by Whitney Geier
On July 27th, Mahlum’s Commitment to Community (C2C) committee organized a silent art auction in our Portland office to benefit Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC). RACC is a local non-profit organization that makes the arts more accessible to the community.

About RACC
RACC’s mission is ‘to enrich our communities through arts and culture’. They receive funding from a variety of public and private partners to serve artists, arts organizations, schools and residents throughout Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties. More than 150 non-profit arts and culture groups benefit every year from their grant-making.

RACC provides services in five key areas:

Advocacy – building support for arts and culture
Grants – providing artists and organizations with financial support
Public Arts Program – integrating a range of art in public places
Community Services – workshops, consulting and other resources
Arts Education – funding artists residencies in schools and providing integrated arts education to students

Silent Art Auction
Mahlum staff contributed a variety of art pieces to be auctioned at the event, including paintings, drawings, photography, jewelry, pottery, and handmade clothing. All of the work was displayed throughout the office for some competitive bidding. Staff also had the opportunity to purchase raffle tickets to win a free day of PTO.

Two RACC representatives, Alison Bailey, Business Partnership Manager, and Windy Hovey, Workplace Giving Coordinator (pictured above), joined our auction to tell us more about their organization and how to get more involved. As a bonus, they also auctioned off two tickets to the Portland Opera. Thank you Alison and Windy!

Proceeds totaled more than $1,700. Funds will be used by RACC as grants to support a broad spectrum of non-profit arts and culture groups, through their Arts Impact Fund.

Commitment to Community (C2C)
Community involvement is essential to the work we do at Mahlum. Our C2C committee helps connect our professional resources with organizations who align with our firm’s vision to actively support healthier and more sustainable communities. Our vision, our tools and our actions also align to encourage learning from those who are working towards positive change.

Mahlum has formalized our commitment by pledging 1% of our time to pro bono service through Public Architecture’s The 1% program. Our first initiative was a design tool we created for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV), a website called ‘Building Dignity’. The site is working to change the paradigm of shelter housing both nationally and internationally.

If you’re interested in supporting RACC and finding out more about what they do, check out their website!

by Kurt Haapala
Mahlum and the Director of Housing at the University of Oregon, Michael Griffel, hosted an “evening listening session” with the residents of UO’s newest residential community – Kalapuya Ilihi. Happily, what we heard was resounding positive feedback about living in this new space.

“I used to live in Walton Hall last year and I just love it here. It is so easy to meet new people, it is definitely the place to be,” said one student. Her sentiments seemed to be widely shared.

Direct Insights Make a Big Impact
As part of Mahlum’s commitment to enhancing the residential experience for college students, our project teams return to each living environment on a typical weeknight. Through passive observation and informal dialogue, we assess how students use the building. This qualitative Post Occupancy Evaluation (POE) has, over the years, revealed insights into how our designs can evolve to meet the needs of today’s busy students. We have discovered ways to modify community spaces to enhance flexibility, support technology in and around the residence hall, and enrich academic and social encounters to boost student advancement and personal growth. We have also observed how design decisions produce unanticipated results (both positive and negative), including building systems that have become maintenance issues.

What We Learned
Our evening at Kalapuya Ilihi revealed that the transparency and diversity of community spaces have successfully connected students. Open lounges and glass-enclosed study rooms adjacent to student rooms and community spaces promote serendipitous encounters. A sense of familial security happens when students can see (and wave at) their friends. The asymmetrical corridors with views and natural light terminate in “student nooks,” which are great informal hang out areas and create micro-cultures within each floor community. When asked, a majority of students said that they used the central open stair because it is convenient, directs them into and past the Academic Learning Commons, and reinforces the larger sense of togetherness.

Through this listening session we also learned about specific system deficiencies, like one elevator that constantly has breakdowns, and an air-conditioning unit wasn’t programmed properly. We also learned that there’s a need for more “user education” on how thermostats work and how operable exterior windows directly affect the building’s energy management system.

When asked about the gender inclusive restrooms, among the first that Mahlum has designed for a higher education facility, the entire student group gave them high praise. They also said that in general they feel fortunate to be living in the best residential facility on campus!

by Bryan Hollar
On a warm evening in May, we invited the community to join us in our Portland office for an open house exhibit showcasing the work of the elementary school students and design professionals participating in the Architects in Schools program. The exhibit marked the culmination of an innovative program where design professionals join forces with elementary school classes for a 6-8 week curriculum focusing on design, architecture, and creative problem-solving.

