As the Louisa Apartments near completion this spring, it means that the five-building Brewery Blocks development will be complete after years of construction. (You could also count the Armory as a sixth building, but that's somewhat of a different animal.) I'd like to know what Portlanders out there think of them.
My take is that the best thing about the Brewery Blocks is its placemaking. Walk around this area and it's usually brimming with people. Sure, Powell's is right next door, and that helps. But the sidewalk outside Whole Foods is a constant parade of people, as is the case all up and down Couch Street. (I particularly like the adidas store and Mio Gelatto.) The streetcar moving along 10th and 12th Avenues is of course an invaluable presence enhancing the urbanity of the neighborhood.
The architecture itself, I think, has its successes and failures, neither of which register strongly on the Richter scale. I like best the block just west of Powell's between 10th and 11th, the gray brick one. The exoskeleton bracing on the exterior gives it the feeling that you're looking at engineering as much as architecture, which in turn jazzes up what otherwise would be a fairly simple building made to fit into the surrounding Pearl and its historic industrial milieu.
I also like Block 1, as it's known, which also expresses its structure with exterior bracing. This is a modern glass and steel building, but because the first-floor walls of the previous art-deco building were preserved, you get the sense of one building rising out of another. It's a wonderfully theatrical and inspiring affect, like a new sapling rising out of a dead tree stump. That to me is one of the defining aspects of this era, the intersection of old and new structure in captivating ways.
I'm less enamored with The Henry. It has some nice geometry to it, with all the crisscrossing window panes and balconies making for a sophisticated skin. But the building's split personality of metal cladding on one side and concrete on the other come at the expense of a unified sense of structure. It's too busy. Plus the color of the metal is a tad too green for my taste, and while concrete can be beautiful, just a block away inside the Weiden + Kennedy building, for example, there's something about the shade and texture of The Henry's concrete exterior that feels to me ever so slightly prison-like.
Ultimately to me the Brewery Blocks are what you'd call fabric buildings. They fit into their environment with a mindful, dignified sense of the past while maintaining somewhat of a modern feel as well. They're not extraordinary, but I don't think they aspire to be. I like some of the buildings better than others, but what cluster of five buildings in Portland could you not say that about? They make a laudable gateway from downtown and the West End to the Pearl District,
And you can't mention the Brewery Blocks without talking about sustainability. From operable windows to abundant natural light, low-VOC paints to certified wood, the people behind this project deserve kudos for going green before it was quite so clear that it would be such a marketing/business boon.
But I wrote this post with the intention of finding out what the rest of you think. What's your verdict on the Brewery Blocks?