“This topic of diversity and people of color trying to find each other and find solidarity has come to the forefront in the last couple years,” says Travis. “This was the group’s first big event—their coming out party.”
Attendees at the full Design Week Portland event
Diversity in Design was founded by Sun Joo Kim and Tejara Brown, and is focusing on advocacy. This event, though, was more of a celebration and time for sharing. Gauri says, “It was really interesting to see such a diverse group in the room. It was a safe space.” Travis adds, “Some people talked about being the only woman or the only person of color in a meeting or in their office. There’s this terrible sense of being the only person like them in all of Portland. Getting us all in a room together is a great way to get us all to connect.”
Three years ago, Gauri, along with Lia Peacock (ZGF) and Ruwan Jayaweera (PAE), launched a separate group called Diversity Portland. “That speaks to how much designers of color are seeking to connect,” he says. Now that the two groups are connected, “we’re talking about collaborating, trying to figure out the best way to go forward.” But where Diversity in Design wants to focus outward, Diversity Portland may look inward: “We want to come from the lens of empowerment,” says Gauri. “From my perspective, we need to throw a rock into the pond—it doesn’t have to be a huge rock, it can be a lot of little rocks, making lots of ripples.”
SERA’s Travis Dang speaks on the Diversity in Design panel
The power of the community is unquestionable. “Anybody in the audience could have been on the panel,” Travis says. “I really liked sitting back and listening.” And to build on what they have now, both Diversity in Design and Diversity Portland are thinking about mentorship and professional development, bringing successful figures from various communities to share their experience. “We’re capable of giving,” Gauri says. “We’re not here to beg or ask.”
The 8th annual Design Week Portland is next week, and again this year you can find our thinkers and designers in the mix of fantastic exhibits, discussions, parties and open houses across town. We hope to see you at the following events, so register now, before they fill up.
And don’t forget to tag us @seraarchitects!
Gauri Rajbaidya (top) and Travis Dang
Diversity in Design: Storytelling Mixer
Extending their reach to the larger Portland community, Diversity in Design is group of professionals of color who came together to build each other’s networks and support their individual career paths. Panelists at this event include SERA’s architects Gauri Rajbaidya and Travis Dang, who will share stories about their experiences in the profession. Stories by all panelists will focus on an uplifting message, highlighting personal triumphs and projects that have made a positive impact on the speakers, to society or to local communities of color.
SERA interior designer Courtney Laird will join creatives from GBD, Geremia Design and Rapt Studios, speaking to her experience balancing sustainability, creativity and functionality in successful hospitality projects like AC Hotel Portland and Hyatt House Portland. This event is presented by Kush Rugs.
Destructive Idealism: Rethinking Resilient Systems
Tim Smith (top) and Matt Piccone
Our built environment is the product of generations of ideas and values layered upon one another, but recent generations have held ideals that are incompatible with the sustainable lifestyles we must lead today. Building social, economic, and environmental resilience in our communities requires that we revisit our visions, overthrow existing norms, and take deliberate action.
SERA Principal Tim Smith and associate Matt Piccone join a paneled discussion challenging participants to rethink resilience in both their disciplines and lifestyles – bringing different perspectives that may seem incompatible into coherence. Organized by the University of Oregon’s Ecological Design Center.
On Monday, SERA joined Restore Oregon for the public unveiling of a new urban concept for the historic Jantzen Beach Carousel. A series of renderings created by SERA staffers Sean Bolden, Brian Stevens and Steven Ehlbeck show how the carousel — one of the largest surviving examples from the golden age of carousels — can be integrated into a public plaza setting. Restore Oregon hopes the depiction will encourage developers to incorporate the beloved Portland relic into their next project.
The team’s design concept features a large timber-framed pavilion with a curtain wall exterior to showcase the carousel and house additional programming to help the attraction be financially-sustainable. The pavilion’s ‘floating’ diagrid roof domes, supported by tree-shaped columns, mimics the undulating movement of the horses. A surrounding plaza, with tiered programmable spaces, integrated seating and a reflective water feature, serves as both an event space and second living room for the city.
View the concept renderings:
Bolden first learned about the beloved amusement as a board member of Restore Oregon, the nonprofit who now owns the dismantled carousel.
