Health Department headquarters design can be great civic building, architect says

February 10, 2016

A conceptualization of the new Health Department headquarters

After hitting reset on a new headquarters, the Multnomah County Health Department is working with the city to get early feedback on a building design that will bring scattered staff together in a signature structure in Old Town-Chinatown.

ZGF Architects on Feb. 4 requested design advice from the city of Portland Bureau of Development Services for the nine-story building at Hoyt and Irving streets NW., with a main entrance on 6th Street NW., alongside Bud Clark Commons and across from Union Station. This is advice work is a standard, but proactive step, to prepare for the full design development and review.

The Board of County Commissioners Tuesday got a first look at the plans, presented by Eugene “Gene” Sandoval, design partner at ZGF Architects.

“It’s been a very long time since we’ve done great civic buildings in Portland,” he said. “A really great public building starts from the street.”

The preliminary designs of Multnomah County's new Health Department headquarters include breezy wide corridors and a glass frame that takes cues from neighboring Bud Clark Commons, a complex of affordable apartments for homeless men and women.

ZGF Architects' Gene Sandoval
ZGF Architects' Gene Sandoval

The 9-story 150,000 square-foot building will bring together health department programs and mental health and addiction staff who now cram into separate downtown offices; some badly in need of renovation.

The design includes a client drop-off zone with covered walkways edging the glass walled window where art might hang. The ground floor includes a pharmacy and leasable space. Staff can tuck their bikes into a safe storage room before heading upstairs to offices and clinics.

“This is a pivotal area and we’re in a pivotal moment,” Sandoval said. “If we do it right, between the Pearl District and Old Town, and with the vibrancy of Union Station, we can be the glue.”

Sandoval said they want to make sure to capture some of the quirkiness of Portland, and hope to complete the facade with an eclectic framing that “has the character of this place.”

Doug Obletz, with the project management firm Shiels Obletz Johnsen, told the board that the project team anticipated having final plans approved this spring, and they have begun organizing community meetings to prepare for questions and concerns during the construction phase.

Construction on the project, anticipated to cost about $95 million, is scheduled to begin before January 2017.