Portland’s June Key Delta Center Draws Advocates For Reimagined Development

Two groups, attendees of Sustainable Building Week and the National Organization of Minority Architects conference, gathered Wednesday at a North Portland community center that replaced a gas station in support of a shared goal: development that is energy efficient and restores communities.

The June Key Delta Community Center at 5940 N. Albina Ave. is a showcase of remediating a brownfield site to create a vibrant, beloved social and educational center. Architect Mark Nye and Colas Construction built the zero-energy structure for the Portland alumnae chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.

Since the center launched in 2011, the organization has opened its doors to community events to address educational development, physical and mental health, economic development, international awareness and involvement, as well as arts and social action.

The center, across from the Peninsula Park Rose Garden, is in the Humboldt neighborhood, which is part of the historic Albina community in North and inner Northeast Portland, where four out of five Black Portlanders once lived. Over decades, Black residents were displaced from their homes in Humboldt as well as Eliot, Boise, King, Overlook, Irvington and Piedmont neighborhoods by construction projects and gentrification.

One of the speakers at the Oct. 11 event, titled Amplifying Black Vision in the Sustainable Building Industry, was Chandra D. Robinson of LEVER Architecture in North Portland. She has designed a 94-unit affordable housing building, called Albina One, which is the first of the new housing, commercial buildings, civic and cultural event spaces envisioned by the Albina Vision Community Investment Plan.

Robinson, a founding board member of the National Organization of Minority Architects’ Portland chapter, said having the architecture conference and Sustainable Building Week in Portland at the same time “brings together people who believe in the value of good design as a tool to address social issues and climate issues.”

The event was presented by the ZERO Coalition, which promotes building decarbonization in Oregon, and Portland’s Delta Sigma Theta Sorority chapter, which owns the center, an exemplar of eco-friendly construction.

June Key Delta Community Center

The June Key Delta Community Center is the first Black-owned project that met the regenerative Living Building Challenge to have a minimum impact on the environment.

The structure’s geothermal system produces more energy than it needs to operate. Photovoltaic solar panels convert the sun’s rays into energy and additional energy is redirected back to the electrical grid. A bioswale filtrates water and rainwater catchment is used as gray water for lavatory and irrigation for the community garden.

The project used repurposed cargo containers, salvaged glass, recycled construction materials and donated materials.

The center is named after the late June Roe Runnells Key, an educator in the Portland Public Schools district and a charter member of the Beta Psi Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta. Her focus on economic development a half century ago continues to inspire sorority members, according to Portland Alumnae Chapter president Alexandria Watson.

“We follow the original vision for this to be an affordable community meeting space as we expand the programs, work with nonprofits and give back to the community,” Watson said. A new grant from Metro will support the garden, and people rent the center, which has a kitchen, for weddings and other events.

Watson said the free ZERO Coalition event drew in architects, small business owners and others from the community who walked over to have the conversation about sustainable building and growing a business.

“If someone wants to talk to the community, we want to be available,” she said. “Year round, we want to say, ‘How can we assist you? We have chairs, tables, let’s do it.’ Our goal is to be accessible.”

NOMA conference

The 2023 National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) conference is in Portland Oct. 11-15.NOMA PDX

The 2023 National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) conference was held through Sunday in Portland for the first time in the organization’s 55-year history. The theme: Building Bridges Towards Just and Joyful Futures.

About 1,200 architects, planners and designers of color convened to inspire one another, organizers said.

Architect Karina Ruiz is president of Portland’s NOMA chapter and principal of Portland-based BRIC Architecture (Building Relationships | Inspiring Communities). At the conference’s Bro’s Arts Ball Saturday night, she told attendees “this organization has and continues to change the face, the voice and the future of the industry in this city through connections, inspiration and empowerment.”

Ruiz said the students and emerging professionals at the conference “will never have to doubt that someone who looks like them or reflects their lived experience can be an architect, and do amazing things because they’ve witnessed it.”

Sakshi Nanda, an urban designer at ZGF Architects in Portland who recently located here, said she benefited from NOMA conference events that focused on community-led work. Jenny Le, a first-year architecture student at University of Oregon, reconnected with mentors, met other professionals in the field and said she hopes to start a NOMA chapter at her campus.

— Janet Eastman | 503-294-4072

jeastman@oregonian.com | @janeteastman

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