The program is an effective way for us as design professionals to utilize our unique knowledge to positively impact the youth in our local community and open their eyes to the possibility, opportunity, and responsibility involved in shaping the world around us.

Put on every year through the Architecture Foundation of Oregon (AFO), the Architects in Schools program helps elementary school students develop awareness and understanding of the designed and built environment. The program drew interest from Andrew Weller-Gordon, Rosanne Lynch, Yasu Yanagisawa, and I, who were pleased to represent Mahlum as design professionals. Our talented Portland-based students ranged in age from first to sixth graders and came from Abernethy Elementary, Harrison Park School and The Ivy School.

The Architects in Schools program is loosely structured and does not dictate specific curricular content. We found this beneficial because it allowed us to develop a customized curriculum to support the broader learning goals of the teacher (since the lessons often tie in with class lessons in history, art, or science), the developmental abilities of the student population, as well as the particular interest and knowledge of each design professional, such as sustainable design or material systems. This year, each of us from Mahlum focused our curricula on different topics, which made for diverse exhibit content that included many colorful drawings, models creatively utilizing material samples, and even a large hand-drawn tapestry.

Displayed at the exhibit was an outdoor camp, sited on the east bank of Portland’s waterfront by Andrew’s class, a “Log Cabin Homestead” by Yasu’s class (that included Yasu’s Restaurant – a flattering homage to their teacher), a “School of the Future” by Rosanne’s class, and an adaptive re-use of an historic Portland warehouse into uses like a Dragon Cafe and a Banana Factory by my class.

Having participated in the program for three years now, I find it very rewarding to see the students’ interest and excitement when they begin drawing and model-building, allowing themselves to flex their creative brain in ways they may not have had the opportunity to do otherwise. Several teachers mentioned that this program is often what students remember most about their academic year (with the exception of a jet boat ride), and parents have expressed their gratitude for sparking a latent or undiscovered passion in their children.

Ultimately the program is an effective way for us as design professionals to utilize our unique knowledge to positively impact the youth in our local community and open their eyes to the possibility, opportunity, and responsibility involved in shaping the world around us.

We at Mahlum believe that every person on the planet is deserving of safe, secure places to live, work and learn, and we especially believe that no student should have to worry about endangering their lives by simply heading off to school in the morning.

Our firm is dedicated to creating spaces for students to discover, create, grow and develop. We design shared classrooms so different ages can work together and learn from each other – we add transparency so that teachers and pupils feel a sense of camaraderie. We include outdoor learning stations and environmentally sustainable elements because we understand how important a connection to and responsibility for the earth is to young learners. We do everything we can to create an ideal space for young minds to begin to grasp their unlimited potential and power – but we’ve learned that we can’t always protect them.

Which is why we need to do something.

March for Our Lives is happening on Saturday, March 24th. The event, organized by the survivors of the shooting in Parkland, Florida, is part of a larger movement for better gun safety measures. And with almost 700 connected events occurring on the same day worldwide, it seems that everyone understands that now is the time for something to happen.

As they write on the March for Our Lives website, “School safety is not a political issue. There cannot be two sides to doing everything in our power to ensure the lives and futures of children who are at risk of dying when they should be learning, playing, and growing.”

These kids inspire us (and the country) to finally take action and demand that Congress address gun issues and the gun violence that continuously returns to the classrooms of the United States.

We need to show these kids that we’re finally listening – which is why we’re encouraging our staff to participate in this monumental event. You can find the closest event to you here, or you can make a donation to the cause if you’re unable to attend.

Stand With Us at March for Our Lives.

Engagement to Yield Empowerment

Though all of us are trained in design, we’ve discovered that an intentional process of engaging users and stakeholders is the only way to assure that those whose lives will be most affected by the outcome have influence on how design unfolds to serve their needs.

A successful process should enable and inspire dialogue, facilitate decisions, and build enthusiasm and advocacy for the ideas explored. And it should be fun!

We consistently integrate creative, playful, and participatory engagement strategies into our planning process, including both high-tech and hands-on approaches to outreach. Our dynamic process invites broad stakeholder participation within a rigorous framework.

Mahlum has extensive background facilitating large constituent groups, often with highly diverse stakeholder representation. As experienced leaders of the design process, we are skilled at both consensus building and providing advocacy for complex and sometimes emotionally charged projects.

Engagement strategies are implemented throughout our process in order to garner both quantitative and qualitative information from a wide variety of constituents through a series meetings, interviews, observation sessions, activities, tours, and generative committee and/or community workshops.

