heartwood and seedling III

Rendered perspective of the proposed Block 136 development, a mixed-use full block project set to replace the old PNCA building at NW 13th Avenue between Johnson and Kearney (Mithun)

After several months of design advice, discussed here and here, Security Properties and Mithun Architects have now applied for final design review for their Block 136 project in the Pearl District of Portland. The project has now solidified into two buildings above a two story underground parking garage; one with 208 residential units including townhouse style ground floor units, and the other being a 60,000 sq. ft. office building with 15,000 sq. ft. of ground floor retail at the 13th Avenue raised sidewalk ‘dock’ level. The lowrise office building will have 5 floors and will be 75′ tall, and the taller tower will be 15 stories and 150 feet.

The proposed Block 136 project from 12th and Johnson looking NW, the program was broken into two distinct buildings with completely different uses, street presence, and material expressions (Mithun)

Conceptual drawing of the residential tower’s stepped-up townhouses at ground level, view looking NW (Mithun)

The design team’s original metaphor, two separate buildings as ‘heartwood and seedling,’ is seen loosely in the highly contrasting forms the two structures make. The darker, heavier lowrise was purposely placed on 13th Avenue in order to maintain the retail heavy corridor’s urban edge, and the residential block rises up with lighter, more vertical exterior language that plays off of the lower building’s horizontality. In this newest proposal, more detail has come to the ground floor experience. The street edge around the residential building is now broken into layers and groupings of windows, board-formed concrete, metal panels, and trellises of metal mesh. The two story ground level will contain a double height lobby and sales office at the northern edge, decorative loading and parking garage doors to the northeast, and eight townhouses wrapping around the southeast corner. The courtyard side will house a shared kitchen and lounge area that protrudes into the courtyard as a semi-private patio area.

The proposed 50′ by 100′ courtyard between the two Block 136 buildings, aerial view from the north (Mithun)

Conceptual drawing of the office building’s facade and the raised retail dock’s interaction with the proposed public courtyard (Mithun)

The courtyard’s plan follows the ongoing wood metaphor with a series of large timber benches that are placed in a manner reminiscent of harvested logs floating in the river. The office building’s high dock continues through the building into the courtyard to make another semi-private space for the ground floor retail tenants. Light levels in the publicly open courtyard were very important to the city and the design team, and after some precedent study with the pedestrianized Kearney Street nearby, the designers decided on a mix of open sky portals within a canopy of honey locusts.

Section cut of the proposed Block 136 project which shows the relative dimensions and use segregation within the block (Mithun)

The project will continue the existing languages found within the eclectic Pearl District’s urban character, with both old and contemporary materials and massings. The newest details give me a sense that this project will be of decent quality and will bring additional life to the neighborhood. After walking down 13th the other day, I realized how a few projects in the area really deaden the landscape and break the urban composition, e.g. the ill-proportioned and cheaply detailed Lovejoy, and how these few developments really destroyed the Pearl’s character toward the north. I do not fear that same effect will be caused by Block 136, as the general forms of both buildings, the attention to the street presence, and the selection of materiality all appear to be successful in weaving itself into the urban fabric.

Proposed street presence along 13th Avenue during First Thursday, note the Tracey Sparling Pedal Garden, lower right, looks to be preserved at its existing location (Mithun)

Rendering of the proposed Block 136 project’s residential tower from the north (Mithun)


7 responses to “heartwood and seedling III

  1. Mithun’s treatment of the lower building is precisely what the Pearl needs: a contemporary building sensitive and respectful of it’s context without resorting to historical gimmicks. Instead of kitschy gestures common in many Pearl buildings we see a more mature reference to existing conditions in materials and massing yet with a contemporary approach to openings and transparency. Instead of surface flashiness we see a quiet depth from the consistent use of a quality material punctuated with substantial reveals. Beyond the lower building, the entire program appears very well conceived with massing broken up to provide lightness and contrast in volume and texture. In addition, the proposed micro restaurant dock and office space is a much needed amenity to 13th avenue and will help offset the loss of active use with the PNCA move. And while many are protesting the move to taller towers, this project appears to strike a balance between the needs of the pedestrian resident and current development metrics. Well done–let’s hope the finished product matches these renderings.

  2. I agree. Both buildings have an elegance to them that is rarely seen in the surrounding pearl district architecture. The material pallet is simple, the form is simple, but it is beautifully simple. I also love the attention to the pedestrian experience both along 13th as well as in the alley between the two buildings. Great project. I’m excited to see it realized.

  3. I see little objective validity in the preceding comments. This project’s proposed 15 story block has generated more public opposition than any Pearl project I can recall.

    Most of us in the immediate neighborhood consider the taller proposed structure an abomination that will negatively alter the character of the Pearl and the quality of life of those of us who live here. The overall design submitted for review aesthetically favors 13th Avenue at the expense of a terrible monolithic block on 12th Avenue with no building entrance, no retail and no reason for a pedestrian to set foot on the block. The design aggressively thumbs it’s nose at the smart development that has made the Pearl District an icon of smart urban redevelopment.

    • Thank you for your incite, I do want to point out that the proposal does include a main lobby entrance [service entry] and 8 [four of the eight] ground floor townhomes facing 12th Avenue, a street designated by the city and the neighborhood plan as a non-retail focused, residential street. Whereas 13th, 11th, 10th, and Lovejoy streets are the designated retail, commercial, and active-use corridors near the development site. In essence, this proposal is the epitome of smart growth design, which is why I think there is a lot of praise for this redevelopment.

      [Edit: after reviewing the documents for this project, I found that my memory had replaced the service entry with the lobby entry. I apologize for this error. The project is actually better designed than my memory of it; it makes far more sense to have the services mid-12th, the lobby facing Kearney at the courtyard, the office at the NE corner, and the townhomes to wrap around the SE corner.]

    • Andrew I would suggest the immediate neighbors are in fact the least apt to hold “objectively valid” views of this project. “Abomination” is not a term generally employed in “objective” matters. I would also suggest questioning one’s objectivity or validity is inappropriate in a forum such as this.

      • A bit condescending, don’t you think, to casually dismiss the views of those who live near the Site and thus know the neighborhood best and will ultimately have to live with the result?

        The developer’s initial presentation in 2013 included a two mid- rise building option; nobody would have objected to that.

        Instead, the final proposal seeks to saddle a neighborhood of 4 to 6 story buildings with a 15 story blocky rectangle with no set backs. It is plainly and obviously an obtrusive bad fit – in my view an abomination in context of the neighborhood. This type of development flies in the face of what has made the Pearl an icon for smart development. I fear that given another decade, the Pearl will become very ordinary.

        In addition to the fundamental issue of the size of the residential building, the Developer’s presentation demonstrated a fundamental lack of aesthetic care for the 12th Avenue face of that residential building.

        Finally, the entrance to the high rise faces Kearney, not 12th Avenue as stated above.

        This is anything but “the epitome of smart development”.

  4. My apologies, I did not dismiss the views of the neighbors; I only suggested they are not likely to be “objective” as you put it. If one’s view is blocked or other current amenity compromised one is more likely to place their narrow priorities above those of the larger community. But to your points- the Pearl is replete with taller buildings, many within two blocks of this site. My building is 16 stories with two other as tall next door and located well south of Lovejoy (greater height is allowed to the north). In addition, garage doors and a lack of main entry are not uncommon on 12th. More to the point, the existing building fronts a blank concrete wall and surface parking! If 4 to 6 floors is the definition of “smart development” I’m afraid the Pearl has been “dumb” for quite some time.

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