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I totally agree that it's good to see the Goodmans finally allowing some of their DT surface lots to be developed and that ZGF has gotten a little more design-forward recently. I was able to tour this building at the opening and I think it is top-notch. It feels like Portland high-rises have been listening to each other and learning, and this is just the most evolved to come out of the recent boom. Based on the number of apartment lights on at night and numbers I've heard, it looks like they aren't having too much trouble filling the place out, either. This is good news for Downtown and the West End.


"Given how the economy has tumbled, I might worry a little about ZGF living up to this Grand Palais of an architectural office. Can they design enough hospitals, airports and academic buildings to pay the mortgage? I say this not out of any inside knowledge of ZGF. Or if I do have inside knowledge of the firm, it's that ZGF seems to be at a high level when it comes to producing quality design."

Quotes like the one above are really irresponsible "journalism" on your part. Especially given this economy and the way many architecture firms are struggling to stay above water. It's almost as if you want to start a rumor. Is this really a necessary part of the building critique?

Brian Libby


I'm sorry if you found disfavor with the mention of ZGF and the economy.

While I'd argue that it's a legitimate point to express concern for a company opening a huge office right in the middle of a very tough economy, I certainly can respect the need for carefulness about starting rumors.

Let me be abundantly clear: By all accounts, ZGF is doing just fine.



This is not journalism, it is a blog. Every architecture firm is suffering in some way or another, so don't be so sensitive.

Steve L.

The suspended staircase is reminiscent of one of the Eero Saarinen suspended staircases in the GM Tech Center. Though visually striking, the Tech Center staircase is hard to use because the treads are too long, and they feel a little like a cage. The Tech Center staircase can be seen in this slide show:



You spoke of the building's elegant interiors, luminous glass technology, and thankful transition of a Goodman parking lot into a building. These are all qualities of the building that I would agree are very impressive. Gerding Edling and ZGF are some of Portland's finest developers and architects. But...

A more robust debate on the merits of the building's massing in terms of the larger urban context is necessary. The mass of this 23 story rectangular solid overpowers the existing and very valid context of six story buildings and small civic towers (nearby churches). The building wall shoots up directly from street level, appears to overhang the ground floors, and overpowers the street scape and surrounding lower-scaled buildings. It appears to suggest that those old 6 story buildings are obsolete, a thing of the past, and a whole new massing and scale to this district will eventually overtake these remnants buildings...and that's just how's it gonna be.

The alternative is building a renewed burnside corridor with a more incremental change in scale and massing. Clearly this discordant shift in scale from old to new must be the result of the City's zoning of this district to allow a dramatic upward shift in height without any guidelines for addressing the street scale. It's an example of a dramatic up-zoning applied without designing the district as a whole.

This is a larger question concerning how Portland should achieve higher density in downtown, as well as the region. The prevailing opinion in much of the architecture and planning professions has been to follow the Vancouver BC model of tall residential towers, thus South Waterfront and parts of the Pearl. While that approach might be great in some neighborhoods, Portland should also engage the equally high density approach of setting various lower scaled datums ranging from six to maximum 12 stories. Many great cities such as San Francisco or Paris are relatively low scale/high density urban structures. We need look no further than the AE Doyle buildings enclosing Pioneer COurthouse Square for some very high density building within a 14 story datum, that are highly compatible with their neighbors.

Tall towers poking up among low level buildings doesn't in the end result in a very coherent urbanism.


well said Larry , This RealEstate Box is hideous. It lacks any sense of where it is , and what Portland is made of. Please take it back to houston. It is sadly ironic that it is so close to the Brewery Blocks , and yet so far away.

Brian Libby


Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

I agree partially with what you're saying. It's true that my review should have addressed the difference in height between 12 West and the surrounding buildings. However, I don't necessarily agree that having buildings mismatched in size is a bad thing. To me that is what makes a vibrant city: a mismatch of buildings that are differently scaled.