A centerpiece of Portland’s Jantzen Beach Amusement Park, the 98-year-old carousel is estimated to have been enjoyed by more than 30 million riders. When the park closed in 1970, the carousel was placed in a shopping center built over the site. After another round of development in 2012, the 20-ton wooden attraction — consisting of 72 horses and 2 intricately-carved chariots — was placed in storage.
“Creating a new home for the carousel is an exciting development opportunity that will connect generations by sharing a unique part of our region’s history and creating treasured memories,” said Ehlbeck.
At the press event: Steven Ehlbeck, Sean Bolden and Restore Oregon’s Peggy Moretti
Restore Oregon presented SERA’s concepts, along with waterfront and park concepts designed by PLACE, to local reporters, developers and the public. Its message: honor our region’s history, preserve a cultural artifact, and “re-turn” the carousel to the public.
With SERA’s help, that vision is now a lot clearer.
SERA’s Principal group has promoted Mark Perepelitza to Principal, and 23 others to Associate. Seven additional staff members were honored with the newly-created leadership title Senior Associate.
As Director of Sustainability, Mark Perepelitza guides SERA’s overarching sustainability goals and collaborates with project teams on implementation and results tracking. Managing Principal Joe Pinzone commended Perepelitza for bolstering the firm’s sustainability capabilities through partnership with the Center for the Built Environment (UC Berkeley), and credited several successful projects with returning clients to Perepelitza’s relationship building. He joined SERA in 2012.
Leadership also announced new Senior Associates and Associates.
The Associates program at SERA recognizes high-performing and firm-focused individuals who add value to our practice and who are viable candidates for succession long term. Created this year to distinguish employees who have demonstrated all the values and contributions of Associates, the new Senior Associates title was given to seven employees with an additional aptitude or role in business development or operations.
SERA’s Associates make up the core of our firm, said Pinzone.
“They exemplify our employee-ownership culture, they’re demonstrated leaders, creative and talented, and absolutely central to our near-term wins and our long-term viability.”
Congratulations to these employees!
Mark Perepelitza, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
New Senior Associates
Carissa Mylin, IIDA
Craig Rice, AIA, LEED AP
Eric Philps, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, ID+C, O+M
Erin Reome, AICP, LEED AP BD+C
Gauri Rajbaidya, LEED AP
Joshua Lupkin, NCARB
Margo Rettig, LEED AP, CPHC
Ben Rippe, AIA
Ben Weber, AICP
Brendan Post, LEED AP BD+C
Cassandra Tyler, LEED AP BD+C
Courtney Laird, LEED AP ID+C
Dan Jenkins, ASLA, LEED AP
Dominique Sparks, SHRM-SCP
John Heinen, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
Jon McAuley, LEED AP
Josh Cabot, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP BD+C
Lacey Bartels, LEED Green Associate, Assoc. IIDA
Lindsey Johnson, IIDA
Martin Glastra van Loon, LEED Green Associate, CNU-A
Throughout my journey through design and construction of the Oregon Military Department’s Joint Forces Headquarters (JFHQ), I discovered several key points along the way that made the project successful. A play on Le Corbusier’s Five Points of Architecture, I created my own Five Points that are directly related to my personal creative process, and can be translated to any design and construction project you’re a part of.
The building taking shape in sketches.
01 Concept: “The Story”
JFHQ was generated from placed-based design concepts and inspired by geological formations and Oregon landscapes. The research and exploration of these landscapes informed the team’s sketches, diagrams, and descriptions that continued throughout design and construction. I can recall the countless times I referred back to previous diagrams and sketches, which were framed around our initial concepts, to help aid in decisions at critical points in the project.
The big question that we always asked ourselves was, “Is this important to the concept/story?”
What I found with my experience with JFHQ is that the ‘story’ helped clarify and prioritize portions of the project during construction, and it served as a way to check-in with the larger team to ensure we were on track with our goals and vision.
An early sketch by designer Jeff Roberts.
02 Sketch: “The piece of trace paper that is beneath the coffee cups on your desk”
A wise mentor once told me, “Don’t throw any of your sketches away.” As architects, designers, and planners, we are privileged to be able to express our ideas by sketching.
Keep sketching throughout the project and keep all your sketches. You never know when you may need them for a client presentation or a SERA Shorty (our spin on a Pecha Kucha). There were numerous times throughout JFHQ, where I had dig up old sketches to create client presentations and other collateral.
