The military does not leap to mind as the most likely patron of distinguished design. But the Colonel James Nesmith Readiness Center, a new facility for the 162nd Engineer Company of the Oregon National Guard, in Dallas, Oregon, could change that thinking.
Although “readiness center” is the new term for armory, this facility also serves as a rural community center for such events as trade shows, dances, and polling booths. It needed to be both welcoming and secure—a paradox at the heart of project designer David Keltner's parti, which distinguishes community functions (such as fire department events, town celebrations, fund-raisers, and the like) from military training and official ceremonies, but allows them to share a large central space.
“Procession was integral,” says Keltner. “The arrival sequence—through grassland fields and filbert orchards—provides a transition from rural landscape to military formality.” To the one side of the processional path is a long wall of gabions that screens secured service yards. On the other is a swale, also gabion-edged, in which collected stormwater takes on symbolic significance. A wooden bridge over the swale marks the place at which, explains Keltner, “citizen soldiers move from civilian life to military life.”
The processional path establishes a central axis and leads to a monumental assembly hall flanked by military spaces on the southeast and administrative spaces on the northwest. Ahead are a terrace and panoramic pastoral views. This spatial arrangement is articulated not only in a rigorous plan but also in a hierarchical section: the central space is enclosed in a tall volume with a gabled roof; flanking spaces in lower volumes are sheltered by flat and shed roofs.
References to armories and agricultural buildings inform the design. The gabion walls recall the thick masonry of old armories and nod to the work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The central gabled shed housing the assembly hall alludes to traditional granges. “The material palette reinforces the 'welcoming and secure' theme,” explains Keltner. “The basalt-filled gabions and metal roof and wall panels—both dark, hard materials—suggest a secure protective shell. Entry points welcome you with frames of rough-sawn cedar siding recessed under overhanging roofs.”
The wood palette extends into the lobby and assembly hall—where it provides an elegantly textured counterpoint to highly polished concrete floors—in the form of 11-foot-tall rift-sawn white-oak doors on pivot hinges and slatted screens of Douglas fir on walls and ceilings. These conceal HVAC equipment and acoustic panels while modulating illumination from skylights. Recalling the interior structure of wooden barns, the rhythm of the wood slats, says Keltner, “gives the spaces a human scale, warmth, and light.”
How did the Oregon Military Department (OMD) become a patron of architecture so ambitious it has already garnered six prestigious design awards? Much of the credit goes to its director of installations, Colonel Christian Rees, an Oregon native who, after graduating from Cornell on an ROTC scholarship, served six years of active duty and then returned home to earn a M.Arch. at the University of Oregon. Since going to work for OMD's Installations Division, he has campaigned to meet the goals established by the federal government in the General Services Administration's Design Excellence Program.
Rees declines to take credit for this astonishing project, saying, “I found many people in my organization hungry for better design.” Besides affording a place where the military can train or the high school can hold a party, the OMD director sees architecture as a recruiting tool. “The Guard,” he explains, “is a volunteer force. Well-designed facilities help recruit and keep talented persons by providing a setting noble enough to honor their service.”
Client: Oregon Military Department
Owner: Oregon Military Department
Personnel in architect's firm who should receive special credit:
Interior designer: Tracey Bascue, THA Architecture
John McDonald, Principal
Matt Dolan, Principal
Kirk Davis, Electrical Principal
Charles Brucker, Principal
Bart Ricketts, Principal-in-Charge
Photographer(s): Lara Swimmer
40,000 square feet
$17.3 million (total)
Metal/glass curtain wall:
Rainscreen: 6” wide Cedar board siding
Wood: See Rainscreen.
Other cladding unique to this project:
Insulated-panel or plastic glazing:
Upswinging doors, other:
Closers: LCN Commercial Division
Exit devices: Von Duprin
Pulls: H.B. Ives
Suspension grid: Armstrong
Cabinetwork and custom woodwork:
Paints and stains:
Plastic laminate: Nevamar
Solid surfacing: Caesarstone
Floor and wall tile:
Special interior finishes unique to this project:
Dimming System or other lighting controls:
Photovoltaic system: Nexus Energy Solutions