Earlier this week brought grand opening ceremonies for the Sitka Apartments, with numerous city leaders in attendance to celebrate the project. Designed by Ankrom Moisan and developed by Ed McNamara’s Turtle Island Development, the Sitka Apartments are a key workforce housing project in an otherwise expensive neighborhood, the Pearl District.
As Renee Mitchell wrote in her Oregonian column, “With housing prices out of reach of the average income and more rental apartments converting to condos, many different types of workers -- such as retail salespeople, police officers and registered nurses -- are being squeezed out of the city.” But buildings such as the Sikta, with most units reserved for people making less than the median income, will be able to live somewhere other than the outer suburbs. (In case you're wondering, workforce housing differs from the more commonly known affordable housing in that it's not for the very neediest, people with disabilities and/or without steady income, but rather for people who happen to be working at jobs that provide a living wage, but not a very sizable one.)
The design itself is oriented around two main features. On the corner is a striking glass portion, something that many Portland buildings feature. There is also a courtyard with some nice landscaping that will provide a nice place for the residents to gather.
The Sitka Apartments occupy an entire block at Northwest 12th Avenue and Northrop Street, overlooking the new Tanner Springs Park. It’s not a very tall building, and as a result Ankrom, with Isaac Johnson as lead architect, has set back the upper units so as to break up the mass. If you look closely, there are some small but handsome small details, such as how the brick façade undulates slightly, like crown moldings inside the home.
This project is also admirably sustainable. It has a strong building envelope and efficient water and lighting usage and healthier indoor air and very efficient heating and cooling systems.
If I were giving my opinion solely from an aesthetic point of view, I’d give it something like a C-plus or a B-minus. It’s a solid fabric building that seems to be well made, but it's not exceptionally compelling to me either. And I think that’s okay. This project didn't set out to be spectacular, but rather a simple, relatively humble, enduring place to live. To me the greater importance of the Sitka Apartments is the fact that McNamara and people at various agencies made it happen. And I give that a big thumbs-up.
As Mitchell indicated in her column, workforce housing is a hot topic right now, and justifiably so. We can’t let the central city become a kind of reverse-ghetto, where the affluent are the only ones to enjoy high-density urban living. I just hope there will be more to come. And whether it’s McNamara’s development company or others, now that the Sitka has proven a successful project, perhaps there will be more opportunity in the future to push the architectural envelope and give lower-income residents a chance not just to join the neighborhood, but to live in a truly beautiful building.