The Parkside Clinic, a community-oriented chiropractic and massage practice in Portland's South Tabor neighborhood, was outgrowing its location when the previously undeveloped plot of land next door came up for sale. The clinic’s owner, Dr. Aaron Armbruster, jumped on the opportunity, and began dreaming of a new wellness center custom-crafted to his practice’s core principles. Dr. Armbruster came to us wanting a natural, healthy, local, and relaxed building, one that would be welcoming to all and be seen as an asset to the community. From the very beginning, from the very first conversation, we realized that this project was a good vehicle to refine the dialogue of how we define Pacific Northwest Architecture, and an opportunity to focus on expressing the essence of a healing space.
The program quickly evolved into a new 6,000-square-foot, two-story medical and office building framed within a typical Portland 50 by 100 foot lot. The envisioned storefront needed to be a stepping stone between the 1920s streetcar-era commercial corridor that faces Southeast Division Street and the neighboring single-family homes from the late 1940s and early ‘50s. Inspired by the clean simplicity and elegant nature of that era’s modern design movement, this new building explores the ideals of ample natural light and dynamic interior spaces using a contemporary Northwest material palette paired with climate-responsive finishes.
We began the design process by developing a visual language for the project, a vocabulary for the dialogue between the interior and exterior. The repeating image is a sort of white canvas. It is a reference to the blank slate and to the goal of finding the beginning and essence of things. Put another way: emptying the mind and the clearing of thoughts. The concept is based in meditation practices known for detaching oneself from anxiety and promoting harmony and self-realization.
The empty canvas takes many forms in this project. The large panels that make up the exterior float inside a storefront, the entry has a square of white tinted cedar over the vestibule, and the reception desk is broken down into white cubes of reclaimed fir. The interiors are also reduced and employ floating white panels in lieu of the solidity of traditional walls. Building upon the meditation concept, another primary driver for the project was to bring the outside in, in a controlled way, and to express a connection to the natural environment. A water feature of columnar basalt greets patients at the entry, its bubbling drowning the city noise that visitors are leaving behind. From the low-ceilinged entryway, the reception area opens into an airy, expansive double-height waiting room which provides a moment of calm between the streetscape and the treatment rooms. Light wells, deep within the building, bring light into the treatment rooms and fir-lined corridors of the clinic, akin to the filtered light that pierces the perpetual dusk of the Cascades forests. Indirect lighting, powered by roof-mounted solar panels, is used throughout to provide an even glow with no obvious visible light source. Two of the interior rooms feature large images of the Illinois River, where Dr. Armbruster used to lead rafting trips as a river guide.
We were also able to design the majority of the furniture and casework for the clinic. An existing Blue Atlas cedar, a tree historically sought after for woodworking, was harvested on site prior to construction and milled into custom forms for use at the entry. Reclaimed fir slabs, cut from the beams of an old paper mill, were used for the reception desk, a buoyant block of white-stained wood fractured by glowing slices of light. The waiting room’s seating is a plane of supple green cushions and slab tables, built from the same reclaimed fir, floating on a delicate frame of white steel. The conference room includes a fir-slab table and custom steel light fixture. Working closely with craftspeople and contractors allowed us to blur the lines of what is traditionally thought of as architecture, and create a complete healing environment.
Ultimately, the success of this project is the result of a deep collaboration with our client (and now friend), Dr. Aaron Armbruster, who shared a vision with us and trusted us to bring his dream to fruition.