaces found in Seattle and San Francisco markets.
The overall goal for the design was to make it look and feel like a luxury hotel rather than a campus in Silicon Valley. Since the massive retail area was too large to realistically house one retailer, in addition to being subterranean, the space was envisioned as a high-class amenity for the building. Mature and modern with a chic, forward-thinking aesthetic.
R&H worked with Ankrom Moisan to revamp 12,156 square feet of lobby space in the former First National Bank Building. Not only was the lobby space updated, but a fitness center, lounge areas, bar, and two conference rooms were also built out. The project team successfully navigated many challenges, including working with two mechanical systems, multiple floors within the original lobby space, an occupied building, and no use of a material lift or loading dock into the building.
This block was home to a bank that was first constructed in the 1800’s. To this day, you can still find small portions of this original bank within the new Aspect building. The vault with its marble accents can be found in the basement, now used as a bike storage area.
The lot was sold in 1957 to First National Bank and would become their new headquarters location in 1960. A five-story building was constructed in place of their original bank on the site. Years later, the building was purchased by First Farwest Life Building, and underwent a 112,000 square foot expansion. Finally, in 1992, the building was raised to 11-stories with the exterior upgraded to an aluminum and stainless-steel look. Around this same time, the iconic Camera World opened their flagship store on the ground-floor, where they remained open until January 2016. As on ode to Camera World, the iconic sign on the exterior of the building was refurbished with the branded Aspect “A” and is proudly hung in its original location on the corner of the building.
In lieu of becoming another ground-floor retail space in downtown Portland, when SteelWave LLC acquired the building they had different dreams for the space. SteelWave had their sights set on creating a lobby atmosphere that mimicked the feeling of a hotel lobby. The new lobby and amenities spaces on the ground floor offer tenants many more perks, seating areas, conference rooms, and social areas to lounge and relax.
The main element of this reposition is the two-story lobby, which went through several concepts before landing on the finished product. Jewel tones, brass, and black were chosen to reflect a sophisticated hospitality feeling. Signage takes cues from the interiors to perfectly capture the essence of SteelWave’s vision for a branded, modern amenity experience. Movement and connections inspire the design and play out in surprising ways.
The layout of the lobby did not need a rework, so a majority of the work went into updating the finishes, flooring, and adding unique elements to the space.
R&H created two new large openings into the fitness center that sits right off of the lobby. The openings incorporated Moonshadow glass that were custom designed for this space.
The Moonshadow glass features a modern graphic on the lobby side of the glass, but you are able to see through the glass if you are standing on the fitness center side of the glass; this allows for privacy while exercising, but still lets light into the room to keep it bright and open. A two-story height accent wall was also installed in the lobby area. This wood accent wall incorporates lighting at both the North and South entries of the building, and acts as a unique branding visual for those visiting the lobby.
Another area of the lobby that required a major revamp was the fitness center. Before the renovation, the current fitness space was small, had 8-foot drop-ceilings, no windows and no natural light. Our project team doubled the size of the space, raised the ceiling height, removed the drop ceilings, and added new, high-end finishes. The new and improved fitness center features a yoga room, free weights, a stretching area, and an equipment area. Inspirational graphics were installed around the room that compliment the new lighting. A unique, recycled rubber flooring material was installed throughout the fitness center that allows cushion for those exercising. Rounding out the fitness center are new locker rooms designed to feel like a high-end spa. The locker rooms feature full glass shower doors, custom casework lockers, and a gracious amount of space for tenants to utilize.
In the heart of the lobby, the lounge area is home to the majority of the square footage within the space. Originally the location of the former Camera World space, our project team transformed this area into the new lounge and bar. The renovation of this space entailed transforming the multiple levels into one single level, removing the mezzanine that used to live within the space, and cutting the steel stairs that led up to the mezzanine out. In order to get the steel stairs out of the building, our demolition team cut it up into smaller, manageable pieces and carted it out through the lobby’s double doors. Once the concrete was poured, and the space was a single level, the lounge received a fresh coat of charcoal gray and black paint.
The true highlight of the lounge area is the bar, which features a one-of-a-kind art piece. “The Cube” is a four-sided audio-visual interactive installation that reacts to noise levels within the space to create an ever-changing pattern on four, 172-inch screens eight feet above the bar. Generative algorithms are used to change the shapes and movement on the screen depending on how quiet or loud the lobby is. Collaborating with an algorithm art designer in Germany, we were able to deliver this dynamic piece. Working with our A/V designer, these screens can also display cable television, which makes the bar a great place to relax and watch entertainment. Pool tables, shuffleboard, soft seating and lounge areas with TV’s, tables and chairs, restrooms and two conference rooms can also be found within the lounge area of the lobby.
Challenges and Obstacles
Executing this large-scale renovation posed numerous challenges for the project team including working with two separate mechanical systems located inside the building. The first mechanical system lived on the sixth floor of the building. Originally, the sixth floor was the roof of the building before it underwent a massive expansion in the 1990’s. The other mechanical system was on the roof, five floors up from the first mechanical system. Our project team faced the challenge of determining where the two separate units ran to, coordinating their existing tie-ins, and tackling the task of tying into the two units. The task of tying into both older units required additional design and engineering. Keeping both systems in the building was cost effective and helped the project stay on schedule.
Renovating the previous location of Camera World inside the Aspect Building also posed some obstacles for our project team. The original layout of Camera World had many different levels, a mezzanine level, steel stairs that led up to the mezzanine, and multiple different floor materials. To repair all of the different levels, our team demolished the mezzanine level and the steel stairs, and floated concrete over the entire floor. The concrete was tinted and polished to compliment the look of the overall space.
The project site also posed a set of challenges for the project team. Challenges within this historic building included:
- Lack of material lift and loading dock into building. When the building was originally built, neither a loading dock nor material lift were installed. Because of this, getting materials into the building was a challenge for our project team. The entrance of Aspect faces 6th Avenue, which has no parking, and a bus lane. This meant that all material needed to be carried from up the street, down the sidewalk, and into the main entrance’s double doors. In addition to this challenge, the building was not equipped with a freight elevator so all material that was too large to fit in a personal elevator needed to be carried up the stairs. Although this was challenging for our project team, it was far more economical than pulling glass and craning material into the side of the building.
- Working in an occupied building. This active project site included other tenants within the building, one being a small college. Our project team had to carefully schedule work to minimize noise during class times and working hours, with all loud work being completed in the night or early in the mornings around 4am. In addition to working off hours, our project team also posted their construction schedule on the outside of the safety barricade for all tenants to see and met with all of tenant’s key management staff to discuss any construction related concerns. Safety and open communication were at the forefront of this renovation for our project team.
An integrated project team allowed us to mitigate and successfully tackle these obstacles and challenges.
Budget and Schedule
Although the initial goal was to complete the project in time for spring 2019, SteelWave added additional scope and the project schedule was extended in order to fulfill this change order. By maintaining a collaborative relationship with owner, designer, architect, and contractor team throughout the duration of the project, and with many hours of overtime, the project team worked 60-70 hours a week for the entire duration of the project. Nearing the end of the project, subcontractors were willing to work weekends, off-hours and off days in order to ensure that Aspect still opened in the springtime.
Our project team worked with the design team and ownership teams to VE multiple different design elements within the space in order to stay on budget, even with the updated project schedule. In the end, our project team delivered the project on budget and on time for the new set schedule.
Photos Credit: Christian Columbres