Although I respect the desire to preserve the integrity of existing buildings, I think if the architectural fabric of the nearby buildings is strong enough, it can handle a change in scale like 12 West. If every building in this district were to suddenly be 22 stories, I do agree that would overwhelm the scale of the area. But to me a mix of taller and shorter buildings is fine.


This actually is one of my favorite new towers to be built in Portland over the past 10 years. I hope we continue to see this kind of development, along with other young firms showing their capabilities in the city and especially the west end.

It is always a good thing to hear that an architecture firm is doing fine. It is always something to keep in mind and wonder about when we know so many firms have been downsizing dramatically.

I do wish the best for ZGF and it would be amazing if that firm became the SOM of Portland.


In my observations and analysis of various cities, nationally and internationally, the most enduring and satisfying urban places are primarily the public spaces of streets, plazas, squares...not the individual buildings themselves. Buildings and their architects are responsible for making those great public places by enclosing them with their buildings. When dramatic disparities in height and massing between buildings occur, the buildings tend to take prominence instead of the continuity of the street space.

I agree with you in general that towers rising out of a datum of lower buildings can offer a really compelling skyline, and narrative. But the narrative of towers in a low rise neighborhood usually is that the tower holds something precious, civic, or spiritual. It's the age old dichotomy of the sacred and profane.

But of course we now have central business districts with office and residential skyscrapers. I am not suggesting there is anything wrong with towers in such districts.

I only am advocating for a level of consistency and coherence in our various Portland neighborhoods, districts and corridors, and between the past and future.

FInally your point that you would not want to see a whole district filled with similar 23 story buildings is important. Is this a frog in a slowly boiling pot? What happens with the heat's turned up and the whole district is built out at this scale and massing.


Copley Square in Boston is one of the most successful american urban spaces precisely because of the varied scales of the surrounding buildings. Scale is only one factor to good design. Balance, unity, and form are just as important. Don't be afraid to go tall - just go tall well.


I am of two minds about this building. On the one hand, I like seeing a refined building, more density, more users in a walkable downtown core, and more investment both literal and symbolic in that core.

On the other hand, I think this building also communicates a sort of chilly, speculative stance. It wants to be a pioneer in a dowdy area. If its message is successful, it will lead a pack of many towers around it. I don't see that as an unmitigated good thing. I agree with Larry: there's value in the urban form of the West End that has not been appreciated. This form could be intensified rather than replaced. The Vancouver form feels appropriate for the South Waterfront or the Lloyd Center, but not necessarily for a district of SRO's and churches.

Speaking of churches, the ZGF building erased what was a very pleasing, if accidental, view corridor all the way down NW 13th to the Presbyterian Church steeple. This really was a dramatic view, and I'm sorry that it's gone.


"Thus, the 12 West project represents not only Gerding Edlen taking their Brewery Blocks model west across Burnside, but also..."

I believe you mean south across Burnside?


Did I read too quickly or was the little gem that juts out on the north side and fits beautifully with the older buildings get completely missed? I wish the whole building had been done with that level of sensitivity. I really don't like the mass of this building.
I'm looking forward to Skylab's new building just across the street from this.


omg everyone is so damn sensitive to 'context'. not everything should be preserved! it is a nice mid-size building. The facade is complex enough to maintain interest, and has beautiful scaleless qualities. Like big pink it is a quality design. I am sure this is not universally agreed upon. Time will bear this true. Fussy little ego-trips like skylabs Weave could only hope for so much.


oh, and I might add, the residential lobby is great. nice to see integrated art. it feels very regional.


uh Kitty , 'the facade is complex enough to maintain interest' ,
puuuleez , this RealEstate Box may be many things , but complex it
ain't. BTW lets wait for the Weave to get built before raggging on it. I for one would love to see PDX full of unique well-scaled designs like the Weave , and fewer dumb boxes like this. GO DUCKS!


