Mercy Corps Global Headquarters
A Catalyst for Change: The new headquarters of Mercy Corps accomplishes multiple goals for its employees, for the local community, and for the environment.
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Mercy Corps moved into its new Portland, Oregon, headquarters in October 2010. It was high time the organization, which focuses on disaster relief and economic development, consolidated its employees from five disparate offices. Little did they know the devastating earthquake in Haiti was three months away, a turn of events that would require their workforce to go on high-alert. “Everywhere, people were gathering in teams organizing logistics, working with donors, supporting our activities on the ground in Haiti. The collaboration was enhanced by having everyone in one building and by its open nature,” explains Mercy Corps CEO Neal Keny-Guyer.
In addition to these benefits, the building brought new life to a struggling neighborhood in Portland, an area riddled by crime and homelessness and one that Mercy Corps intended to occupy and nurture. The organization wanted a green building that would reflect its values, so they engaged Portland-based THA Architecture, known for sustainable design. The scope involved restoring the existing four-story 42,000-square-foot Parker-Scott building, built in 1878, and adding a similarly sized addition to it. Together, the two buildings occupy a quarter block, respecting the dominant grid of the area.
The new addition faces the Willamette River on the east with a glazed curtain wall that creates a rhythmic grid. “Patterns of different window opacities limit solar gain and break up the verticality of the elevation,” says David Keltner of THA Architecture. The windows allow views to the water and riverfront park, bringing abundant natural light into the open offices—executive offices are tucked to the side, respecting Mercy Corps's egalitarian culture.
The addition connects literally and figuratively to its redbrick mate through a high-performance rain screen on the exterior, resembling its companion in color, scale, and proportion. The architects observed that Mercy Corps staff collected and displayed baskets, cloth, and tapestries from the countries they serve. This led to the metaphor of weaving as a compositional focus on the exterior. “The red terra-cotta walls are broken into staggered panels latticed with sun shades to form dynamic woven panels,” explains founding partner Thomas Hacker of THA.
Mercy Corps dedicated its first floor to the community, where a learning center, store, gallery, multipurpose center, and Mercy Corps Northwest, a service for the local immigrant population, are located. The upper floors accommodate Mercy Corps's workforce with 5,525 square feet occupied by Lemelson Foundation, part-owner of the building. “Lemelson's interest in innovation and technology brought funding and momentum to the building, so it could afford to seek and achieve LEED-Platinum certification,” says Will Dann of THA.
The main entrance opens to an atrium, where a dramatic circular stairway leads to the top of the building connecting all the floors, a physical expression of the organization's interactive work style. “We designed the central stair to allow movement to all corners of the building and to increase opportunities for chance meetings,” explains Hacker. It is here that old meets new—the existing building merges with its new companion. “One of the challenges of the project was combining an existing building requiring a full seismic upgrade with a new building, making them work as one coordinated space,” comments Don Geddes of Walsh Construction. This was accomplished by cutting a swath from top to bottom, thus connecting the buildings, and seismically upgrading the old. “New cast-in-place concrete and shotcrete shear walls serve as the lateral force-resisting system for the building. Steel beams integrated into the existing structure's wood- floor framing connect to the steel in the new structure,” explains Principal Randall Toma from ABHT Structural Engineers.
The core also functions as a stack ventilator for the building, which employs a high-efficiency heat-exchange system where “relief and ventilation air are modulated via carbon dioxide sensors. Heat pumps are used to condition the occupied spaces and transfer heat between them under different loads,” explains Rob Schnare of Glumac.
The upper floors provide ample amenities including an outdoor relaxation space and green roofs that keep the building cool, filter runoff, and restore habitat. Adjacent to downtown, numerous transportation options are available to employees. Living up to Mercy Corps's favorite slogan from Gandhi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” this building is a catalyst for change in the neighborhood, in the organization's ability to engage its workforce, and in efficient performance.