Ankeny Lofts (photo by Timothy Park)
BY BRIAN LIBBY
The autumn sun was shining brightly last week as I met architect Mark Engberg of Colab Architecture + Urban Design and Duncan McDonnell of general contractor Rainier Pacific for a tour of the Ankeny Lofts, a new two-building residential development on Southeast Ankeny Street. The site is just a few blocks from the commercial area at 28th Avenue, where projects like Kevin Cavenaugh's Box + 1 Lofts and Holst Architecture's Sunrose Condominiums rose in the 2000s boom along with popular destinations like the Laurelhurst Theater. Works Partnership's recent AIA award-winning duplex, the Tandem, is also nearby.
The 24 by 100-foot site includes two separate buildings, each containing two loft units. The front building is zoned to allow commercial or residential, so it's ideal live-work space. The rear building, although blocked from the street by the other structure, looks out at a private courtyard. Another new residential building is going in next door, and Engberg and McDonnell say they have talked with architects of that project about continuing the courtyard on their property to create one larger shared outdoor space.
Interiors at the Ankeny Lofts (photos by Timothy Park)
Both buildings are clad in tongue and groove cedar siding and, to a lesser extent metal panels. Sustainable features include green roofs and pervious pavers; all stormwater will be treated on site.
Standing inside, I liked the contrasting light and dark tones slected for the surfaces and walls, and how - as the loft classification would indicate - the spaces were wide open. The front building seems a little bit more successful in distributing windows to multiple sides, whereas the back units rely more on one double-height glass front and can become dark in the rear of the units.
The decision to build two separate structure instead of one larger building is a curious one at first. It seems like a potentially more expensive option. But the design and construction team found that zoning and permitting were much easier when designing one or two-unit structures than a multi-unit apartment building, as were the loans.
On the outside, these are handsome structures that combine the texture of their cedar facades with the form of intersecting rectangles not entirely dissimilar from the Colab-designed Brandon House that was featured as the HGTV cable channel's "Dream House" in 2003.
The firm has always had a unique mix of local and national projects. Colab was the local firm partnering with Boston-area architect Charles Rose for an expansion at the Oregon College of Art & Craft. They also have designed numerous projects in the middle east, including an unbuilt tower in Dubai and a housing development in Cairo.
The Ankeny project seems successful not only architecturally but economically. To get any project financed over the past three years has been extraordinarily difficult. And if there is indeed a string of projects happening along this street, it has to be a good sign for the local market. These are rental units, not for-sale condos, but all four of the units were rented by the time the project construction was complete.
"I think the project is most important as a larger multi-project area of courtyards between buildings," Engberg said later, via email. "If we can pull that off I'll be very pleased. The courtyard idea crossing multiple lots and owners will be very unique in Portland."
And if critical mass can be achieved with the completion of numerous projects along this stretch of Ankeny as planned, it could be evidence that the market is slowly picking up: not with massive block-sized condo or office towers in the Pearl and South Waterfront, but in the smaller form of infill lots across the city. Even when the economy was booming, these types of projects were often the most compelling works of architecture.