Shattuck Hall blends historical charm, modern efficiency

Shattuck Hall is located in the south end of the Park Blocks.

Since the 1990s, Shattuck Hall has been home to the School of Architecture. With its open studios, contemporary fixtures, high ceilings and natural light, it’s a mix of 20th-century charm and 21st-century modernism, and an ideal setting for the school’s approximately 300 undergraduate and master’s students.

The building underwent a major, award-winning renovation in 2008, which earned it LEED Gold status and transformed its interior. But if you look closely, you will see remnants of the building’s past life as Shattuck School, which opened its doors to neighborhood children in 1915.

Shattuck Hall, Courtesy Portland Public Schools

In each of the open-plan studios — long since stripped of the old classroom walls, chalkboards and children’s desks — elegant built-in shelving units remain, and it doesn’t take much imagination to picture a teacher’s desk, topped with a globe, test papers, and maybe an apple, nearby. Other details belie the building’s past life as an elementary school, including the original wooden stair bannisters, the tall windows, and the hardwood floors.

The lower floor of Shattuck Hall, which now houses the wood and metal shop for the Schools of Architecture and Art + Design, a casting shop, a printmaking studio, a digital lab and drawing classrooms, initially featured a swimming pool. The “tank,” as it was called, was “of white tile, of graduated depth, 75 by 30 feet in size, filled with sterilized water kept constantly flowing,” according to a 1915 article in The Oregonian. The pool was situated on the west side of the building, with locker rooms and showers positioned to the east. The lower floor also included a gymnasium and playroom, roughly where the wood and metal shop is today.

One item from the school’s past is a bit of an enigma, however. According to a newspaper article at the time, a “receptacle containing a history of the Shattuck School” was placed “in a niche in the cornerstone” on May 21, 1915, at an event celebrating the building’s opening. At present, the location of this hidden treasure of history is unknown to PSU officials, so the mystery continues. — Karen O’Donnell Stein, Marketing & Communications Manager, College of the Arts

Architecture students’ outdoor laboratory

Shattuck Hall Ecological Learning Plaza

The Shattuck Hall Ecological Learning Plaza, located on the east side of Shattuck Hall, serves as an outdoor laboratory space for the School of Architecture.

This is where students and faculty build experimental prototypes for the Pickathon Treeline Stage, hammering together full-scale mockups of stage components to work out the kinks before launching the main build at Pendarvis Farm. Passing by during a typical school year, you might also see experiments with vertical gardens, a sloped green roof, Master of Architecture thesis demonstrations and material reuse investigations.

The space hasn’t always been an experimental design-build lab, however. When Shattuck Hall was an elementary school, this area was used as an outdoor playground.

Playground paving still lies just below the surface. When the school building was taken over by PSU, the play area became the site of a prefabricated structure used by Campus Public Safety. Its rusted steel frame straddles the plaza today.

The permeable paving that forms the surface of this space offers another layer of history. The historic basalt cobblestones — some of them estimated to be at least 100 years old — originally lined the streets of Old Town and inner Southeast Portland.

When the Eco Plaza was installed nearly a decade ago, Architecture students braved the winter rains, dug up 30,000 pounds of the cobblestones from a park in St. Johns, loaded them onto rented trucks and transported them back to PSU for installation in the plaza. Now, they mitigate stormwater runoff and remind us that wherever we go, history lies right beneath our feet. — Karen O’Donnell Stein, Marketing & Communications Manager, College of the Arts

Rediscovering Campus is a weekly series that highlights the stories behind popular spaces at Portland State University, as we gear up for a return to in-person learning.