2013 was a rather fantastic year for architecture around the world. Everyone has their favorite new buildings, and almost everyone’s list is different and sometimes endless. I’m particularly fond of Astley Castle, Amano Design Office,and The Leadenhall Building to name a few, but here in Portland my favorite new addition to our urbanity is the Emery Apartments in the South Waterfront.
Designed by ZGF Architects for the Zidells, the seven-story apartment and retail building creates a new space where there previously was none. Sandwiched in-between the I-5 freeway, the Ross Island Bridge, and the Zidell’s barge building operation, the building triumphantly responds to its greater neighbors by looming out over the sidewalk, jutting out like a sharp basalt rock, which has a surprisingly protective, comforting feel rather than overpowering the streetscape. Coming down Moody, the building is framed by the piers and bridge decking to its north, which in turn makes the apartments only come into full view once you are pass through the bridge’s threshold. Once you are in front of the building, it points its mass toward the center of the South Waterfront District, which pulls and connects the somewhat isolated building into the greater neighborhood.
The ground floor is the real gem of this building, an urban set of small retail spaces along an elevated porch with a series of short steps acting as both stairs and seating spaces. The convex-angled facade comes to its apex at the entry point for the main lobby, directing focus without taking away from the storefronts. A second-level cantilever acts as the awning for the ground floor with a light wood soffit, and the porch area tapers off to the south by means of an access ramp that follows a wall of thin wood siding that has been darkened to match the facade overhead.
The facade is made of cor-ten steel and slate-black panels which change colors dynamically with the sun and shadows that come from the nearby bridge. The glass has just the right amount of reflectivity to dissuade voyeurism, and yet maintains the coloration of the overall skin. The metal panels also have both vertical and horizontal line patterns that shift and play with the overall texture and scale of the cantilevered building.
There are other new buildings of merit built in 2013 around Portland, but I find that none of them have the same influence on the streetscape that the Emery does. As this is the first building of many for Zidell as a developer, my expectation for their remaining property is now very high.