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I walked buy this site the other day. Not sure yet of the glass or materials, but the footprint is tiny, which i love. The designers also played around with the corners adding in neat triangle corners on one side. What I like is that its a true "tower". The materials won't make or break this project like they would on slab buildings like the eliot or ZGF's proposed westend hotel/Condo project. Once you get the basic thin tower form down, its hard to screw it up.


I think this will be a great addition to the skyline, I'm a little disappointed that there is no retail on the ground floor but it looks like the footprint is so small that it shouldnt be too much of a problem. I like this one a lot more that the Eliot.

Eric Berg

I this blog is mostly about architecture and design, but policy pops up every now and then, For example, the last post is about the Tram.

So here goes...

The Benson Tower is the first major construction project in Portand being built with non-union labor. I'm afraid this is going to set a trend. If the developers of the Benson can do it, why not the developers of the next condo tower? And the next? This isn't good for the Portland's social fabric or economic well-being.


Excellent point. Anyone else care to weigh in on the union/non-union issue and the possible precedent the Benson sets?


On the rendering, at least, it looks beautiful. The idea of a very tall building on a very small footprint is dynamic and exciting. Downtown Portland could use more of that.

But whenever I pass the new Eliot tower just down the street from the Benson, I'm reminded that what looks great in an artist's rendering often isn't nearly as impressive in real life. So I guess I want to wait and see. So far, so good.

I share Brian's concern about the absence of street-level retail. I'm sure there's little demand for it today. and I notice that the retail spaces are filling up very slowly in all those new condo buildings in the Pearl. But in the long run that retail space is the only thing that creates the vibrant pedestrian traffic that makes successful cities what they are. Every time I pass by an apartment tower that lacks retail space (and, thus, foot traffic) -- and Portland has lots of those -- I always find myself wondering: Where are all the people?


I agree that retail is important, but I don't see the problem with some "calm" areas in residential highrise areas. The westend in Vancouver BC is a brilliant vibrant LUSH Downtown highrise area with limited retail (retail is concentrated a few blocks away on main drags. The limited retail gives the area a very relaxed, livable feel. With densities as high as they are you always see people walking dogs, running, walking home with groceries. We need to watch out that we don't create too frantic a city.


Too frantic a city? Portland? Not a problem, I'd say!

Don't urban planners and sociologists who study such things now seem to mostly agree that what people find most attractive about urban life -- what DRAWS them to cities in the first place -- is the crowds, the rich diverity, the sort ofeveryday chaos you get when lots of different things mix together in a (moderately) chaotic way on the streets? Isn't that why late 20th century urban renewal projects that separated people's activities -- things like pedestrian malls -- are more often than not failures?

I agree that there should be a place in life for those who want to surround themselves with lushness, calmness and rigidly enforced order: the suburbs.


Well I think a city can be too frantic, anyone who doesn't think so should spend a week in Hong Kong. There's a nice middle ground between Hong Kong and downtown Dallas which Portland is working tword.

As for the Benson, I think it will be an attractive addition, but might fail to live up to it's hype in the end. It just doesn't seem to have the design texture and interplay of materials that I like. Good examples of texture over form are the Eliot, Edge or Bellmont Lofts. To me it takes a truely stunning form to overcome unexciting use of materials.


Hey all I know is the incentive of a resident on the ground floor is to keep some seperation from the street with nice trees and nature. The incentive of retail is visability to the street. Our city is not known for great architecture or grand blvds, but it is for our urban canopy. If the benson allows some more room and incentive to allow the urban forest to grow, then its a plus in my eyes. I already like the funky circle that gives you an interesting look into the waterfeature. I don't think another subway sign would have the same impact.


Granted, there are lots of cities ot there that are "too frantic," but it's virtually always a function of how many people live there. Hong Kong's population is nearly 7 million. Portland's city population is a little more than a half-million. Portland would be too frantic, I suppose, if all of a sudden 14 times as many people decided to move inside its city limits, but that's not gonna happen.

Ken Bauer

I truly like the design of this tower. Portland has too often taken an interesting design such as the Morrison tower and turned it into a stubby bland ODS type of design. I especially like the rooftop features. Portland has way too many flattops. Hopefully a nice lighting of the rooftop at night will be part of the final product.


