Roots and Branches
Place in History
Thomas Hacker has long been one of Portland's most respected architects. Decades ago as a young practitioner, he worked in the Philadelphia office of legendary architect Louis Kahn. Later, Hacker was among a handful of Kahn disciples who migrated to the University of Oregon to teach. Among his pupils was Portland architect Brad Cloepfil, who in recent years has himself been attracting international attention.
Like Kahn, Hacker excels at warm, soulful modernism. His buildings are clean-lined and of pure geometrical form with exceptional craftsmanship. His use of wood places him squarely in the Northwest modern tradition of mid-century architects like Pietro Belluschi and John Yeon. But Hacker's buildings show more than craftsmanship and precedent.
"I'm frankly not that concerned with architectural fame or anything like that," Hacker says. "I'm much more concerned that the people we're making these places for, and especially the public, really like them. Because they belong to the public. And our philosophy in this work is that you make buildings that the public can love. I think that we've been able to do that in a lot of our libraries."
Indeed, when Hacker and I visited on a weekday morning, the library was brimming with life. Children were gathered in the central "garden" (Hacker's word) gathering space to be read to, teenagers surfed the Internet at a bank of computers, and adults browsed the stacks. Soft daylight bathed the wide-open interior space. Since the library opened last year, according to library manager Virginia Tribe, attendance has soared compared to that in their previous, smaller facility on the same site.
"People's mouths just fell open," Tribe recalls of opening day. "I think this building in particular is just so open. Whether visitors pay attention to its details or not, there's just a wonderful feel to it."
Greening the Library
Hillsdale Library has received a "gold" designation from the U.S. Green Building Council LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) system. Included in the LEED scorecard was the extensive use of wood, which comes from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). Exterior windows are of an e-coated glass that lets in light but little heat.
Additionally, all paints, carpets, and glues are low in, or completely without, volatile organic compounds. The mechanical system is built into a raised-access floor to take advantage of convection currents. Carbon dioxide and temperature sensors control the mix of air conditioning with outside air to improve indoor air quality and minimize mechanical heating and cooling needs.
Outside, native and drought-resistant plants eliminate the need for irrigation. A stormwater management system directs the Northwest's frequent precipitation to a swale and planters, where most of the water is filtered through soil and plants instead of going directly to the municipal sewers.
Walk through the Stacks
Although decidedly modern, Hacker's building draws much of its inspiration from classical forms. The library sits on a masonry base that gives way to an upper wall alternating tall strips of wood and glass. The wood protrudes slightly and resembles columns, but it's not simply for show; inside, these wall segments form shallow alcoves for bookshelves.
Above the walls of wood and glass are clerestories that wrap the circumference of the building to let in more light and separate the wood columns from the flat roof. As a result, the roof seems to float above the walls, adding a greater sense of lightness to the building.
Inside, taller bookshelves are arranged at the exterior while smaller shelves and tables are in the center, further helping to distribute the diffuse daylight. The library's interior is dominated by a series of thin steel columns that flare at the top into a circular form that resembles the lily-pad look of the Johnson Wax Building of Frank Lloyd Wright.
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