A low-rent warren of artist studios and maker spaces, the century-old Towne Storage building was a storied reminder of Old Portland hunkered at the east end of the Burnside Bridge. The weathered timber-and-brick building was also nearly falling down, decades out of step with seismic and building codes, and with an unsettlingly large crack snaking up through all of its six floors.
It’s fitting, then, that Autodesk, which bills itself as a company that “makes software for people who make things” helped bring the Towne back to life when the California-born tech giant relocated its Oregon hub from Lake Oswego in 2018. Today, the fully refurbished historic warehouse faintly buzzes with activity, as around 250 employees create and refine programs that help architects and engineers 3-D-model and digitally prototype and manufacture everything from race cars to CGI battle scenes to Portland playgrounds and huge skyscrapers. (In fact, its programs helped local architecture firm Mackenzie update, design, and build the Autodesk office itself.)
“Not only are the employees from Portland, the materials and designers [used to create the office] are Portland,” says Shaan Hurley, Autodesk’s ebullient global innovation lead, pointing to Doug fir timbers reclaimed from the old Centennial Mills flour complex in Northwest to build a stunning cubist stairwell. “A lot of our offices could swap in and out, from Boston to Munich. This one could only exist in Portland. And that’s a draw for employees.”
Reminders of the original Towne building are everywhere, from the restored water tank on the roof to the word “love” spray-painted on the bricks of a fourth-floor conference room, a leftover from its days as a creative space. The office also houses a collaboration with PIE (Portland Incubator Experiment). The “PIE Shop” earmarks space for 15 local start-ups that lean on Autodesk programs to create everything from toys to apps to sensor-equipped “smart containers.”
The Stumptown mania is carried through the sprawling open-plan office’s many, many conference rooms and privacy nooks, with spaces devoted to the PDX airport (complete with the famed carpet and original chairs), the Portland Japanese Garden (serene photo mural, mossy chairs), and a bar and game room boasting a peekaboo view of the Burnside Skatepark.
And then, beyond the on-site gym and library, there’s the roof deck: a sprawling wooden Shangri-la with a panoramic view of downtown Portland and an indoor meeting space with towering, retractable glass walls. “It’s Ted Wheeler’s favorite deck,” crows Hurley, noting the Portland mayor lingered up there an extra hour during a 2018 office tour and has mentioned it multiple times since. Typically, though, the roof level is reserved for the use of Autodesk workers, who employ the space for anything from taking sunny-day naps to racing remote-control cars. “I remember one evening at sunset, I found an employee and his entire family having a little picnic up here,” says Hurley.
In fact, some new employees mention they actually applied to work at Autodesk after spying the new office while stuck in traffic on the Burnside Bridge. “They say, ‘It’s cool that you came to town’ and I say, ‘Um, we’ve been here for 25 years,” says Hurley with a laugh. “And we’ll be here in 25 more.”