SERA co-designed an innovative new energy-saving shaded facade to transform the circa-1974 Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt federal building.
The trio of principals and the broader SERA team also share a belief that architects are providers of service rather than product. “Not every solution presented as an architectural problem is necessarily one that should result in a new building,” Smith says. “Sometimes it’s a decision not to grow, or to renovate. The biggest value we give to clients is strategic advice how to think their way out of a problem.”
For example, on the Green-Wyatt federal building co-designed with acclaimed Bainbridge Island architect James Cutler, Cutler is the more famous name, but SERA is the reason a massive government project with all the accompanying red tape will finish construction more than a year early and use less than half the energy or water of a comparable office building. The firm even permanently located an employee at the building site, something usually unheard of for architects. “There was never a challenge, a change or a constraint that they responded to with excuse or irritation,” says Pat Brunner of the General Services Administration, the entity supervising the Green-Wyatt project. “Every problem was an opportunity to excel.”
Taking a cue from Sheldon and Eggleston, the succeeding generation at SERA also get involved in public policy, regularly sitting on government panels and volunteering in the community, which in turn can lead to business, as when a casual discussion over drinks with the Portland Development Commission about the then-soon-to-be vacated (and seismically unstable) Meier & Frank building led to an innovative public-private partnership with the Nines Hotel ultimately moving in.
A few years later, the hotel’s local developer hired SERA to design another downtown hotel that became the first LEED-certified property in the Marriott chain. Now the firm is working on Marriott hotels in the Pearl District, South Waterfront and Denver, all as a result of spearheading innovation at Meier & Frank. There are also new condos planned for Northwest 23rd Avenue, a 16-story student-housing complex at Portland State University, affordable housing in Sacramento, and a major renovation of the Oregon Department of Transportation headquarters in Salem.
“We’ve gotten more conscious about noticing trends and trying to identify them early and participate,” Brockman says. “Many times the job is not what you thought it would be the week before. That’s easier to implement for a firm used to constant change.”