First Reinforced Concrete Building on West Coast
Balfour-Guthrie Building, designed in 1913 by Morris Whitehouse—the
same architect responsible for the design of the Oregon State Capitol—
represents somewhat of a milestone in the concrete industry. It
was the first office building on the West Coast to be constructed
with reinforced concrete. At the time, the material was mainly used
for bridges and industrial structures, and was just beginning to
gain acceptance as a construction method for everyday-use buildings.
However, the loss of a few other Balfour-Guthrie properties (including
the company’s San Francisco office, which was destroyed by
fire in the 1906 earthquake), combined with the timely opening of
their Bellingham cement plant, may have influenced the company’s
decision to pioneer the use of reinforced concrete as a fireproof
building material in this setting.
is fitting, then, that a renovation of this historic building would
also heavily incorporate the use of concrete. When Thomas Hacker
Architects (THA) undertook in 2001 a $1.5-million restoration of
the structure that would eventually house their offices, they sought
to maintain the character of the original building while adding
energy-efficient features that would take it into the 21st century.
Seven layers of lead-based paint were stripped from the exterior
to reveal the original sandstone, and more than 500 sandstone blocks
were individually anchored to provide a seismic upgrade.
THA opened up the floor plan, carving out 900 square feet of the
original first-floor concrete slab allowing light into the basement
level, and creating additional office space. Doing so exposed the
original concrete aggregate, reinforcement, and other structural
elements that dated back to the initial construction. Drag strut
was reinforced to work in conjunction with existing concrete columns,
and concrete window panels poured in two lifts formed a solid background
for the original double-hung wood windows. Plywood panel form boards
were used to visually separate the new concrete work from the existing
hardwood board formed concrete.
renovation marked another concrete milestone for the historic structure
when it became the first LEED Silver certified architectural office
in the United States. To achieve this distinction, the design team
added a host of energy-efficient features to the building including
insulating storm windows, a heat-reflecting Energy Star roof, day
lighting controls, and low-flow, water-conserving fixtures. Seventy-five
percent of the construction waste was salvaged, and 58 percent of
the wood used came from FSC certified forests. Low-toxic, low-VOC
materials were chosen for the interior, and for added safety, the
structure was flushed with fresh air for two weeks prior to occupancy.
Its location in the city’s core allows 75 percent of its occupants
to take alternative transportation to work, and the restored Balfour-Guthrie
Building further pays homage to the environment by welcoming it
in, via operable windows, natural day lighting, and views of the
North Park Blocks in downtown Portland.
The project is a true testament to concrete as a sustainable solution
and the durability and flexibility of concrete enabled the structure
to be re-used in a cost-effective manner. The building, which has
served many for almost 100 years, is now poised to continue to serve
for another century without disruption to the environment.
Owner/Developer: Thomas Hacker Architects/Gray
Architect of Record: Thomas Hacker
Contractor: Gray Purcell, Inc.
Structural Engineer: Associated Consultants
Concrete Supplier: Ross Island Sand