Portland Monthly story celebrates new architects generation
The new issue of Portland Monthly includes a feature by Amara Holstein arguing that "a new generation of young architects is reaching beyond the expected to blend high density, sustainability, and thrift into a bolder breed of Portland building. At last."
Holstein begins with a look at the new Ziba Design headquarters in the Pearl District (rendered above), designed by Holst Architecture and set to complete construction this summer. (Rick Potestio and Mahlum Architects were the initial designers.) "This plum commision is the payoff of seventeen years of architetural ladder-climbing, rung by rung, from restaurant remodels and office renovations to townhouses and condos," adds Holstein, a former Dwell magazine editor.
"But well beyond being a measure of any one firm's success, the new Ziba headquarters is merely the most prominent in a collection of fresh, dynamic buildings rising across the city in environs as diverse as gritty lower East Burnside Street and the bungalow-villes of North Portland. The architects--mostly younger firms like Works Partnership, Atelier Waechter, William Kaven Architeture, Path Architecture, and Seed Architecture Studio--share Holst's goals of honing Portland's longstanding traditions of eco-consciousness, lively urbanism, and thrifty building into sharper forms of architecture."
A key project Holstein notes besides Holst's work is the new Bside6 building on East Burnside (seen below in a shot by Jon Clark for Portland Monthly). "With ribbons of dark-gray metal playing hide-and-seek with sleek glass, the structure mixes sexy and stern like no other building in the city." But it's also, she notes, built on a very small budget. And that's a central aspect of the generation Holstein writes about. Given today's economy, it's a no-brainer to build affordably. But these architects were doing so when the housing boom was still in full-swing.
I also wrote an article about this new generation of Portland designers and builders for Dwell magazine a few months ago on the occasion of the 11xDesign homes tour. But my story focused on the residential side of this equation. Holstein is correct in expanding the scope to include non-residential works like Ziba and Bside6, as well as to put Holst and Works Partnership at the forefront.
Another defining characteristic of this new urban architecture, Holstein writes, is that it's sustainable without wearing such features on its proverbial shirt sleeve. Of course you'd build green. How could anyone not in this day and age? But to build a sustainable building, even if it has been hailed with a Platinum LEED rating, does not guarantee beauty or great design in totality.
The other distinction to be made here is that these firms are working almost exclusively in existing neighborhoods. Rather than being constructed in new areas like South Waterfront or the northern Pearl District, these buildings face tough tests of fitting in with the existing fabric. Not everyone thinks they do. Holst's Clinton Condominiums, for example, was controversial for replacing an existing historic house on Division Street. But for the most part, these modern works can be appreciated both for how they fit in and how they articulate a very contemporary identity within that.