Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

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catena’s conference table

by Kate Rurik

It began around the pool table.  Or was it the ping-pong table?

Recollections are slightly hazy as to which one it was, but it was one of these highly efficient, multi-use tables in the center of a residential living room that brought together the first meetings of catena consulting engineers.  Ever since then, the tables we gather around to converse and do business reflect the grassroots stories of our existence.

Catena’s first leased office space was in the historic NW Fence and Wire Building on Flanders and 11th Street, a building full of 20th century industrial vigor for the city of Portland.  Originally, the building was a lively horse stable before the automobile became the predominant mode of transportation.  In 1915, the building was bought and used for the growing fence and wire industry.  Much later, in 2004, the building underwent a significant renovation to offer commercial business’ retail space and catena moved in shortly thereafter.  It was here in the dumpster outside, that co-founding Principal, John McDonald, spotted vertical grain fir wood.  John saw the opportunity to construct a conference table with the dilapidating 1900s wood and rallied new-employee, Jared Lewis, and an old truck, and salvaged what they could.

Building the conference table proved to be a fickle process.  There was a painful amount of work to pull out all the old nails, take the aging wood to a lumber mill to be sawn square, and then fit and join together the planks.

Once the wood was fitted together, decisions were made to inlay a special steel frame inside the table.  While at a previous firm, John McDonald and Chris Thompson worked on a project designing a corner column steel moment frame, one of the first to be designed in the state of Oregon.  One of the cross-sections was passed along as a gift to catena around the same time the company was finding its bearings as a start-up.  The moment frame was a highlight and there was no stopping John and Jared from incorporating it into the design.

It was the middle of winter, freezing cold, and John and Jared traced out the moment frame, routed out a recess in the table to fit the steel piece, and using a bar top coating, proceeded to coat the entire piece in John’s dusty open barn.  After ten days of arduous drying, the top still slightly tacky, the table was solid enough to move to the office.

For ten years, the conference table was enjoyed and well-used.  Following the office move in 2016, catena sought out a furniture designer to construct a table to complement the newly-renovated conference room.  Green Furniture Solutions designed a conference table made out of Juniper, a wood that is proliferating and taking over grassland ecosystems in Eastern Oregon.  Acres of trees are being cut and burned, and Green Furniture Solutions is part of a program that salvages these trees and uses the beautiful wood for furniture instead.  In many ways, this eco-friendly story jives with catena’s history of salvaging wood from dumpsters and saving unwanted forest trees.  And if anyone is wondering, the historic steel moment frame is neatly recessed in the conference table slab and remains our center-piece.

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