About a month ago Oregonian writer Stephen Beaven (who must have had cruel parents to give him such a rhymable name) wrote an article headlined “North Williams at edge of retail renaissance”. Aside from the missing preposition, the article introduced us to some names we might be hearing a lot more of in the future: Kaiser Group development and Path Architecture.
The two companies are essentially the same, owned and operated by partners Ben Kaiser and Corey Martin. Kaiser in particular is trained as an architect, even though he has worked more as a developer here since relocating from Ohio several years ago.
As Beaven’s article indicated, Kaiser and Martin are behind two projects slated for the North Williams area, which is ideally situated near the revitalized North Mississippi area as well as Martin Luther King Boulevard, Irvington and the Lloyd District. It’s another one of Portland’s under-utilized yet perfectly situated sub-pockets just crying out for redevelopment.
Kaiser Group commissioned the architects at Ankrom Moisan to design one of their projects, Backbridge Lofts. Having an architectural background as clients seems to have helped Kaiser and Martin residential condo project.
Acting under the Path Architecture banner, the two partners have also designed an adjacent project of their own: the mixed-use Backbridge Station. I’m particularly fond of this building. As you can see in the enclosed rendering, the design is clean lined and modern, yet is warmed up texturally by the use of wood – somewhat like Holst Architecture’s celebrated Belmont Lofts. Here, though, Path has also responded to our rainy climate by extending the upper floors over the ground-floor retail, which gives visitors shelter from the rain. The columns in front almost act like an arcade you’d find on East Burnside or various European cities. As it happens, that design element also gives the four-story building a greater sense of lightness. You get a sense of separation between the glassy ground floor and the wood-concrete-glass fusion above. I also like how there’s no bulky mechanical system on the roof corrupting the architectural form.
In the Oregonian article, Kaiser said he hoped to build condos for about $280 per square foot, but now he says it’s probably going to be between $300 and $325. That’s certainly cheaper than what units in the Pearl and South Waterfront are going for, and you get a long-established neighborhood with a colorful history to go with it. The price is still more than what a lot of young creative types will be able to afford, but for a building framed with steel and concrete occupying coveted real estate, it’s pragmatically agreeable.
What’s the initial verdict from the rest of you on this duo of urban infill projects?