Over the last several months, one of Portland’s most accomplished designer-developers, Kevin Cavenaugh, has been at Harvard University as part of a Loeb Fellowship, just as then-Oregonian architecture critic Randy Gragg did the prior academic year.
In the past, Cavenaugh has been responsible for the Rocket building on Burnside (the red one with the sunscreen panels featuring individual artworks and Rocket restaurant on top), the Ode to Rose’s mixed use building on Northeast Fremont (a local AIA award winner, with Fife restaurant on the ground floor), and another very successful mixed use project at Southeast 28th and Ankeny housing Noble Rot wine bar. Trained as an architect and previously employed at Fletcher Farr Ayotte, Kevin is not a registered architect and thus it is never his name listed as the architect of record on the documents, but they are definitely his buildings.
I wrote about Kevin a few years ago for a Metropolis magazine story about architects who develop their own projects. “Architects: Looking for the Perfect Client?” the headline asked. “Hire yourself!”
Recently I got a call from Kevin, still back in Cambridge until later this spring. His new project, or projects, would easily be his most ambitious yet.
On a site in Southwest Portland just south of downtown at the corner of Water Avenue and Arthur Street, an ideal location but with difficult hilly terrain, virtually no parking and limited access, Kevin is envisioning having built 14 different housing units – almost all of them by different designers. The details have changed a little bit over the few times we’ve talked and emailed, but I believe the latest would be to have Kevin design two himself, then divide the remaining 12 units equally between six Harvard Graduate School of Design students and six more established architects.
The Harvard students, as I understand it, would be graduating this spring and would probably consist largely of those with whom Kevin has already formed relationships with in lecturing about his plan as part of his Loeb Fellowship presentations. This is the text of a flyer he sent out at Harvard:
...1-WAY TICKET to PORTLAND. I am a Loeb Fellow at Harvard's GSD seeking a few select graduating designers to DESIGN AND BUILD fourteen small parcels with me in downtown Portland, OR. The project will showcase the finest in contemporary urban architecture from the nation's most promising young designers. Starting this summer, each participant will take full control over his/her development. I will help line up bank financing and construction services, but you ultimately you will need YOUR OWN MONEY to secure a loan. I will mentor you through the design and development process, but you will take on both the risks and rewards associated with your project. THIS IS NOT A JOB!
As for the six established architects, I think that idea is still being hammered out. Kevin and I both agreed that it would be nice to bring in some admired out-of-town designers. Much talent as there is in Portland, I don’t think our design community is challenged much by work in town by out-of-town firms. However, I’d also love to see at least one of those spots reserved for a local. It’s Kevin’s decision, obviously, but I have imagined it being someone with demonstrated high quality residential experience, yet also someone for whom this project would represent a serious opportunity.
Kevin would surely appreciate more ideas about how to shape this process and the ultimate product. What advice might we give this onetime FFA intern who metamorphosed into the most interesting DIY designer-developer in a place already known for just that kind of maverick spirit?
Oh, and is it overly naive to wonder about a bigger developer ever taking on this kind of riskier but potentially far more appealing development?