Something new is rising next to the Ross Island Bridge in Southwest Portland, and it’s not the new light rail bridge. On the other side of the Ross Island Bridge the Zidell company, a commercial barge building company that owns a large chunk of the South Waterfront District, is getting into the redevelopment business with a mixed-use project, The Emery, a new 118-unit apartment building with ground floor retail and bike parking. This project has a lot going for it: it is a brownfield redevelopment, contains zero automobile parking, has two ground floor restaurant spaces, four small retail spaces, an overall design shape atypical to the common rectangular box form, and adds design elements to the streetscape. The buildings facade will be clad in weathered steel which is both a nod to the areas industrial heritage and also a new material for the South Waterfront which has been previously criticized for lacking variety in exterior materials.
The streetscape is, as always with me, the most important part of any urban building. This building is under construction and therefore not finished, but judging from the plans provided on public record and what can be seen thus far the street frontage looks to have quite a bit of activity. Human activity is vital in an urban setting for a variety of social, commercial and crime negation related reasons. The uncommon shape of the building creates a wide triangle of additional street in the form of an elevated terrace. The terrace is separated from the Moody Avenue sidewalk (and bikeway) by a series of short steps and an ADA ramp at the Southern end. The terrace looks to have some wood slatted benches along the Eastern side for street furniture, another necessity in my opinion, and the ramp will be nestled in with a vegetated bioswale for stormwater. The slope and location of the site appear to have been made into an asset rather than a liability by facing the building toward the river and away from the freeway, and creating much needed retail and restaurant space in a jobs and residential heavy area. I can also imagine that they are focusing on bike commuters and OHSU students with the ample bike parking supply, access to the Gibbs St. Pedestrian Bridge, and the Aerial Tram up to OHSU’s main campus.
I do hope that the remaining buildings in Zidell’s planned vision will be as forward thinking and urban design minded as this one. There have been several snippets of the masterplan about but most of the design work looks like placeholders. The whole project is supposed to take decades and economics can change drastically, but if the Zidell Yards come to fruition it will be a welcome addition to Portland’s urban fabric. The most promising aspects of the masterplan for me are the focus on streetscape, varied street design, public parks, and the fact that the industrial fabrication will continue while the neighborhood pops up around it. For some reason the grit and (dare I say) authenticity of the industrial warehouses add an element missing in the rest of the South Waterfront thus far. For me, Jane Jacobs was right about the need and value of old buildings and their role in an urban place. Plus, the more mixed use an area is the more diversity it contains.
I look forward to reexamining this building once it is finished and as new buildings pop up in the larger Zidell plan.