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Oh look, another vertical checkerboard of fenestration. Groundbreaking! When does the horizontal wood siding get added? It would be nice to see a little more innovation and a bit less imitation on the PDX scene.


In fact, after reviewing film for several years in addition to architecture, I'd personally much prefer Works Partnership's designs to Gratz's animated films.

Despite your disagreement with this woman's position, this remark is a bit petty, don't you think (not to mention rather irrelevant)?


SH, have you read the DJC article? I think Brian was responding to Joan's original pettiness:

from the DJC article: “This whole thing makes you wonder what (architecture) school they went to,” said Joan Gratz, a Portland-based Academy Award-winning animator originally schooled in architecture."

I'll hold my own unflattering opinion of her animation techniques, as it is subjective.

Brian Libby

I appreciate what Truth is saying, but I actually think SH is ultimately right. I took out that sentence but will leave these corresponding comments so it doesn't seem like I'm trying to sweep it under the rug, either.

How do you spell relief? M-e-a-s-u-r-e-4-9

Brian states: "This has also become such a broken record in Portland: a project comes along that goes to the allowable height limit... but it turns out that allowable height feels incongruent and too high for some of the nearby neighbors....because they haven't come to terms with how the new building's perfectly allowable scale is going to change their patch of the urban fabric."

In fact, there is an adjustment to height requested, from 45' to 65' on half of the site, which is the primary aspect/request prompting the review process and public concern.

And I love Joan's work.


“This whole thing makes you wonder what (architecture) school they went to,” said Joan Gratz

Gee, where DID they go to school? You see, it's a design by two émigrés.

This is simply a rally for Portland's xenophobic reflex. "How dare they come here and tell us what to do with our neighborhoods."


"Oh look, another vertical checkerboard of fenestration. Groundbreaking! When does the horizontal wood siding get added?"

Hey, Bob Venturi called, he wants his design concerns back.


"In fact, there is an adjustment to height requested, from 45' to 65' on half of the site, which is the primary aspect/request prompting the review process and public concern."

I understand that it's not as simple as relief makes it out.

In actual fact, half the site is in NW neighborhood and the other half lies outside it. The half INSIDE is zoned to 65'. The half outside is zoned to 45'. The whole development is designed to 65' as necessary for the financials to work. The neighborhood knows the building probably doesn't happen without the variance and they are trying to use it to kill the project. That's why their rhetoric is so extreme. They need the noise because they have no actual standing in the matter. They need the developer to give up and go away.


Before stating something as fact, maybe you should look it up. The entire site is part of the NW neighborhood district - there is just no design overlay. The site is a split zone - CS and RH. I attended the neighborhood meeting and it sounded like the architect was making an honest attempt to address the concerns of the neighborhood association. It is unfortunate, but there appears to be some inaccuracy in the DJC article.


Inaccuracies in the DJC?Unheard of!!!


The problem is Architects (with a capital A) are the only ones who like their work, the same ones who give them awards and praise and even the same ones who will inhabit their projects. To everyone else its the most hideous and alien looking thing... its all about trying to look as different as possible dressed up in obscure architectural ivory tower theory instead of designing for the inhabitants and its site.


"Before stating something as fact, maybe you should look it up."

ME is right, the issue is the design over lay...but the gist of my comment is appropriate. The neighborhood has no actual standing in the matter because there is no design overlay.

And KJ, anyone who follows Works' design knows they're definitely not the ivory tower theory types. Their work is very grounded. It's practical, thoughtful, concerned. They solve complex challenges with elegance. I expect that this project is much the same.


This can be a good design ,but we need better imagery. The preliminary graphics we see here hurt the impression.

 How do you spell relief? M-e-a-s-u-r-e-4-9

"The neighborhood has no actual standing in the matter because there is no design overlay."

This has been stated and requoted, and is not accurate. The height adjustment request requires a public process. Regardless of the lack of design review, this review is procedurally similar - the applicant has to demonstrate that proposal is consistent with the purpose of the regulation in order to warrant approval. This typically requires some kind of mitigation (setbacks, step-downs, other design finesse).

I don't buy the "necessary financials" argument. As a rule, if a project can't be built within the constraints of the building envelope, then they're paying too much for the land, and/or too much for something else.


"the applicant has to demonstrate that proposal is consistent with the purpose of the regulation in order to warrant approval."

true, but the applicant applies to the city...not the neighborhood. there is no process wherein the neighborhood either approves or disapproves as in the design overlay. so...the neighborhood has no actual standing in the matter.

whether the neighborhood thinks the design is pretty does not effect the city's review.

works is engaging the neighbors in this process because the believe in that type of process...not because they are required to. I find the whole tone of the neighbors' and the DJC's critique entirely disingenuous and manipulative.


