A long vacant lot next to some of Old Town’s most notable cast iron buildings looks to be finally getting the attention it deserves as Ankrom Moisan and Gerding Edlen Development have proposed a new 6-story 3/4 block building at 60 NW Davis. The block’s southwest corner is currently occupied by Oregon College of Oriental Medicine’s newly remodeled Globe Hotel, a project by Beam Development. The remaining 3/4 block has been weeds and surface parking for a long time (the northern half of the block has been vacant for almost 80 years), and has been in the Portland Development Commission’s hands since 2005. Ankrom Moisan is looking to build itself a new headquarters in the city center, and this river-fronting, easily-accessed parcel was perfect for their needs.
The proposal includes a lot more than just Ankrom Moisan’s new offices, as the top two floors will be a mix of market and low-income residential units, and the ground floor will be entirely retail and lobby. Currently, GED is in talks with University of Oregon to expand their Portland campus into this neighboring building by moving its Executive MBA program into the southeast corner, ground floor space. The building’s exterior will be directly expressive of its internal uses (as seen in the image above), and its height is dictated by the 75-foot limit imposed to maintain the historic structural-brick building fabric. The height of the building overall will match that of U of O’s White Stag building to the south, and the new building’s top office level will be at the same height as OCOM’s roofline. The facades’ windows and detailing are designed to match the existing grid patterns of nearby historic buildings, and the upper residential units are slightly set back with a darker color finish. The treatment of the upper floors will probably change, as will the overall proportions as the design team furthers its process. Materiality has not been finalized either, but it is currently proposed as being mostly brick, metal panel, and exposed structure.
The existing OCOM building has a 15-foot easement for service access which lead the design team to envision a L-shaped alley between the buildings. Ankrom Moisan is looking into incorporating some of the city’s cast iron horde into the alley entrances, and would like to mix in some Asian-influenced design elements within the alley. The lobby for the whole building will be located at the north-south axis of the alley to act as a breezeway for access as well. I personally like the ‘in-between spaces’ found in some of the Old Town building’s old light wells, and an L-shaped alleyway would add a nice amenity that I feel would compliment the area. As far as the ground-floor retail, U of O is taking the less-walked Naito side, and the smaller NW corner spot is envisioned as containing some type of cafe or restaurant space with outdoor seating in the alley.
The building is proposed as heavy timber frame over ground-level concrete (fire code), and has some of its frame exposed to help break up its block-long mass as well as externally express some of its internal tectonics. The proportion and scale are respectful of the district, but may need to be tweaked a bit to really fit in amongst its older peers. The proposal includes some new street parking and internal bike storage, but no on-site parking.
So far, I appreciate the proposed design elements, especially the alley and the broken facade, but I feel that the overall project is lacking as far as it being a ‘city-fronting’ building. The proportions could use some work, and the initial materiality appears somewhat out of place. I would love to see smaller detailing if they use metal panels, in respect to the cast iron, and a different window system might work better with the surrounding urban fabric. I always prefer new buildings to be designed to be similar in massing, but stand out, be easily recognized as ‘new’ compared to ‘blending in’ as most historic district redevelopments tend to do. In my opinion, this location could use a significant, yet respectful, design or design element that could be publicly recognizable and a little less cautious, much like the Burnside Bridgehead projects across the Willamette. Overall though, I’m glad to see one of the many surface lots facing Waterfront Park disappear, and I look forward to seeing how the design process evolves for this project.