Bora’s future net-zero design studio

by Bora Architecture & Interiors

As we look toward our move less than two miles east in the next five months, one may wonder what drove our decision to leave the downtown Morgan Building we’ve called home since 1989. While our current office served us well, our culture and needs have evolved, and we found this studio lacking the ability to adequately support a cohesive people-first culture, hybrid and multidisciplinary collaboration, and our resiliency goals. So when we came across a vacated 1940s electric supply warehouse (aka Volta) on Portland’s Central Eastside, we saw the opportunity to realize a new workspace vision for ourselves: 

An open, creative workshop 
Our current office has a segmented floor plan dividing our design teams into separate quadrants. While great for daylight and fresh air access, it stifles creative synergy and a sense of community. Intercepting this mounting issue with the post-pandemic need to accommodate more flexible work schedules, a single design studio space enabling us to see each other daily became a key design priority for our future home. The Volta warehouse’s original long-span, old-growth timber trusses immediately called to us as a dynamic element that would elevate our design. Open desking and a range of informal collaborative spaces positioned at the center of the studio will ensure seamless, collaborative connections across project teams.   

A close connection to nature 
Beyond building connections to each other, we have long sought connections to the outdoors to boost health and wellness. Respecting the history and character of Volta as an industrial space, our design interventions were minimal aesthetically and focused instead on the indoor-outdoor relationship. We pulled back the building’s west exterior wall to create a new outdoor porch spanning the entire width of the building–expanding workspace options for work, rest, and play.  

Large sliding doors will allow us to open up to the porch when the weather is agreeable, which in Portland is many months of the year. New large windows along the north and south optimize daylight and views from our meeting rooms and our shared work and amenity spaces, while adjusted and new roof monitors bring glare-free north light into the open studio. This creates an even, light-filled environment throughout the day, mitigating electric light use many months of the year. 

Climate resilience 
As we face climate change, it is important as architects that we prioritize reviving existing structures like Volta to reduce the carbon footprint of our buildings and cities. Buildings like Volta offer authentic character that showcases the history of the region—this is lost if not stewarded.  

A critical step for the renovation was creating a stronger structural diaphragm, which involved tying the existing structure together to resist seismic forces and meet current building codes. We largely retained the existing exterior concrete walls, which serve as thermal mass to keep the space cooler—even during heat waves. They also allow us to leverage night cooling, one of the most effective passive strategies for the climate.  

Acknowledging the increased risk of wildfire smoke, the renovation also focused on strategies to tighten the enclosure, giving us control over the air quality in our space. Just as the building can be opened up to natural ventilation when the weather is mild, the enclosure can be shut down to guard against poor air quality that will seasonally arise. 

These design strategies and others will continue to keep us on a path to achieving our goal of a net-zero energy space. 

Having just finished the core and shell renovation of the full Volta warehouse, we are now moving into the “it’s getting real” portion of the project: the construction of our studio! We look forward to sharing in upcoming posts more about the design process and strategies shaping the Bora of the future. 

Read more about our new studio at Volta.

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