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I suppose there must be a good number of people who want to live in a crystaline glass box high in the sky. I wish good luck and long life to all of them. Personally, it gives me the creeps.

If I did want to live hundreds of feet up in the air, I'd want the illusion of stability and strength provided by brick, concrete and thick walls.

I don't understand the attraction of surrounding real life, flesh, blood, passion, cooking, sensuality with shiny insubstantial surfaces of metal and glass either. Are there really people who feel that their inner lives are enhanced by being surrounded by this kind of outer gloss? I suppose there must be.

I'm happy to see it built if it will make someone happy, but I just don't get it. I prefer life connected to the ground.


I respect Mile's opinion but I don't agree with it. A wide variety of materials and textures help create a vibrancy in the center city. Metal and glass is part of it. Granted if we are going to have towers there will always be some disconnection to life on the ground. But glass offers excellent connection to life in the city by keeping an eye on what is going on around you, it helps you experience the sun, the moon, and the weather. I would prefer to have glass rather than sit behind thick walls and small windows on the world.
For the passerby, the glass creates interesting perspectives on the city in light and reflection. Check out the Eliot Tower (on SW Jefferson), as an example. I believe that these buildings meet stringent standards for safety that far outweigh any trepidation I have for heights.


Is "tower" the correct word for these slab designs? "A building or part of a building that is exceptionally high in proportion to its width and length." Maybe from one direction tower is correct, but from another its really a large wall.


And is the opposition to glass and steel -- preferring "substantial" (?) substances, natural leading to architectural designs for 40-story wood buildings? Terra cotta? Unless you want only concrete, isn't glass and steel the only way to do it?


I don't worry about safety... I was talking more about the aesthetic of lightness and glass, versus the aesthetic of earth/stone/brick.

Personally I love a dense urban environment like NYC. But one thing I like about NYC is the intense feeling of mass, weight, gravity... the earth and stone extends up into the sky.

To some extent that is all illusion. It's all steel frames underneath, so this is purely an aesthetic consideration.

And it is perhaps disingenuous to talk about what kind of high rise building I'd prefer to live in when I would in fact prefer not to live in one at all. But everyone's a critic, right?

Still, it's not just that glass/metal/plastic structures don't look like they will age well... as far as I know they really don't age well. They have to be reskinned eventually. In some ways thin skinned glass/metal/plastic towers are more "honest"... true to the technological wierdness of living and working in the sky, and to the temporariness of modern structures.

Yet I put it to you that the predominance of stone/brick faced structures bespeaks power and permanence (something we'd want for a civillization, no?), while feather light concotions of glass and crystal suggest a flower, here today, and for the 30 year financing period ... but soon enough to be replaced. You might even argue that it leads to a kind of short term (mere 30 year time frame) thinking in other realms.

Give me a structure that brings the earth up into the sky, or at least that illusion, over one that says with more honesty but less weight... "I am a temporary pleasure, to be replaced, like all machines, before too long."

Mike Conroy

I wonder if this design will stand the test of time. you know how some designs are classic and worthy of preservation. I just wonder if all these glass and steel structures will seem obsolete in a decade. If you look at a lot of the high rises that line waterfront park, many of them seem monotonous and drab. How far will stark minimalism go before architects and the public yearn for some whimsy. The appeal of Paris is it's ability to preserve the past with an emphasis on the pedestrian. Much of the architecture reflects a more organic, village-like approach with the more modern business district standing out in stark contrast like some alien outpost. Will the glass and steel integrate well with the surrounding neighborhood or will it be an eyesore? What's so wrong with stone or gargoyles? A fleurdelise never hurt anybody either.


Glass and steel structures can work quite well and hold up over time. Check out Mies van der Rohe's 860-880 Lake Shore apts in Chicago. They were built in 1948, and although there are dated elements, they are still handsome. Rich textures are created from the interior spaces brought to the exterior surface.

I noticed on the illustrations of the ZGF building, there is outdoor space at the top. If that is a realized aspect, it will be a nice addition to the city.


Interestingly, one of the earliest modern buildings in Portland - Pietro Belluschi's Equitable Building (built between 1944 - 1948) doesn't differ much from the current crop of 'crystalline boxes.' Both use a cutting-edge technological frame fitted with a metal & glass facade; note the lifespan of the 1948 structure: 58 years.

Considering the sustainability aspects of these new towers - they use much less electricity for heating, cooling, and lighting than your average house or office building in the western world... this is one reason you see a lot of glass: the sun is free, so they don't have to burn fossil fuels to keep the spaces lit.

This will also make their lifespan that much longer... as you wouldn't want to knock down such an energy efficient building that doesn't cost much to maintain.

Also, how many 5 story buildings in downtown have been knocked down in recent years? This thing will be 30!


I'd also like to make another comment on an important topic - the American downtown.

Downtowns were unique to America until fairly recently (50 years ago?) - the centralized space for commerce - raw capitalism - to congregate.