While it’s important to keep those old sketches, it is equally important to continue to add new ones to the pile. This is a good way to take a break from Revit, and you may find that you can sketch an idea faster with your hand than utilizing the keyboard and mouse.
Furthermore, we should be proud of our work and hang it up. It is always nice to see the final product of our projects, but the preceding sketches can be just as important and are equally meaningful.
The lobby of Oregon Military Department’s Joint Forces Headquarters.
03 Priorities: “The Essence / The Big Move” – Critical Design Elements
This point goes hand-in-hand with my first point. By establishing the story behind JFHQ, it was easy to prioritize design moves and identify portions of the project that were necessary to keep the design intent intact. Prioritizing ideas helped clarify which parts of the project were less critical, so we could focus on more important elements of the project.
During construction for JFHQ, balancing our desired ‘big moves’ with certain constraints sometimes became a balancing act for our team. Between the owner, contractor and architect, it was necessary that we were aligned when it came to our “big moves.” The prioritization of ideas allowed the team to be nimble when unexpected wrenches were thrown our way.
For example, JFHQ’s lobby was designed to be the main focal point of the project. The detailing and materiality of the space were critical to the overall story we established as a team early in the design process. During construction, site conditions and constructability issues challenged some of these ideas, but it also encouraged the design team to have continuous dialogue as to why certain elements were designed and crafted the we that they are.
In the end, the lobby remains the brilliant nexus of the building.
Construction progress photos.
04 The Team: Collaboration Between Core Team Members Internal and External
Collaboration should not stop within the walls of the office, but should be carried onto the job site.
From beginning to end, team collaboration and communication is critical. JFHQ was a design-build project, and many people – both internally and externally – had a hand in making it successful. Everything from firmwide design discussions and small team charrettes, to those who made cameos along the way, helped shape JFHQ into a great building. For myself, many of the best learning moments occurred on the job site while collaborating with the contractors.
Taking pride in the (almost) final product.
05 Fun: Enjoy the Process
Whether you are under a sea of submittals or up against the clock, sometimes it’s hard to come up for air and enjoy the process. At any point in a project, I encourage everyone to take a moment and celebrate the small victories, milestones, or simply the process.
You’re creating a unique place for others. Remember, this is a privilege!
These points are unique to my experiences and process. What are yours?
I encourage others to observe their own creative process, catalog lessons learned from previous projects, and other critical moments experienced in design and construction. This recollection of moments will help inform a similar framework to help streamline your process for future endeavors.
The recently completed Storyline apartments, with its 14 levels, has a gorgeous panoramic view of central Portland. With a dynamic downtown location to inspire the vibe, I was brought onto the project team to design the environmental graphics for the building’s many public spaces. The art direction: to bring in a Portland-specific story that unfolds as one passes from the lobby to the rooftop deck – where one can view each of the landmarks referenced in the graphics. From concept to seeing it come to life in the spaces, I thoroughly enjoyed every step of the creation and collaborations with the interior designers (Kelley Edwards, Courtney Laird) and architectural team (Michael Barrett, Manuel Roth).
The ever-present water element is featured in the leasing office, combining the textures of sparkling rain and the flowing Willamette river in a vibrant and uplifting way. Vinyl graphic.
Inspired by the Riverplace Marina on the waterfront, raised boat and dock elements mix with a die-cut clear vinyl and are installed on a chalk wall over the lobby’s beverage counter. The Marina is filled with restaurants and cafes, so the idea is to introduce a bit of that riverwalk feel while tenants grab a cup of coffee and lounge in the lobby.
The iconic Oaks Park was the muse for this abstract installation in the lobby seating area. The painted and stained wooden pieces are inspired by the shape of Ferris Wheel pods, and mix seamlessly with the planters.
It seemed only natural to bring in some of that alternative commuting feel into the fitness room with laser-cut bike elements atop a wraparound vinyl graphic.
The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is the permanent home to the famed USS Blueback 581 submarine. An homage to this local point of interest, the vinyl artwork on two walls of the mailroom makes a bold statement from the elevator lobby area. Its palette and patterns tie in with the fabric used on the bench that sits in front of the elevator, so the eye can feel the continuity.
Floor numbers, visible as one walks out of the elevator, mix the shapes of three major Portland bridges: Tilikum Crossing, the Hawthorne and the Fremont. The lines in the design, slightly different for each number, integrate with many of the interior materials (wood canopies, carpeting patterns, signs). Die-cut clear vinyl.
