up front

Rendering of the proposed Front 17 development from Front Avenue looking NW (YBA Architects)

For a long time the City of Portland’s ‘Central City’ boundary included a peculiar, oddly shaped short stub of land which protruding under the Fremont Bridge into the NW Industrial area. As the success of the Pearl District has driven residential construction northward, a portion of this predominantly vacant land has been redeveloped into the lackluster Riverscape townhomes and Pacifica condominiums. Recently, most of the development-related news has focused on the nearby $116 million Centennial Mills rehabilitation plan from Jordan Schnitzer and Harsch Investment (and that small project over in the Lloyd), but the stub land just to the North of the old mill has seen quite a bit of activity of its own lately.

Bird’s eye view of the proposed Front 17 development in its surroundings, a large parking podium connects the three residential buildings with two raised 42′-wide courtyards in-between (YBA Architects)

Aerial perspective of Front 17 from the NE, the larger residential structure’s mass is broken up into three interconnecting forms, each with a 90′ facade facing the river (YBA Architects)

The last four parcels of Riverscape look to be finally getting underway, along with a newcomer, the Front 17 development, a two-acre project that includes a five-story office block, 220 apartments, townhomes, and large amount of ground floor retail. This new project is to be located on an irregular shaped site sandwiched between the railroad and Front Avenue, and abutting up to the locally landmarked Dockside Saloon.

The preliminary design for the proposed five-story office building on the Southern edge of the Front 17 property, ground floor retail spaces face Front Avenue and a potential hardscape plaza (YBA Architects)

The proposed Front 17 development next to the existing Dockside Saloon, view looking Southeast toward the Fremont Bridge (YBA Architects)

Rendering of the proposed Front 17 townhouses along NW 17 Avenue, the angled units align with the adjacent Dockside Saloon (YBA Architects)

Front 17 is in an early stage of development, but the images released give us a good idea of what the design team is thinking. The majority of the massing is pressed up against Front Avenue, which makes sense for potential views of the river and to reduce train noise. Along that same line of thinking it also makes sense to put office space at the triangular point closest to the rail crossing at NW 15th and Thurman. Unlike Riverscape, the architects dug deep into the history of the site and its immediate context for inspiration. The resulting interlocking forms are based on the old warehouse docks that once lined the Willamette, with folded ends and diagonal wood siding reminiscent of the old wharf buildings that once presided there.

Perspective of Front 17’s main ground floor retail space situated across the hardscape plaza from the proposed office building (YBA Architects)

Rendering of the proposed retail spaces along Front Avenue, the building form folds in under the residences above (YBA Architects)

Perspective of Front 17’s pedestrian environment along Front Avenue, the green walls elude to the raised courtyards above (YBA Architects)

The proposed materiality and open design of the retail spaces along Front Avenue are very promising for a successful active street environment. The predominant use of light wood tones and large windows looks to give the undulating pedestrian realm a warmer, more inviting feel, which is in contrast to the existing built environment that is currently rather bleak and empty. This project will definitely be a welcome addition to the area, especially as the gap between the Pearl District and this odd wedge of downtown gets smaller. I do hope however, that projects like this can play nice with the neighboring industrial district, whose edge has been eroded and blurred as of late. Large swathes of former industrial and flex land, like South Waterfront and Con-way, are rapidly changing and redefining the urban edge, and the mix has not always meshed well for obvious reasons. The need for urban residential land is great however, especially since our main policy objective is to preserve our forests and farmland while sustaining a demanding population gain, which is no easy task with a finite amount of land and resources. Regardless, we need to use our few remaining redevelopable parcels wisely, and the proposed density and amenities of Front 17 are spot on with those goals, albeit with a few more parking spaces than I think are necessary.

Plan view of the proposed layout and massing of the Front 17 project (YBA Architects)

Plan view of Front 17’s ground level activity, the purple areas highlight the amount of proposed retail space (YBA Architects)

As previously mentioned, the last Riverscape properties are also in various stages of development as the Front fronting parcels are already under construction, and both Lots 1 and 8 have been going through design review. Block 1 keeps within the same riskless design sense as the rest of Riverscape, and Lot 8’s design inspiration comes directly from the tiered waterfront projects of Vancouver, BC. The important thing about these projects is that, once they are complete, the area should finally feel like part of the central city, with an urban street presence, storefronts, and a continuous waterfront pathway.

The proposed Riverscape Lot 1 apartment building just North of the Fremont Bridge will consist of 149 apartments, one micro-retail space, and 137 parking stalls (SERA Architects)

Rendering of Riverscape Lot 8, a 250-unit apartment project with 225 parking stalls and two micro-retail spaces near Front Avenue (SERA Architects)

Rendering of the proposed Riverscape Lot 8, view from Front Avenue (SERA Architects)




2 responses to “up front

  1. What are your feelings about the design quality of those projects in the NW Industrial area? I think it is great they are developing there and better connecting the neighborhoods but I’d love to hear your thoughts on the quality of the architecture itself.

    • As with anywhere in Portland, there is a mixed bag of new architecture moving into the NW Industrial area and its environs, and most of it falls into the safe investment realm of contemporary building. If you’re talking directly about the Con-way properties and the Slabtown area, the upcoming Q21 from YBA and the nearby Overton 19 from Works come to mind as quality design. So far, however, nothing built or proposed has been all that impressive, as far as the world of Architecture is concerned, but buildings like the Benevento from GBD have brought great pedestrian engagement to the area (regardless of the overplayed push/pull design above, and how you feel about the loss of the New Old Lompoc), and Holst’s Sawyer’s Row has managed to mimic the form and scale of its surroundings while bringing in something new instead of the less-contentious, faux-historic designs that tend to proliferate there.
      We will have to wait and see as things develop, of course, but Con-way has some competition from the Zidell’s and American Assets Trust for reimagining large-scale urban infill (in the South Waterfront and Lloyd respectively), so I do expect some innovative design will come forward at some point, especially as the local economy keeps improving. Right now, the quality of infill businesses and adaptive reuse projects in the NW Industrial’s edge are what should be focused on, as they are the barometer for what’s to come…

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