Hey Brian: Would you mind putting up an image of the La Torre condos so that we can see what sort of "architecture" the neighbors (i.e. Gratz) are more fond of? I don't live there so can't see...


NW Neighbor

Unfortunately, every article I've read about this proposal so far has included errors. For instance, this project does not encompass an entire city block. It sits in the middle of a block bounded by NW 26th, 27th, Upshur and Vaughn. The La Torre apartments border the property to the east and Trovo Metalworks and the vacant Bull Ring Restaurant to the west. Many writers have referred to the situation as a case of "infill." In the strictest sense of the word, it's not since the property in question is not a vacant flag lot, a gravel parking area or an abandoned building; a 1926 40-unit garden apartment complex that is fully occupied presently sits there. It is called the Elysian Garden Apartments. When the city solicits comments and holds hearings regarding a variance it is only legally obliged to contact property owners nearby, not renters - even if they reside on the property affected and have been living there longer than many adjacent homeowners. No notices or word have filtered down to the tenants of 2631 NW Upshur except in the form of comments from neighbors and whatever they can find on the internet by Googling the property address. After visiting the WPA site, the AIA award site and the city's PDF variance posting it was my understanding that the building is to be 5 stories with parking beneath, not 6; perhaps people are counting the garage area as a floor?. Even it is were to adhere (in height) to the residential code for the Upshur side, it would still be very large and stark in comparison to every other building in the immediate neighborhood. I hasten to add that I don't think the *design* itself is a bad one. In the right part of town it would fly . . . Lloyd Center, The Pearl . . . There's a great deal to appreciate in this imaginative approach. The proposal, as it stands, is not "perfectly allowable"; witness the request for variance and the trouble it has caused. There are also legitimate concerns about the impact an large influx of cars would have on the neighborhood. I sincerely wish people would refrain from using loaded language and launching personal attacks. Please stick to the facts and more progress can be made toward a positive solution. Accusing anyone who criticizes the project as embracing, "knee-jerk historicism" is insulting. Thank you for the opportunity to comment.


to have "standing" they must be on record as not supporting a decision by the city. if they do that - they HAVE standing, and then they can appeal it all the way to LUBA through City Council. I think the financial argument is a slippery slope. if you can't build what the code allows b/c of budget then go back and make it work. Why would a neighborhood even listen to such rhetoric. the split of zoning is a split of uses allowed, so you might consider the residential use on one side with a different scale than the commercial and then use that to argue the solution. i think the images are too raw and premature to be published and that is going to hurt the designers in the end without back pedaling. i like a lot of the work and guts of the work by Works, but this may be a case of too much credence given to a firm by the architectural and critic community. Face it, Works has done much better, but to has little built work of such complexity and context to sit back on their laurels. I too am a little tired of the slipped checkerboard – it did not take long for that to be a tired solution to a boring elevation in the architectural circles.


if the project requires a variance, chances are the architects are speaking to the neighbors to curry favor. in order to get the variance they have to demonstrate that the relief would not be detrimental to the health safety and general welfare of the public. i can't speculate that the project would be detrimental, but if the neighbors are able to convince the powers that be that it would, then a variance wouldn't be warranted.

architecture aside, it seems like another case of greater density in the form of condos coupled with a loss of affordable apartments. i'm assuming that they are relatively affordable based on the google earth and street view images and the fact that they are rentals. historic or not, any act of demolition makes me wonder why developers can't seek out empty parking lots for infill development. it seems it makes more sense to build in empty space rather than lose all of that embodied energy and create additional waste. then again i'm not in the money business.

no matter what neighborhood or city you are in people will always claim that new projects are out of character with the neighborhood. this may seem the case at this location now with the buildings immediately adjacent, but montgomery park is right there too. as portland continues to grow, we want to keep going up. i'm sure with the comp plan update the planning bureau will look at such things, but i doubt if they'll be down-zoning along thoroughfares like vaughn.


The loss of housing is that is relatively affordable is definitely a minus. As for the height, this is a mixed-use area surrounded by industrial, offices, and residential. 65' is nothing to scream about. In fact, the residential half of the site has the greater height limit than the commercial side. If I lived in that neighborhood, I'd be more concerned about the ground floor parking facing NW Vaughn. Why not incorporate some active residential use such as townhome style units with stoops? Otherwise, it'll just be a dead zone along the street, no matter what design embellishments are added.



-go to this link if you want more information so that we do not have comments that are either irrelevant or untrue regarding the proposed apartment building. Or, attend the next neighborhood meeting. The neighborhood does have the right to comment due to specifics of the conditional use review. The City has the final say in the matter, but as in any situation, you can only trust that they will look at the relevant comments provided to make an informed decision.