"The Benson Tower is the first major construction project in Portand being built with non-union labor. I'm afraid this is going to set a trend. If the developers of the Benson can do it, why not the developers of the next condo tower? And the next? This isn't good for the Portland's social fabric or economic well-being."

I didn't realize this, I did realize there where strikers out every now and then across the streets.

I don't blame the builders. I'm glad. This city is such a socialist environment, and a lot of good workers can't get work because of the Unions protectionist attitudes toward their local environment. Besides that there is practically no competition, thus keeping construction prices excessively high in the area and reducing the actual amount of work and thus available jobs.

There are plenty of cities in America that are doing much better economically, and jobs wise, than Portland. One of the main reasons is this anti business and anti competitive environment that Portland and the north west harbors.

Personally, if I was in the market for a condo, I'd buy one just because it's non-union.

How many other jobs have been cancelled, put off, or deemed unnecessary primarily because of the excessive union costs? There have been several as of recent. The Meier and Frank recently had trouble because of Union interests.

The list could go on and on. I hope it becomes a trend. For consumers of real estate, homes, and other things of this sort things would only improve. For the non-productive and less than valuable construction worker it would be the end of them being able to mooch off of their Union associations.


Hopefully this leads to the elimination of the child labor laws so we can better "compete" with developing countries. And maybe the elimination of all that excessive health care payments business has to make for employees will follow. The great social saftey net of the country will take care of those people who can't complete. Plenty of land for dignity village to grow ;)

Rick Potestio

I was not aware that the height limit in Portland was adjusted and would like more information on this.

My concern is that the height limits were set to preserve views of the city and mountains from the hills. View corridors were also set with lower limits to preserve specific views, mostly of Mt. Hood from places such as the Rose Garden or Vista Bridge. I would be greatly dissapointed if in our quest to look like Vancouver, or Seattle for that matter, we lost what made us Portland. The idea that a building can only look good by being tall in proportion is absurd. Many architects in Portland have proven unable to compose buildings that are gracefull and well proportioned, regarless of height.

It is my observation that most architects are not able to describe the theory, history or application of proportion in architecture. This is a shame. Mies and Corbu were as versed in this art as any ancient Greek or Roman architect.

Buildings such as the Henry, Gregory, and Elizabeth, all in the Pearl, are awkward and bulky, not because of thier massing, but because of how such massing was handled. Buildings such as the Wells Fargo Tower are not inherently better by virtue of the slender, tall proportion.

Renaisance palazzi such as the Farnese in Rome or Medici in Florence, demonstrate the importance of understanding how to compose a facade for a squat building mass.

Portland's uniqueness has in part been derivative of the fact that it has had, thus far, a european scale...the Pearl District, for all its faults, has a variety of building heights that combine to create a scale that is pedestrian.

I worry that the south waterfront will not share this ambiance. Rather than the three 30 story buildings under construction, we could have nine 10 story buildings, framing great public spaces. With a blank slate to work from, copying the Vancouver model was not, in my opinion the wisest choice.


Now we are getting back to architecture discussion...

The city, if I remember correctly, actually told the developer to shave 1 foot off the building because it was 251 feet tall in an area prezoned for 250 with the appropriate residential uses. No new height restrictons were ever considered for this site.

The fact that this bulding is "tall" is not the main point, I believe the good aspect is that the building isn't squat and bulky but tall and thin on a small footprint.

I, personally, like a variety of landscapes in an urban area. The Pearl has the feel of the Pearl, just as Northwest and Lloyd have their own styles (for better or for worse). The South Waterfront will have its own feel attracting its own type of people (again for better or for worse). I just wish that the old neighborhood stuck behind the new developments would have tried to get more done in thier neighborhood rather than fight a decent brownfield reclaimation project (massive scale, but in truth thats what it is). I speak of the old mess of 99 and the Ross Island ramps where traffic volumes and/or directions are not what they used to be before I-5 and Harbor Way's removal.

As for Mies and Le Corbusier, as they did recognize proportions, I am glad thier "good ideas" about architecture have faded in recent times (International style was, in my opinion, one of the worst architectural/ social/ urban designs of modern times). My complaint is one already mentioned, that this building has a very similar look to the Fox Tower office bulding nearbye.


Personally, I think the Benson Tower is stunning. Not only does Portland get a decent-sized tower, but it's glassy, sleek facade is beautiful and eye-catching. I also think that it has some similarites to the Fox Tower, which is not a bad thing. With the Benson Tower, John Ross, and the proposed Oak Tower, I hope Portland continues to embrace the taller, thinner towers.


