BY BRIAN LIBBY
Beebe Skidmore Architects and Works Progress Architecture (formerly Works Partnership Architecture) took home the top-level Honor Award on Thursday night at the annual Portland Architecture Awards, given out by the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
Mentioned together, the names of two winning projects sound like guesses for a four-letter word puzzle beginning with 'S' on Wheel of Fortune: Swift and Slate. But instead of winning a Buick (as my college roommate once did on the show - winning word "judge"), these firms take home a certificate and the validation of being in the company of many superb past projects honored in the awards' history.
Swift, by Beebe Skidmore, is a renovation and transformation of a cluster of attached warehouses in Slabtown near NW 17th & Overton into a light-filled and wide open home for the Swift advertising agency. Both alumni of Portland's most acclaimed firm, Allied Works, Doug Skidmore and Heidi Beebe deserved this Honor Award in my mind.
The project retains much of the original concrete-block warehouse in a visible way even as it adds contemporary architecture. They retained the original sawtooth skylights, for example, and then used that triangular form as inspiration for a mezzanine addition. Inside there is a hive of activity, with light pouring in and a generous amount of space devoted to common areas. And there is a broader sense of surprise that happens there in terms of proportion. When the architects punched new window openings into the old concrete walls, for example, they placed them not symmetrically in the middle but according to where the concrete was strongest. As a result, it feels highly detailed yet a step ahead of expectation, somehow. The whole composition feels like a piece of music to me.
Slate has, during its construction, maintained a relatively low profile given how its next-door neighbor, Yard (also being built more or less at the same time), has been so controversial and garnered so much press. The two buildings are not dissimilar in some ways, each with some pretty dark facades. Yet Slate is going to be seen as the more successful. It continues WPA's exceptional ability with facade patterning, with a series of white apertures contrasting the darker facade material.
And Slate contributes to what is now a really noteworthy portfolio of buildings in one extended area: the Central Eastside and lower Burnside. And while this is the first big award for Beebe Skidmore, WPA is a regular at the Portland Architecture Awards. I wouldn't be surprised if they're the most winning firm of the past decade; if not they've got to be in the top handful. And it's well deserved.
There were lots of other awards given out last night, many of them equally significant.
Works Progress Architecture also won the Craftsmanship Award, for its Framework project, also in this Lower Burnside area. It's part of a new generation of timber-framed buildings, along with work by firms like Lever Architecture and PATH Architecture, which I wrote about in a recent Portland Tribune column called "Framing The Future." And it's gorgeous, with a similar facade pattern language to Slate only smaller and perhaps a little more transparent.
After the Honor Award, the sort of silver medal of the night is the Merit Award, which went to five projects. Two Merit Awards were designated for small projects, and both of those were won by Waechter Architecture: Oakley House (which I wrote about last year for Dwell magazine) and Pavilion House. The aforementioned Framework by WPA also won a Merit Award, as did Holst Architecture for the Open School East and Hacker for the Lakeside at Black Butte Ranch.
The next award tier is the Citation Award, which went to six projects. Waechter Architecture won for the Red House, a renovation of an existing early 20th century farmhouse in Southeast Portland; I wrote about it last year for Oregon Home magazine and was impressed by how Ben Waechter was able to apply his gift for simplifying the feel of its space by economizing its materials and detailing to an old house instead of a ground-up building. As if these awards weren't enough, Waechter also won for the Sawtooth multifamily housing project. I could be mistaken, but I think everything the firm entered won an award. Oh, and Waechter took home one of the two Honor Awards last year, in addition to a few in the past. Quite a roll.
Another of my favorite firms to emerge in recent years, Lever Architecture, won a Citation for its Albina Yard project, which is also exceptionally innovative for its wood construction. I visited the building a few weeks ago and came away very impressed, not just with the crispness of the composition but also its warmth. Even the wood stairway is beautiful.
Hacker, which has done excellent work for decades now, be it under the influential Thomas Hacker or today with a new generation at the helm, also won a Citation for its attractive Basecamp Townhouse in Bend, which shares a developer with the Honor Award-winning Swift: Project. Bora also won a Citation Award for the Cosmopolitan Condominiums, which I blogged about earlier this summer and generally quite like too.
The final Citation Award went to another frequent award-winning firm, Holst Architecture, for its Karuna at One North. Visiting this building extensively last year for a New York Times article, I came away hugely impressed, so much so that I'm a bit surprised to see Karuna not win an Honor Award. It could hardly be more energy efficient, as a commercial building with much of the same approaches as the earlier Holst-designed Karuna House outside Newberg that a couple years ago became the first in the world to earn LEED, Passive House and the Swiss Minergie rating. What's more, I think this Karuna building that received a Citation Award is particularly beautiful with its curvy facade openings.
Despite not getting the gold medal from this year's three-person jury panel, all Boston-based, Karuna at One North did win one of the top non-juried prizes, the Mayor's Award, selected for a final time this year by Mayor Charlie Hales. Also winning a Mayor's Award were the Kerns Micro House by Fieldwork Design and Architecture, Slate by WPA, and Park Avenue West by TVA Architects. The mayor reserved two awards for small projects and two for large urban projects, and between the tiny Kerns project and the tall Park Avenue West tower downtown, he certainly covered the size spectrum.
Another special prize, the 2030 Award for innovative sustainable design, went to ZGF Architects for the Rocky Mountain Institute. ZGF in recent years has managed to combine leading-edge green strategies and a deep sense of how to make elegant civic buildings, reflected its listing this year atop the Architect 50 list as the nation's top firm.
Two other projects won the Significant Design Contribution Award, which is nominated by the architect. General contractor Hoffman Construction won for TVA's Park Avenue West project, and Reworks was honored as owner/contractor for Lever Architecture's Albina Yard.
At the annual Jury Critique on Wednesday night, the eve of the awards, this year's Boston-based jurors (Elizabeth Whitaker of Merge Architects, Tim Love of Utile and Mariana Ibanez of Ibanez Kim) were very complimentary of Portland architecture in general, especially the level of craft and elegant simplicity that seemed to span projects.
Congratulations to all the winning firms, as well as to the nominees who did good work but for whatever reason didn't make the awards list.