Re-imaginations and Reclamations
And the distinction of Portland's best architecture in 2018 goes to…a building from 1916? Bank on it.
Entering the financial-app company Expensify's new headquarters in the former First National Bank building downtown at Southwest Sixth and Stark is breathtaking. Though it's hard to tell from the street, the interior of this multi-story atrium with a glass roof feels almost like a 19th century Victorian railway station: wide open and full of light. Into this, ZGF Architects' redesign inserted a pair of metal boxes for added meeting space and tucked a stairway behind them to add circulation. But the real victory was bringing the original design by Boston firm Coolidge and Shattuck alive with a light hand and an eye for beautiful materials. Did ZGF get a head start with the original? Sure. But beauty is beauty.
Expensify is just one of numerous standout office projects to open in 2018, as the local economy boomed. Perhaps the most impressive entirely new such construction was Field Office, designed by Hacker Architects for developer Project, which interweaves commercial square footage with green foliage and open space. Field Office represents a growing trend for such speculative commercial buildings: using the places between the offices as an attractor.
Another commercial project, Heartline in the Pearl District (on the site of the former Feldman Building long occupied by the Pacific Northwest College of Art), was welcome for a related but different reason. Its developer, Seattle-based Security Properties, built two separate buildings on the site—one commercial, one residential — instead of the cheaper, more common alternative: one big podium and tower containing a mix of both uses. Instead of overwhelming the historic warehouses nearby, the two buildings by Seattle architecture firm Mithun fit in because they're at a comparable scale, while also creating a delightful little urban alley in between.
On the residential side, it's hard not to be impressed by Carbon 12 in Northeast Portland, currently the tallest mass-timber building in the United States. It's not just that cross-laminated timber framing makes Carbon 12 ecologically impressive or more seismically resilient. It's also a handsome building inside and out.
We also need great places to come together like Viking Pavilion, Woofter Architecture's transformation of Portland State University's Stott Center. A multipurpose space that can host everything from basketball games to science fairs, the glass-ensconced Viking Pavilion recalls that modernist masterpiece across the river, Veterans Memorial Coliseum, but at a smaller, more appropriate scale and a much better location on the South Park Blocks.
Arguably possessing more pound-for-pound pizzazz than any of these projects is Enoteca Nostrana in Southeast Portland. A wine bar and private dining room expansion of Italian restaurant Nostrana, its design by architect Rick Potestio and Nostrana operations director Nicholas Suhor offers an eye-popping array of colors, textures and patterns, including a two-story, glass-enclosed wine rack.
Two of the year's best designs were for open space rather than architecture. The Forest Park Bridges by Fieldwork Design & Architecture, a trio of new spans, combine beauty and functionality almost effortlessly. And particularly with its cable-stay pier stretching out over the Columbia River, Vancouver Waterfront Park marks an entirely new chapter for this Washington-state suburb. Just as Tom McCall Waterfront Park did for Portland, restoring public access to the river from downtown will be transformational.
The only question is which of these designs might people still be celebrating a century from now, in 2118. More than my judgment or yours, that's the real test.
Brian Libby is a Portland freelance journalist, critic and photographer who has contributed to The New York Times, The Atlantic and Dwell among others. His column, Portland Architecture, can be read monthly in the Business Tribune or Online at: portlandarchitecture.com
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