After two design advice sessions, Gerding Edlen Development is pushing ahead their Block 8L mixed-use development in Old Town in design review. Poised to become the new headquarters of Ankrom Moisan, the project’s architect, the building will have additional space for the University of Oregon’s graduate programs, 70 small residential units on the top two floors, and retail in the NW corner of the ground floor.
The newest proposal reduces the height of the overall form to the nearby Bickel Block’s roofline and massing by setting back the 6th floor and changing the proposed materiality to a more uniform palette. The window bays and entrances have also been modified to further match their older surroundings, and the previously proposed structural frame expression has been removed from the exterior. In an attempt to utilize some of the city’s stored cast iron pieces, a small “cast iron museum” of columns and pilasters will grace the unused ROW along Naito Parkway in the front of the building, with a few pieces also incorporated into the project’s alleyway.
The gated alleyway is proposed as a flexible outdoor space, with uniform planters and ample seating spaces. The previously proposed Asian motif has been gutted, and the new design is much more banal, for better or for worse. The stairs and entrances within the alley have been reduced in prominence, and the ground floor building line has been pushed out to the sidewalk to maintain the urban edge. The main entrances are now proposed to have larger wood canopies to differentiate from their lesser counterparts, but the darker facade material above the entrances remains in high contrast to the rest of the building’s lighter color.
Overall the project looks cleaner and more respectful to its immediate surroundings, something the design commission staff had been pressing the design team on. The staff tend to lean toward the ‘blend in’ approach to historic district preservation rather than the more European, and my own preferred, ‘stand out’ approach that is exactly the opposite. This project is rather bland to me, even compared to the nearby Mercy Corps headquarters built in 2009, and even that design falls too much into the historic mimicry dialogue for my tastes. Regardless, I welcome this development as a vast improvement to the existing conditions, and it will be another boost to Old Town and the waterfront, which have both been greatly neglected in the past decades.