We have developed a series of interactive tools designed to both provide information and gather feedback with the aim of identifying needs and prioritizing goals. Exercises that can be employed are targeted at a range: individual, small group, and large group engagement. Our team is also especially adept at developing custom engagement activities, if required, to help the committee or community identify and resolve issues critical to each school’s vision for the future of education. Information will be synthesized, communicated and refined into project goals, district needs, and options, all of which will inform and shape a project.

From the standpoint of facilitation, one particular tool, the design workshop, has proven highly effective. It has been our experience that these workshops give various participants a better understanding of the concerns and hopes of other constituent groups, an appreciation for the difficulty of resolving all issues perfectly, and a feeling that they have contributed to the eventual outcome. Having participated in the decision-making process, they become advocates for those decisions and ultimately ambassadors promoting the success of your project.

The Story of the Murals

Preserving beloved cultural assets became an integral part of a new vision for a new school. The shared-use, 16.9 acre campus is designed to accommodate Seattle Public Schools rapid growth, housing three distinct programs for 1,660 students at Cascadia Elementary School, Robert Eagle Staff Middle School and Licton Springs K-8. The site also houses a city-run preschool facility, athletic fields, upgraded pedestrian and bike amenities, and ~$1.5M of neighborhood flood control infrastructure developed in conjunction with SPU & SDOT.

In the design process, cultural assets valued by the community needed to be considered. Painted by a local Native American artist on the walls of the original school building – which in the past housed a Native American school program – the murals at Wilson Pacific were at first slated to be demolished. However, over time these un-designed landmarks depicting Native American figures and Native culture had become part of the surrounding neighborhood’s character and were genuinely cherished by the local community, which strongly opposed their destruction.

The decision was made, late in the Design Development phase, to preserve the murals and incorporate them into the new campus as part of both the new Elementary and Middle School buildings.

Working in collaboration with renowned Native American architect Johnpaul Jones of Jones & Jones Architects, the design and construction teams determined it would be unfeasible to arrange the project around the Mural’s existing locations, which was the most economical option. That conclusion led to the development of a strategy to secure, cut, move, store, and attach to the forthcoming structural frame, eight enormous CMU and precast concrete walls without damaging their painted surfaces. This also meant the sections of wall where the murals would be relocated had to be built in the opposite order of a regular exterior wall, from the outside in, generating significant construction sequencing and detailing challenges.

This story shows the value we place as a firm in collaborating with the owner, consultants, and general contractors throughout all phases of design and construction. It shows how we value listening to our communities and changing course when we recognize our design approach might not be entirely right, even if that goes against the original program and budget. That we have the ability and courage to face unique technical challenges in our work – when was the last time you had to cut and move a giant mural to build wall? In essence, it shows how much we care.

Regardless of what one might think of the mural’s artistic value and the high financial cost it took to accomplish this preservation effort, what we’re most proud of in this process is the fact the community’s voice was heard, a neighborhood’s character respected, and a culture who is used to seeing their history and achievements devalued and erased was recognized and brought to center stage.

Background of Robert Eagle Staff

Read the Seattle Times article: New Seattle school honors Native visionary Robert Eaglestaff

Read article


via Jesse Walton

The history behind school lunches is shared this week on Gastropod.

Find out more about surplus meat and locally grown veggies. Check out this story:

Joining Forces for Community Impact

Each year we gather our 90+ staff to connect, reflect, and strategize, strengthening bonds between our two offices and finding inspiration in our shared purpose. As we gathered in Portland this summer, we also included a day of service to help increase health and well-being in our community.

In alignment with our vision – empowering communities to assure health & well-being for all – we offered our services to 12 non-profit entities in the Portland area. We split our office up into groups of 7 to 9 people per organization, and our staff spent time educating themselves before venturing on to the non-profit.

We asked that all of our staff ask themselves the following questions during their time volunteering:

  • How is this service propelling us to our vision?
  • What challenges are evident?
  • What gives you hope?

We also documented our time spent with these organizations through video, hand sketches, still photos, music, and poetry. Every group gave a presentation to share their experience with the entire office.

As individuals, professionals, and a design team, we were awed and humbled by the people and organizations we helped. This work is never done, and we look forward to engaging with these and other non-profits in the future.

It is our desire to help create healthy and sustainable places in all that we do. We hope you will also find inspiration in one of these groups to make a difference in the community.

via Niki Lesko

Mahlum’s Portland office was recognized again in 2017 with a Sustainability at Work GOLD certification by the city of Portland. You can find our profile and sustainable office strategies at under Mahlum | Architects, Engineers, and Designers.