"But for the time being, Hale isn’t budging.
“To put something in there that is traditional is almost too safe,” he said, adding neighborhoods that are too safe, that lack edgy qualities, are boring.

I wonder if Hale thinks the neighborhood he lives in is boring. (Lake Oswego, lots of traditionals and a Pietro Belluschi house Hale is removing to build a McMansion).

I like the Works apartment building though and think they should get the adjustment.

Jim Heuer

Many of the comments so far on this item seem to reflect a wide-spread belief that zoning classifications were assigned by superior beings who knew better than the rest of us how the city should develop and what was "good" for the neighborhoods. Actually, it is clear that "good for the neighborhoods" was rarely considered. Preservation of high quality, historically significant single family residences that form a cohesive community, appears never have been a consideration of the planners.

We who live in these communities have a moral, if not a legal, right to challenge poorly conceived zoning and to demand that developers build additions to communities that preserve the qualitities that drew us to the area in the first place. This does NOT mean that all development should be stopped, but it does mean that we have a right to protest when clueless money pots from Lake Oswego parachute into our neighborhoods and tell us that they are building what is "good for us", when it demonstrably is not.


As a resident of this neighborhood, I whole-heartedly support this project. One will never change the status-quo without ruffling some feathers; however what is there currently is under-using the property and is uninspiring.
As the City grows, inners sites such as these makes such good "sense" for highest-best use of land. Nothing remains static forever; bring it on, if it is GOOD.

la torre resident

Let the record show that I did not tell Tyler Graf of the DJC that the
subject WPA development was a "brutal intrusion," but in the wake of the La Torre residents' concerns
about light and air (and yes, this is a legally recognized property right), WPA and presumably Hale have
reworked their design, also addressing the brutality of a 150 ft unbroken cement plinth up to 13 feet in height along Upshur, a designated pedestrian corridor.
Another point to make is that the
development is to be apartments, not condominiums. Finally, yes, the Elysian Gardens are very affordable, in the $500-$600 per month range. Their loss impacts more than 3 dozen residents of NW Portland, some of them who have lived in the complex for decades.


Whats with the 'knee-jerk historicism'? There appears to be a lot of hostility going around in these blogs - and not a lot of constructive criticism. If there are issues, cant we dicuss them as mature citizens rather than throwing around offensive and aggressive comments? Its amazing to me how many people seem to have an opionion of all of this - do we really know the whole story (I know I dont) or are we just jumping to conclusions based off of some inaccurate DJC article and our feelings that everyone is against density?

Another La Torre resident

While I'll grant that the Elysian Gardens lot may be underutilized, going to the opposite extreme with a maximum density apartment megaplex does not strike me as change for the better.

Intelligent city planning also involves providing infrastructure for buildings of this scale. This building is a 130 unit complex with parking for 55-60 cars. There is no MAX line nearby. The closest streetcar stop is over 11 blocks away. Unless all these tenants, and their guests, are planning on taking the bus (insert sarcastic eye-roll) that leaves quite a surplus of vehicles fighting for street parking on Upshur, Thurman, and Vaughn. If you live in the area and rely on street parking, I wish you luck once this building goes up. The light and air and noise issues my good neighbor raised are also a genuine concern. In the defense of the architects, they have been actively engaged with the neighborhood and are making some alterations to address our concerns.

I want to further reiterate what Jim Heuer wrote. These zoning boundaries are not etched into stone and can be appealed if a use more consistent with existing development is demonstrated to the city. I really don't see how a spot zone like this one in the middle of city block, surrounded by property zoned low to medium density makes any sense at all.

This could be a great building in the Pearl, on the waterfront, just west of the 405, but for this property, it's a poor fit.

NW Neighbor

The apartments are no longer very affordable. As of March 1st, the new owner has raised rents by an average of $200 per unit; some tenants will pay even more. Examples:

2 bedroom - Unknown (only two units are this large; one is used by the onsite manager)

1 small bedroom - from $650-$700/month to $880

Studio with sleeping alcove - from $560 - $625 to $770
Studio from an average of $500 to $715

These are time-warped, 1926 courtyard apartments with the attendant age-related problems. Most have received scant renovation. The rent hike makes little sense since the place is going to be razed for the new building, people who can afford those prices will prefer to rent newer or better maintained apartments in the neighborhood and few will want to incur the expense of moving into an uncertain living situation where they could be evicted within months. Meanwhile, those residents with low or fixed incomes will find it difficult, if not impossible, to find somewhere affordable to move. And if they elect to stay, they'll find it even more difficult to save any money towards relocation.

Leaving these people alone until it was time to evict them with 30 days' notice and raze the building would have been far more compassionate.

But compassion seems in short supply lately where developers are concerned.

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