Earlier this month, Ankrom Moisan pushed ahead with a third iteration of their proposed Block 8L development in front of the Historic Landmarks Commission. With a continued push to make the proposal ‘fit in’ to the existing fabric, the Commission was generally pleased with the results, with a few caveats regarding signage and other minor details. The new version is far from innovative or even contemporary in architectural design terms, a definite blow to those wanting to uphold the legitimacy of the existing historic district. Instead, an uncontentious faux-historic building will glide through design review and forever muddle-down the real things next door. Apparently, the whole notion of preservation reads locally as ‘mimicry’ instead of respect, further suppressing Portland’s aspirations of being a world class design city.
The overall design has not changed much from the second iteration, previous designs here and here, but the detailing has indeed evolved for the better, regardless of the retro look. All stucco and Hardi materials have been removed from the ground floor experience, and black metal panels and Doug Fir soffits have taken their place. The storefronts and upper windows will now be a uniform fiberglass system that has more texture and depth than previously proposed. The ground floor awnings that were at every window bay have also been removed, which cleans up the elevations and allows more light at the sidewalk level. Unfortunately, the Landmarks Commission wants the reintroduction of the awnings despite this.
One of the most notable aspects of the newest proposal is the way the design team has focused in on the facade treatment. The newest version is more layered than its predecessors, with a hierarchy of recessed planes each with its own materiality. Dark ‘ebony’ brick pilasters are set back between lighter ‘aspen’ colored ones, and heavy-duty folded metal jams are set back from the brick with even further recessed windows sunken behind them.
There are only a few minor changes proposed for the alleyway. The Couch Street entrance will have two operable gates, one larger than the other to allow for a truck loading spot within the alley. The gates themselves will be designed at a later date when an artist is chosen to construct them. The only other change is the consolidation of the numerous thin stormwater planters into a pair of larger facilities to allow for a better pedestrian-oriented alleyway experience. As far as nighttime lighting, the alley will have a mix of catenary pendant and cafe-style globe lights strung from side-to-side with added light coming from street furniture underlights, soffit-mounted wall washers, and illuminated stairwell landings.
In the end, the building will get built, and its legacy will be that of a basic fabric building. I am pleased that something will be built on this parcel, one that has laid dormant for far too long. The neighboring full-block parking garage and functionally-obsolete Steel Bridge on-ramp have created a rather desolate pedestrian condition here, one that harbors unwelcoming activity and masks all sense of place. Perhaps my disapproval of this development’s design style is a bit overly critical, but, despite its flaws, I much preferred the original design direction Ankrom Moisan was taking before the Landmarks Commission dumbed it down.