ZGF Architects' next generation

ZGF Architects' next generation

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Photos by Justin Tunis
Collectively, these projects target what Packard refers to as “360 degrees of sustainability” — how buildings perform within a neighborhood, how they perform in and of themselves, and how they perform for the user. “If you’re not doing that today, you’re not helping provide solutions that not only your clients, but your clients’ clients are struggling with,” says Packard.

About those fundamentals. Unlike most large firms, ZGF devotes only about 15% of its practice to work overseas, a portfolio that currently includes Beijing Children’s Hospital Leukemia Center and the Da Lian Xinghai Mixed Use Development. “It’s a deliverable strategy,” says Packard. “There was a time when it was not easy to do a level of quality somewhere else in the world that we could be proud of.”

Inside the United States, where the firm has a broad geographic reach, corporate client commissions are increasing as the economy recovers, Packard says. “I wouldn’t have expected this, but they are one of the first users of architecture that have said ‘Let’s get going.’” Still, he adds, the recession has been “dark and scary.” Gross revenues were about $125 million in 2010, down from about $149 million in 2008.  The firm also trimmed staff by 13% — on the low end for architecture firms, says Packard.

With his old-school demeanor, Packard can seem a bit out of place in ZGF’s hyper-cool new offices. Then again, the contrast is an apt symbol for the firm and its ability to evolve broad notions of design. In 1982, Packard co-authored a paper identifying the development potential of the West End district. Thirty years later, Twelve West has not only helped revitalize that neighborhood, now home to the Crystal Hotel and hundreds of new apartments, but it is also about 50% more energy efficient than a typical residential or office tower.

“The world has become very complex,” says Packard. “What for the firm may have started out as one aspect of sustainability is now made up of a multitude of issues.”

Portland journalist and architecture critic Brian Libby contributed to this report.