A wraparound vinyl composite graphic, featuring the iconic Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall sign, adds a touch of theatrical brightness to the rooftop common room and plays well with the visible skyline viewed through the windows.
Composite art inspired by Mount Hood and Adams brings these two major mountains closer than they appear from the rooftop deck. Die-cut metal.
The view overlook is where the story comes together. Each of the landmarks represented at Storyline is highlighted on the rooftop interpretive sign, directing visitors to their place in Portland. Acrylic and metal.
University of Oregon students picked the Erb Memorial Union as the No. 1 place they feel belonging on campus, and shed light on their favorite spaces in the newly-updated student union building. The findings are in a study by the university’s Office of Assessment and Research, conducted to gauge how students feel they fit in within their campus community.
As part of the study, students were asked to select their favorite spaces within the EMU using labeled floor plans. Their top three choices are:
#1: The Fishbowl
The renovated Fishbowl offers in-demand food and drink vendors such as Chipotle and Starbucks in a bright and glass-walled space looking out onto campus. Café tables and booths act as study and meetup spaces between class. Students who picked the Fishbowl as a favorite place said they liked the natural daylight and many uses for the space – eating, studying and socializing.
#2: The Student Atrium
Replacing the former 70s addition of the union, the Student Atrium is three stories of glass-walled student suites that allow in light and views of the activity within. On the south side of the student street, expansive windows overlook campus. When asked what they liked about the space, students frequently remarked that it was a great place to recharge and relax while feeling connected to the rest of the EMU – both inside and out because of the new transparency.
#3: The O Lounge
The ‘family room’ of the EMU, the O Lounge faces the union’s in-house pub, creating an after-hours vibe complemented by casual booth seating, video screens at tables and soft lighting. Students liked the O Lounge for its namesake – it’s a place to lounge and get away, but still be seen. The mix of natural and dim lighting was positively reviewed as providing areas to focus, work, socialize, eat and play.
The study findings confirm what the University had hoped of the new spaces, according to Director of EMU Laurie Woodward.
“SERA listened to students and staff, and created something that exceeded everyone’s expectations. Students now have a welcoming third place where they can build community, where they feel they belong,” said Woodward.
Students use blocks representing the various program elements on a plan of the existing building and site.
The renovation and expansion of the EMU was completed in Fall 2016. Integral to the design process were interactive work sessions with the students and university leadership to define and realize goals and desires for the building: highlighting previously-hidden student groups, bringing in natural daylight and views outdoors, improving student foot traffic and flow, and accommodating the varied study and social styles of students.
The EMU Post-Occupancy study is one of a three-party study designed to understand how students use the EMU and what they feel about its spaces. The research team used a heat mapping tool to gather responses from 465 student participants.
In “5 Lessons for 50 Years,” our Principals reflect on the business practices and leadership styles that got us to this milestone.
Finally, Managing Principal Joe Pinzone talks about SERA’s thriving employee-owner culture, the projects he’s excited about, and why he’s optimistic about the future in “50 Years Strong and Looking Ahead.”
We want to hear from you too!
Have a SERA connection? A favorite project or a memorable story of working with us? Share them in the comments below, or tag us on social media:
This year, we’re celebrating a special milestone at SERA: our 50th anniversary.
Few firms can celebrate this achievement. In fact, less than 10 percent of firms nationally have been in existence longer.
Joe Pinzone, Managing Principal
I joined SERA in 1996, not only because the firm was engaged in important renovation projects like City Hall, Pioneer Courthouse and the Multnomah Hotel, but because I saw a strength in leadership from Bing Sheldon and Don Eggleston. They founded this firm on the principles of solid design, client service and community engagement. They had a courageous goal to change the city of Portland and to save the amazing and iconic buildings that make up our urban fabric.
Their vision for SERA was a firm where leadership was always forward facing and visionary.
The past decade has shown us the worst recession since the Great Depression and the largest economic boom since WWII. SERA has weathered these tumultuous times because of what we’ve long-held as our most valuable asset – our staff. Tireless, dedicated and passionate, our employee-owners are at the core of SERA.
We have achieved much together, we’re resilient and we should all be proud of our 50-year history. And while it is easy to bask in the glow of our past accomplishments, it is far more important to look forward and navigate the waters ahead.
