5 MLK or: how i learned to stop being an architect and design by committee

5 MLK from DAR meeting #1, GREC Architects

After a lackluster response from the Design Commission at their first Design Advice Request, the development team behind 5 MLK has returned with a new vision for their building: instead of vying for a well thought out architectural concept that is supported with integrity, they’ve just thrown a bunch of random crap out and let the city design it by committee. 5 MLK is a proposed 17-story mixed-use building from Gerding Edlen development, and the Burnside Bridgehead site is to be designed by Chicago-based GREC Architects, an international equivalent to Portland’s own LRS: an architectural service firm. GREC Architects’ first proposal was a half-baked mish-mash of boxes and steps, a bloated design that pushed the site’s relatively high FAR to its maximum limits while simultaneously being held down by the area’s relatively low height restrictions. The initial proposal followed the city’s design guidelines as well as it could: mass facing the city and river, corner lobby, retail at ground floor, bike amenities, and a more reserved facade treatment of glass and earth-toned materials. This was not excellent design by any means, in fact is was rather incoherent and clunky, but it was proposed as a basic fabric building that would contrast with the design architect projects across the street. Instead of diving into place-specificity for inspiration, or any other design-centric methodology, the service firm has decided to use the shotgun approach of pushing and pulling three new-ish massing forms out of their initial kit of parts, slapping on generic facade style alternatives, and calling it a day. Behold, the future of architecture:

The first iteration for DAR #2, dubbed the “Scheme J,” is just a massing model based on the advice of DAR #1 where the previous L shape is reversed to emphasize the rounded corner left over from the old Sullivan Gulch Highway approaches at street level, but apparently large curved facades are too passe to fully render, GREC Architects

The second iteration, dubbed “Scheme Pinwheel: Graphic” shifts the primary mass into a Tetris piece shape and reduces the facade treatments down to a patterned, ultra-generic ode to grey metal panelling and glass, GREC Architects

The third iteration for DAR #2, dubbed “Scheme Pinwheel: Rhythm” is the previous version with the originally proposed earth-tone panelling that is also brought down into the podium as a means of contrived unification, GREC Architects


The fourth iteration is a T shape, dubbed “Scheme Facade: Rhythm,” and is what happens when the lead designer, or their intern who is actually in charge of creating alternatives, can’t make up their mind on which design scheme to go with, GREC Architects


The last iteration, dubbed “Scheme Facade: Cubic” is the firm’s favorite (you can tell because they made more renderings of this one than any other), and comes together as the penultimate jumble of their combined ‘design’ ideas. Apparently the design team didn’t hear the design review comments about the composition needing to be “unified” and “simplified” over the sounds of them high-fiving each other when they came up with this incoherent hodgepodge of form and bland materiality, GREC Architects

Even the responsibility of choosing the landscaping has been given over to the committee, but at least whatever is chosen will eventually be designed by PLACE Landscape Architects, a solid design firm who has a great track record of urban spacemaking, GREC Architects


3 responses to “5 MLK or: how i learned to stop being an architect and design by committee

  1. And, why are they maintaining the curved corner at 3rd and Ankeny, when that cut-back corner has long outlived it’s utility in early traffic schemes, and now serves only to create a danger to pedestrians crossing there? PBOT would, I’m sure, grant them back most of that corner. We an hope that the corner is squared up with the sidewalk construction, if not with the building, too.

  2. Is there some kind of rule about a building looking like a single building today? Seems like timid design not wanting to upset anyone with a single gesture or spirit.

  3. Pingback: landmarks | places over time·

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