Innovative Cones Designed by SRG Increase Day-Lighting at Portland Community College Southeast Campus

If you visit Portland Community College’s Southeast Center library you’ll probably notice some giant cones passing through the ceilings and floors.

The cones are the result of 10 years of research and development by the architecture firm SRG Partnership about how to bring more light into buildings in ways that use less money and energy than conventional designs.

“When you have any building with any depth to it you can’t illuminate the middle so you have to find another way to get light in,” said Sam Stadler, a job captain at Portland-based SRG and one of the designers for the library and Student Commons at Southeast Center.

The three-story, 40,000-square-foot library contains a computing center, learning center, volunteer literacy center and traditional library services, as well as four classrooms and study areas.

SRG also designed the three-story, 66,000-square-foot Student Commons. It houses a bookstore, five science classrooms/labs, six general purpose classrooms, four technical education/computer classrooms, an expanded student services area, and a new STEM center.

The Student Commons was finished in late 2013, and the library opened early this year.

They were built by O’Neill/Walsh Community Builders, which is made up of Walsh Construction, Inline Construction and O’Neill Electric.

The team also included Catena, structural engineering; PAE, mechanical, electrical and plumbing; KPFF Consulting Engineers, civil; and Walker/Macy, landscape architecture.

The library has four 14-foot-tall cones that were developed by SRG in collaboration with the University of Oregon’s Energy Studies in Buildings Laboratory.

The cones sit below a skylight in the roof and extend into the floor below. They are made of extruded aluminum ribs and are four feet wide at the top and eight feet wide at the bottom. The ribs disperse light and reflect it to the floor below, reducing or eliminating the need for artificial light during the day.

The cones also work as sculpture. Stadler said they define where you can put furniture and people, and make the spaces around them feel more intimate.

“I think students like the unique quality but also the functionality of them,” he said.

Jessica Howard, president of PCC Southeast, said she was intrigued when the idea was first proposed. The only negative she’s heard since they were installed is that noise travels between the floors.

Howard said they are eye-catching and help further PCC Southeast’s sustainability goals.

“I think most people are impressed by them,” she said. “They’re pretty distinctive. They’re very dramatic.”

Daylight reflectors hang below skylights in other areas of the building to help spread light more evenly. SRG has used daylight reflectors on other projects.

“Understanding those light properties has really allowed us to do some creative things with light distribution,” said Stadler.

Southeast Center began operation in the 1970s, and moved to its current site in 2004. It now covers 18 acres.

Howard said the new library and Student Commons and a recent renovation of the German American Society’s historic 1911 building have helped make it a full-fledged campus. That renovated building has event space as well as staff offices.

Previously, most of PCC Southeast’s programs were in an old big box retail building, now called Mt. Tabor Hall, and another building called Mt. Scott Hall.

“It’s a huge expansion in academic space and other space — student services space,” said Howard. “Before we were a center. Now we are a comprehensive campus, largely because of expanded academic offerings and students services that have come about with the new construction. We think it’s a transformative step for the community and the students.”

The library, Student Commons, German American Society building renovation, and improvements to Mt. Taber Hall are part of $49 million in construction and other improvements at the campus. The money comes from Portland Community College’s $374 million capital construction bond approved by voters in 2008.

Howard said the campus is in a densely populated area that has been underserved by public infrastructure, transportation and educational opportunities.

Enrollment figures for 2013-14 are 11,354, and the plan is to have about 18,000 students in a few years.

Stadler said the new library and Student Commons on Southeast 82nd Avenue and Southeast Division Street give the college prominence on the street.

Ground floor retail will serve the college and neighborhood, he said. And the library, with space for a coffee shop, is open to the public.

The buildings frame a central courtyard, which has landscaping and walkways and can accommodate festivals and markets.

The Student Commons is targeting LEED silver. Among the green elements are lots of fans and windows, including ones in the stairways that automatically open in hot weather to take warm air up and out.

The library is seeking LEED gold certification. It has natural ventilation and windows that automatically open in the night to bring in cool air in what is called night flush. The concrete floors and walls retain coldness and then release it as the building heats up. This also works inversely. In the winter, the slab is heated by low-angle sun and helps to retain heat throughout the day.

Photo by Lincoln Barbour.