As we look to the next 50 years and beyond, I am encouraged to see amazing, community-changing projects in our portfolio like the redevelopment of the OMSI property and quality, sustainable housing across the Portland metro area. I am excited about the opportunities to work our magic in the Bay Area with a new Oakland office. I am energized by our continuing commitment to community service as demonstrated by our work with great nonprofit clients like Portland Playhouse, Central City Concern and The Blanchet House of Hospitality. And I look forward to furthering our research and practice in the fields of biophilic design, resiliency and restorative architecture.
Yes, the future will have challenges; and if the past has taught us anything it is that SERA is well positioned to not only survive, but thrive! What matters now is what we do next. The challenges and opportunities and what we do with them will define who we are.
Thanks to our staff, partners and clients for helping launch the next 50 years of SERA. Together, we will build on the vision of our founders – creating healthy, sustainable and enriching places for everyone.
Since 1968, SERA has restored, transformed and created from scratch a myriad of exciting projects – projects that pique the interest and enrich the lives of the people who interact with them. From a sparkling marble hotel bar and a daylit workspace, to a place to sleep at night, and a newly-walkable Main Street, our work defines us.
In celebrating 50 years of shaping our communities, SERA’s principals reflect on how we got here: What does it take to build a firm, maneuver through recessions, and continue to evolve in the practice?
Forge strong partnerships from the start of the project – or even earlier
Natasha Koiv, Principal, Staffing director and public studio leader
Long before Integrated Project Delivery made its way to the design and construction industry, SERA and our many project partners have embraced this philosophy, working together in a mutually respectful and supportive environment to achieve phenomenal successes. An early example of this is founder Bing Sheldon’s engagement with Bill and Bob Naito in the 70s and 80s that resulted in the creation of Montgomery Park. More recently is the University of Oregon’s new Erb Memorial Union. Coming together with the client, contractor and the community to solve problems – be it a disused department store or a dated student union – has long been a hallmark of how we approach every project.
Help your employees lead
Lisa Zangerle, Principal, Hospitality studio director
In 1995, SERA’s founders Bing Sheldon and Don Eggleston decided against a traditional transition of the firm, where a few employees ‘buy out’ the owners. Instead, they decided to transfer ownership to all the employees. This ensured that leaders in the firm ascended based on skill and merit, and that the culture and legacy would be passed on. And by making SERA an ESOP – Employee Stock Ownership Trust – employees are also provided financial incentive to contribute to the firm’s long-term success in the form of privately-held stocks. We’re proud to say we’ve been 100% employee-owned since 2002.
Stay involved in your community; you’ll reap what you sow
Tim Smith, Principal, Urban Design & Planning studio director
SERA has been an engaged member of our community for the past 50 years by way of our paid and pro-bono work, but also as community volunteers, planning commissioners, sustainability and resilience advocates, and advisors on non-profit boards. This was Bing Sheldon’s vision for the firm. As such, we have been instrumental in crafting the Portland and broader Pacific Northwest ethos that we’re now exporting throughout the country. We’ve enjoyed the benefits of this simple strategy of giving back to our community: we’ve earned clients who share our vision and passion for placemaking, and attract talented staff who want to be part of our mission.
Show your clients what’s possible
Stuart Colby, Principal, Workplace studio director
Clients come to us to define and solve problems and be experts. In an organization dedicated to great customer service like SERA has been over its entire history, it is easy to lose sight of the value we add by providing confident and data driven design recommendations. One lesson that SERA has learned over the last 10 years is that simply asking a client “what they want” is rarely, if ever, a recipe for a successful project. As designers, we need to provoke conversations with our clients that stretch their imagination and create opportunities for great outcomes they never imagined in the first place.
Grow your to expertise to weather the storm
Kurt Schultz, Principal, Housing studio director
When I joined SERA in 2001, Bing Sheldon and Don Eggleston had strongly established our firm as the experts in historic building renovations in Portland. Since that time, we have grown our expertise to include a robust urban design and planning studio and market-focused architecture and interior design studios: multi-family housing, hospitality, workplace, and public. We also opened a new Bay Area office. This market diversity not only allows us to offer up design creativity across our studios, and to address projects from the building to the neighborhood scale, but it’s helped us weather the economic ups and down of individual markets.