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PSU's Portable Classroom On Alberta


Portland State University architecture professor Matthew Bietz is teaching the first phase of an architecture studio that will be designing and fabricating a portable classroom on NE Alberta Street at 15th Avenue, on a vacant property Bietz purchased next door to his home.

The classroom will be not for Bietz’s students, but for fellow PSU professor Harrell Fletcher’s Social Practice students going for their masters of fine arts. The Social Practices program emphasizes community engagement through non-studio creative activities executed in the field. “I heard that Harrell was looking to collaborate with the Architecture department at PSU," Bietz explains, "and that his new Social Practice class has no studio space on campus. Also, [then architecture department head] Rudy Barton has been asking me to teach a design-build class for some time now, because of my experience in Mexico with Steve Badanes and the University of Washington’s design-build program.”

There will be a hands-on construction studio beginning in July, with completion and ‘arrival’ of the project on site as part of PICA’s TBA festival this fall.

The site is a 50x100 empty lot. Once on site, the project will become the base of operations and community outreach center for the Social Practice students. After a 3 to 6 month stay, it will remove itself from the site and travel to a new location in a different neighborhood to repeat the process.

The intent of Bietz’s studio is to explore architecture as a mode of social outreach through community engagement, with specific focus on portability, prefabrication and recycled and re-used materials.  The process began with 15 concepts that were then condensed into five projects. The projects range from panelized systems and tent structures to expanding shipping containers and unfolding spaces on wheels.

Bietz moved to the Alberta neighborhood in 1998 “when houses were still under $100K and an architecture intern could afford to buy a house in Portland.” A decade later, “my house has appreciated to the point that I could afford to refinance and purchase the lot next door to me, for a possible development. But with the current mortgage crisis, and no one willing to lend me 500K for speculative housing, I started looking for other ways to use the property. Put that all together and you have a pretty interesting potential project. One that needs some funding, but will no doubt be built this summer.”

In the images above, the first is the "Sliding Cube and Tent Structure" by Junior Carbajal, Hussien Al-Baiaty and Gulia Gulnara. The second is "Dynawall" by Ralph Loielo and Paul Nordlund. The third is called "Unfolding Shipping Container" by Max Dehne, Craig Moore and Olga Reuven.

by Brian Libby, 2008

Published with permission of Portland Architecture

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