Downtowns have since been somewhat mitigated, as many offices, connecting branches via the internet, can locate almost anywhere their workforce is located. However, many businesses still need to be fairly close to allow personal contact... thus many suburbs across the US (Tyson's Corner, DC - and various other corporate campuses in Beaverton, for example) have spawned office parks.

What makes downtowns unique is their raw, commercially-driven character, that includes a full spectrum of citizens partaking in their daily business, the nitty gritty of urban transportation (busses, trains, cars, etc), lots of concrete (instead of trees & prairies) and... highrises!

You see, downtowns are ground zero for what is (supposed to be) the highest valued land in any given metro region... thus, you want to maximize your profit (good 'ol capitalism!) by building upwards. This has a nice bonus of increasing efficiency & enabling the city to provide alt transportation systems besides the car & freeway in a cost-effective manner.

Ditto with energy efficiency... and, think of this: for every extra floor in an office building, there is that much more pristine natural land in Oregon (or wherever) that has not been built upon... and, in the suburban context, the parking as well.


a building to have gravity or defy gravity is one of the amazing metaphors of tower design. the sensation of being elevated in the air and having floor to ceiling glass - it must be exhilarating...maybe as much so as the structure itself. the animation of the skin in this particular tower, though interesting, is a bit trite and maybe lacking a little complexity. i think it will be dated, and unfortunately does not seem to have enough depth to really pass the test of time. buildings of such scale should have a timeless quality given the expense and energy they consume - whether they decide to respond or blur gravity is a poetic license that every person will have a different opinion of.

Joshua Chang

I really appreciate the direction this blog is going. Because so often do we find that people simply determine their own opinions as fact and overriding. Seldom do we see, especially in the current economy, a perspective onto the built environment around us that is not a show of arrogance or egotism. Architecture has become more about the outlandish and the new. I'm not saying that this should not be included into our work as we ARE the pioneers and movers of culture and society. It should not DRIVE our work though. We need to look at the projects presented to us with the mindset, "What is the site, culture, and technology telling me to put here?" There are many designs of buildings that I would never do myself, but that I can still recognize and beautiful and likely to endure because of their relationship within the climate they are set in. We tout ourselves in Portland of being a design community, yet are so hesitant to try something new. Why not add some diversity to the city? We have long been without any of these "crystalline" towers. I don't agree with architects like Ghery's work, but I even think an addition of such post modernistic pomp may be interesting in a place like ours. Why not add new colors to the tapestry of our urban fabric? The truth is, we are NOT Paris, we are NOT Prague, we are NOT Copenhagen. We do not have the history to back up building in a similar manner. Yes, we may be able to take the ideas and principles they have put forth as inspiration, but we need to build to our OWN heartbeat; and with a positive and open outlook, I think we can do it.


The antithesis of Jack Bog, eh?

I love to hate his site... one particularly vehement post intrigued me, however:


"You could build two or three stories high from here to the furthest ends of Hillsboro, Tualatin and Gresham, and have way more housing than Portland will ever need in the next century. You don't have to wreck the small-town feel of our city with this appalling collection of grotesque, New York-style six- and eight- and 10- and 15-story boxes."

Except... exactly as Joshua has pointed out: we aren't Europe and, in this modern era, the way a city develops - incrementally & organically - is the result of decisions & investments made by various developers, city officials, and architects. While places such as outer SE, Gresham & Hillsboro may spawn thousands of units of identical-looking low-rise apartments, the results, I am afraid, are much different than your average nostalgic american would want...

'Box towers' such as what is being built in the Pearl, Downtown, and South Waterfront are a result of many factors, aesthetic being just one. It turns out - amazingly - that humans have essentially been living in boxes for millenia. Is a thoughtful & respectful expression of this fact a bad thing? I would say not.

Jeremy Miller

A thought on the comment

"You could build two or three stories high from here to the furthest ends of Hillsboro, Tualatin and Gresham, and have way more housing than Portland will ever need in the next century. You don't have to wreck the small-town feel of our city with this appalling collection of grotesque, New York-style six- and eight- and 10- and 15-story boxes."

Being a Recent Visitor to Portland one of the things that stood out the most to me was while the urban core was nice and dense with high rise construction all around, it was relivately small and easy to navigate. Compare this with my most recent residence location, Washington, DC. A city of low slung row homes. Exactly what the author of the above quote (Jack Bog I believe)is suggesting. When you are in the City of DC you really don't have a feeling that you are in the city it feels like a sprawling suburb, there are some cores, but I find it very unfriendly I prefer being able to walk to the stores without the need to go past blocks and blocks and blocks of houses. Traffic is very bothersome, even though many streets are 4 lanes, and it takes a very long time to get around By metro, (wich still is a very good transit system, but it has so much area to cover. I would never wish such a fate on a city that is currently as vibrant as portland.

On another note, another recent Residence of mine has been Philadelphia, a city with a substantial amount of history, Currently they are undergoing a similar sort of apartment/Condo building boom, mostly as Infill lots between the existing historic stock. Most are glass & steel, while not as “crystalline” as the building depicted above, many have a certain amount of whimsy that adds to the character of the neighborhoods.

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