An interesting dialogue is occurring between two future buildings in the older, southeastern fringe of the Pearl District. This dialogue is both telling of the current state of design and of the recent development trends in Portland’s inner city. Two adjacent quarter block parcels along NW Glisan, from 9th to 10th Avenues, are being transformed from single story, single occupant tenants into two multistory mixed-use developments. The easterly building is the now-under construction Canopy Hotel, an 11-story boutique-style Hilton brand designed by ZGF Architects that features a ground floor restaurant and basement level amenities. The westerly building is the much-hyped and currently under design review Framework building from Lever Architecture (not to be confused by WPA’s Framework building across the river), a 12-story office and ‘workforce housing’ apartment venture with street level retail and a tall timber exhibit space. Both would be considered mid-rises by Portland standards, topping out at around 150 feet each, which, for reference, would make them around 50 feet shorter than the Holst designed 937 Condominiums across the street.
The ‘dialogue’ mentioned before is one of urban cohesion, a conversation writ in exterior cladding choices, detailing, and the public-to-private interaction. Some of this synergy can be attributed to the guiding advice of the city’s Design Commission, but their hand in the game was more about editing and quality control than problem solving and artistic creation. From the very beginning both design teams understood their respective sites’ inherent qualities, a skill that cannot be understated as a necessity in the creation of architecture and one that is rarely given the time and focus it deserves. Starting at the ground floor, both firms immediately focused on the small-block, street hierarchy of the corner. NW Glisan is a primary one-way thoroughfare through the city, whereas 9th and 10th Avenues are both quieter ‘side streets.’ 10th is an equally if not more important north-south connector, but its streetcar alignment and stop spacing give it a more relaxed, neighborhood feel than Glisan. The Canopy is designed to focus on Glisan, as it should being a hotel, with its primary entrance at the corner (door facing the side street) and the lobby and restaurant, with its outdoor seating, facing the busier street. Framework gives similar respects to Glisan with a corner lobby entrance (door facing the side street) and the lobby and a second floor balcony open to the higher trafficked street. Framework, however, put its ground floor retail on 10th where the Canopy Hotel put its services and loading dock. The Lever building’s service’s and loading face Glisan near the mid-block. Not only does this spread out the utilitarian ground floor uses, but it gives the Framework’s future street-level tenant a better location along the well-known retail corridor of 10th. These ideas might seem obvious, but it is amazing how many new constructs absolutely fail to recognize the basic importance of the street level in their designs.
At the street face, the Canopy uses a snake-like ‘SketchUp’ form as a “composition of art” that pushes and pulls rectilinear concrete over and under the ground floor fenestration as a means to hide with solids and open up in voids. Framework, on the other hand, wants to be all open, showing off the design team’s articulation of its solid wood achievement to all passersby. These two varying philosophies actually make for a better street experience, and create a cadence of solids and voids that changes as one walks down the block. This cohesive asymmetry continues when one enters either of the two buildings; where the Canopy’s internal ground floor wants to take its visitors down into the comfort of the earth, Framework’s wants to bring people up into the loftiness of the tree canopy above. Both, in effect, have double height ground floor spaces, but achieve this in completely opposite ways. Lever’s design boasts a more traditional two-story grand lobby that is filled with ample natural light from its double height glass curtain wall. The ZGF project is more subdued at the street edge, as the celebratory experience of the Canopy’s double height space is deferred toward the back corner of the first floor. There the L-shaped building above opens up in order to bring natural daylight all the way down into its two-story basement amenity level.
The two future buildings also share some similar language in their upper floor facade compositions. Following the current trend of rejecting conventionally flat curtain walls, both projects use angled metal surfaces to create depth and shadow play against a continuous single plane of near floor-to-ceiling glazing. While the Framework proposal breaks up its facade naturally by function, the Canopy Hotel had to create its own geometries in order to integrate its monotonous program into a more palatable scale. The Hilton brand and the CLT tower’s windows are both similarly framed by the facade elements, but should read very different materially. The Canopy is covered with directional movement-implying, single angles of folded bronze-esque panels that span from floor plate to floor plate with only a thin reglet between them. Framework’s facade is a protective barrier of multi-angled aluminum composite panels, each exaggerating the aperture effect from the interior outward.
With all of the demand-based construction occurring in Portland lately, almost every neighborhood in the city has or is currently experiencing active redevelopment. It is still rare though to find two projects that directly abut each other, and it’s even more rare to find two adjacent buildings that work so well together as the proposed Framework and under construction Canopy Hotel do. While some may dislike the way the current wave of redevelopment is affecting the Pearl District’s overall juxtaposition of scales, the specific loss of these two single-story buildings will not be mourned, especially since their replacements will bring newfound life and energy to the area. Special praise, of course, goes to Lever Architecture and D.R. Johnson, who have become Oregon’s newest pioneers in renewable resource and construction innovations. Lever’s Framework is poised to be revolutionary to mid-rise design and the applicability of CLT (and other complimentary wood products) to even taller buildings.