PROportions can make or kill a building, and we have to be careful to not generalize about how great Meis and Corbu were. Time has done them well, but if Corbu had his way we would be living in a monotony of cruciform towers that marched over the meadow. And Meis, for all his love of detail and order was a nazi when people tried to actually live in his buildings. Don't get me wrong i love both of those guys, and their composition in plan, form and elevation was as amazing as any great painting. Maybe the art is missing on how we handle massing and proportion. The great Renaissance thinkers could handle proportion and perspective and did so in such a way that flattered the view. What a lost opportunity to really bend form and make something that is exhilarating about height. Don't feed me garbage about fractals, when all we are talking about is decoration - talk about something powerful - as powerful as a building itself. The benson lacks that exuberance. I think the height and celebration are nice, but common, and i even don't mind the every other building not having retail space with a for lease sign in the window, but what i don't like about the benson is how it treats materials. The goofy stair step of plastic opacity is, well 80's, and makes me dream of ill suburban buildings. I welcome diversity to the city, and i think South Waterfront brought the thinking to do tall slender buildings, which by the way are not all 30 stories tall.


Are we looking at the same building? The design, from its mechanical room "crown" to its stepping, scale mitigating, masonry "veneer" amounts to nothing beyond safe. I fail to see a single unique element, and the standard elements used have been kept at such a safe distance that any chance of complexity has been eliminated. The street level elevation also lacks strength - the pattern just ends when the ground shows up. I am afraid to say that Portland's skyline will grow but not improve with timid designs such as this.

a cube

could someone please provide a contemporary example of a well proportioned 200'x 200'x 200' building?


The Portland Building?

...okay, that was a cheap shot, y'know. But irresistable!


I am not certain that the 200' cube is relevant to the Benson as it appears to have more of a 2:1 plan ratio.
Designers must remember that just because a building's mass reaches a certain height, it does not have to become a "tower."

a cube

the 200' cube is relevant to comments about other buildings in the pearl. its seems that portland's small block sizes govern height limits just as much as zoning. 100'x200' makes it tough to go down very far for parking...and if you can't get a lot of cars down there, you probably aren't going to be able to build as much above.


I agree with Crow. 'Safe' is a good way to describe the design of this building. I'm glad there is an interesting form being applied to the roof area, and the small footprint is a welcome change. But the blocky masonry and glass composition is by no means progressive by any stretch of the imagination.


It is odd to assign a political term like "not progressive" to the opaque step design, and as in politics, over the long term something that seemed one way at a certain point can appear opposite later, with the benefit of historical hindsight. Also, it is always difficult to judge a building's exterior until it is finished and the entire structure can be seen - I have been surprised when some things turned out looking better or worse than I thought they would. The Benson's thin needle shape, in contrast to the Eliot, Gregory, or a number of other squat buildings provides a real advantage in Portland's gray winters: good windows for almost every room in every floor plan, in lieu of the tunnel plans elsewhere. The wedge at one corner is an unusual feature. It may turn out to be a sleekly beautiful building, especially with the water feature below.


My mistake - that was David that made the good point about the safe design. Crow posted the comment above his.

Long View and Now

How will a resident get on the 15th floor when the electricity from fish killing dams that will be removed and dwindling natural gas and petroleum sources become too scarce, non-existent, and/or too expensive to use?
How about thinking about a building and townscape that is human scale and in keeping with the carrying capacity of the local limited environment? A building that is no taller than five stories would fit these parameters. A building that is beautiful (oh horror of horrors, I know), instead of pleasing to the latest in fashions for the hipsters in town, would also go a long way towards fulfilling human and environmental needs. Or instead of raising a new building on that spot, perhaps a park or garden?


Since I live within 1000 ft of the Benson Tower, will someone explain what will happen to this thing in the upcoming predicted major earthquake? I think it's foolish to stick one's head in the sand when we know it's going to happen and it's just a matter of time. Tiny footprints sound great until D-Day. I've got 26 stories looming above me and I don't like it.


Does a building being thin make it less likely to withstand an earthquake?

Edward F

I think this building is beautiful from the pictures I've seen. I'm sorry I didn't have a chance to visit it when I was visiting friends in Portland recently. My wife hurt her foot and we had to stop our touring. The Benson Tower. What's not to like?

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