John Holmes, AIA: Architect

ur minds and our bodies are used to seeing patterns around us—the pattern of a leaf, or the rippling of the sand on the ground, or the ocean. I think it’s something that we inherently find beautiful,” explains John Holmes, principal and co-founder of Holst Architecture. “That groundedness in nature, and how our buildings relate to the natural environment— those are things that are almost within my own DNA just from living here.”

A native of Gresham and a graduate of University of Oregon’s architecture program, Holmes founded Holst Architecture with Jeffrey Stuhr in 1992. Since then, the firm has worked on a wide spectrum of projects, varying from small remodels in the firm’s early days to a number of full-block warehouse conversions in the Pearl District following Holst’s design of Pacific North- west College of Art in 1998. More recently, Holst has been focused on multi-use housing projects, a concentration stemming from the firm’s successful completion of the Belmont Street Lofts in 2004.

At the time, the Belmont project was a big gamble for both Holst and its client. “The price point on the Belmont Street Lofts needed to be very competitive because it was the first project of its type on the east- side of the river,” Holmes recalls. “It’s hard to know how something is going to do when you’re the first one into the neighborhood.” Holmes also took a chance with the design itself, trusting in the beauty of natural materials over Portland’s penchant, at the time, for brick. “That building was the first building in Portland to entertain a hardwood exterior skin, which many people questioned me on,” says Holmes. “It broke ground with respect to using a natural material on an exterior like that.”

Other mixed-use housing projects by Holst include the Pearl District’s 937 Condominiums and the Clinton Condominiums. With these condominium projects, similar to his use of hardwood on the Belmont Lofts, Holmes continued to push existing boundaries while turning to nature for inspiration.Holst Architect 1

A collaboration with Portland-based Ankrom Moisan Architects, the 937 Condominiums were an experiment in retooling the “shotgun units” often found in the Pearl. “Shotgun units are almost like shoeboxes. There is one window at the end and they’re long and deep,” Holmes explains. Holst decided on a thin building that would allow a change in the orientation of the building’s units. “You take that long skinny unit and turn it on its side so that the broad face of the unit is facing out,” says Holmes. “That way, you’re maximizing the amount of light and view into the unit.” For the exterior of the building, Holmes was inspired by fractals. He explains, “It’s basically a brick building with a bunch of windows, but instead of using some kind of historical precedent like Art Deco, this uses nature as its reference point. The idea behind the patterning of the windows is fractal patterns. It’s somewhat random but also repeating.”

Holmes’ design for the exterior of the Clinton Condominiums was also motivated by nature. “That building is a bit like a geode,” Holmes says. “You have that crusty, earthy exterior and then you break it open and it’s crystal in the middle. The building itself has a COR-TEN, or weathering steel, wrapper as well as west-facing decks lined with angled, milky glass panels. The panels create a contrast with the earthy COR-TEN steel.”

While Holst is still working on several condominium projects, including the Sawyer in Northwest Portland which is slated to be completed in 2013, the firm has been moving in another direction as of late: public sector work. Holst Architect 2

According to Holmes, Bud Clark Commons, which houses a men’s shelter and day center for Portland’s homeless population as well as studio apartments, is probably the best recognized example of the firm’s work in this category. “There was a general commitment on the part of the city that the building have a really strong design identity,” Holmes says of the 2011 project. “Putting a homeless shelter into a neighborhood is something that concerns people, so that commitment to design helped mitigate those concerns. I also think when people are in a nicer environment, it raises the bar for everyone’s behavior.”

Holst has several more public sector projects currently in the works, including Glisan Commons, a mixed-use building that will feature office space for a local nonprofit and affordable housing units, and Beech Street Apartments, a development that will include permanent family housing as well as treatment services by Lifeworks NW, a library, and a child development center. It’s projects like these that Holmes finds to be the most inspirational these days. “Being able to help people who are really in need of help is in many ways more rewarding,” he says.


About The Author: Katie Mitchell

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