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Mahlum's Providence Newberg

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I've been meaning for a few months to write about the new Providence Newberg Medical Center by Mahlum Architects (and a host of partners). I think it's an impressive project, particularly in how it incorporates a host of sustainable materials and methods - not just to score a high LEED rating (it's poised to become the nation's first Gold-rated hospital), but to assist in healing by creating healthy, pleasant environments.

Providence Newberg follows some other noteworthy hospital designs at OHSU by Zimmer Gunsul Frasca, and a very nice job with Mary Bridge Children's Hospital (particularly in incorporating artwork) in Tacoma by Portland's Giffin Bolte Jurgens.

Hospitals are increasingly borrowing ideas from the hospitality industry and, crucially, studying what patients want and need. That can mean, for example: creating waiting areas devoted to different uses: children and families having room to be themselves on one end of the spectrum, and those seeking peace and quiet at the other.

It can also mean incorporating more natural light, which is proven statistically to help reduce recovery time. Hospitals traditionally alre also big energy hogs, so going green is a no-brainer just for the massive energy savings. Other sustainable features at Providence Newberg include onsite stormwater management, roof runoff detention, locally extracted and manufactured materials, occupant sensors and controls, daylighting throughout, and low VOC paints. The medical center’s emergency generators are owned and serviced by PG&E in exchange for the ability to utilize these systems to generate power for the grid during peak demand. Providence Newberg is also buying wind power exclusively.

The project is also handsome in a modest, dignified way. It's really just a series of interlocking boxes clad in brick and glass. I can think of numerous European hospitals more impressive in terms of scale, shape and materials, but this work by Mahlum also reminds me of the many simple yet elegant public buildings in Oregon and Washington by Opsis Architecture. In both cases, the buildings work first as machines, with the mechanical and electrical systems operating much more intelligently and efficiently. From there, a simple palette with a minimalist look makes for a work that should age well over time. Opsis's buildings for some of the community colleges are also very green, and ultimately they're a little bit prettier than Providence Newberg.

Having grown up in the next town over, McMinnville and visited Newberg all too frequently (it's the town that will be bipassed if proposed the Highway 99 bypass is ever built), I think Providence Newberg is a welcome addition to a small town with little new architecture of note besides a host of chain stores sprawling at the town's edges. They're just a few feet away from the bucolic open space seen through the windows of this photo, and I'm sure the greenery we see now will soon have an Applebee's there. If there's one complaint I have with this hospital, it's that it it takes part in this junky strip. I'd have rather seem Providence invest in the city's small downtown, which includes a succession of historic old buildings, including a city hall structure renovated very successfully by SERA Architects a few years back. It's the closest thing Newberg has to a pedestrian-friendly environment. That would have been good placemaking to go with the good architecture.

by Brian Libby, 2006

Published with permission of Portland Architecture

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