This building is not only good, but it is very good, for many reasons. The scale and materiality of the tower creates contrast and counterpoint to the buildings around it, enhancing both itself and the historic buildings of the neighborhood. Obviously some disagree with this, but I personally notice that the sleekness and reflection of Indigo's very elegant skin makes me appreciate the solidness and beauty of the First Presbyterian Church even more, and creates a striking background to the best buildings in this neighborhood, enhancing them through counterpoint. The building has an appropriate verticality to it, using the outdoor patios effectively to enhance this design choice. The vertical panels are also well proportioned and add to the cohesive sense of rising up that is created. The building breaks down beautifully at the base, making a difficult transition to a more horizontal language, and introducing wood and smaller scale detailing that is interesting to look at and invites touch. The area of the building that spills out of the side at Masu is incredible and I'm not sure how they pulled that off, it's the only building I can think of that does that however. My only critiques would be the top of the building seems a little incoherent, there may be too much going on, also the balcony rail detail seems unresolved, but these are small nit-picky things. The language of the building is consistent: the recurring angle appearing throughout the building is subtle, adds a great deal of drama and interest, and I suspect is the same angle that is created by Burnside slicing through the city. That is the stuff of good design. Well done ZGF and the design team that worked on this, this is the best residential tower Portland since the Elliot.


Josiah, I agree with everything you just said. Let's face it, the Church wasn't being "preserved" by being in a wasteland of freeways and halfway houses. I want First Pres to look like St. Patrick's in New York, with modern and lively buildings around it accentuating its architecture.

Larry, I completely understand your arguments, but I think this neighborhood is absolutely appropriate for this scale and style of architecture. I very much look forward to watching it change. Just remember that both it and the Weave were supposed to be taller and we can both accept it as a nice compromise.

PS: I know we aren't supposed to care about the people inside the building, but the massing makes for an amazing feeling in the units. Being at the edge of the full length glass is like standing at the edge of a cliff. When architecture can make you feel it in your gut- that's cool.


Also another thing worth pointing out, the West End is still in downtown, therefore it makes sense to have taller buildings going up in this neighborhood regardless of the heights of current buildings. Besides, there is still a number of surface lots within that area that I would love to see disappear.

kyle andersen

I think it is a pretty nice tall building - and has a nice play of transparency, reflection, and scale. When a few more buildings get built out in the area, then I am sure much of the concern with the abrupt change in scale and vernacular will be lessened.


Josiah and Kitty,
Context, continuity, and the design of a more holistic urbanism, not just individual buildings, are issues that need serious discussion here in Portland.

Josaih wrote:"The scale and materiality of the tower creates contrast and counterpoint to the buildings around it, enhancing both itself and the historic buildings of the neighborhood."

The idea that we should be responsive to context by contrasting, even contradicting it, has sadly been taught to architects since the 1920's Modernists advocated eradicating history in favor of their newfound paradigm (take Corbu's Parisian Plan Voisin for example). Don't get me wrong, I love (well done)Modernism. But when the idea that we should always contrast and contradict historic contexts is used to eradicate not only style and materiality, but scale, proportion and overall urban form, we risk loosing too much.

I for one will continue to be 'sensitive to context' in all it's ramifications.


Portland isnt a 300+ year old city, I think we still have a long way to go before the city truly begins to define itself and I am not sure the West End really has an identity yet that keeps being referred to...this part of downtown is not the same as Old Town, which is more rooted with the origins of this city.



I appreciate your views, and think this is a important debate. It seems to me that good buildings typically reflect the technologies, building methods, and prevailing paradigms/ (aesthetic judgments, values, culture ext.) of the time they were built in. Great buildings in our time are almost exclusively cutting edge, contemporary buildings that are pushing the design envelope and innovating rather than mimicking the past. All too often I hear the argument of 'sensitivity to context' to mean: try and fake it to look like the historical style's around the building. This has rarely been successful in any meaningful way, you end up with the worst of the buildings in the Pearl that use fake brick facades to try to be like the beautiful brick warehouse across the street. If we are to be true to the time we live and build in, we build to the highest ideals and technologies of today, not attempt to endlessly repeat a time that is gone in a manner that will never recapture what made those buildings good in the first place.


I too understand your view. It's the idea of the Zeitgeist. It's a notion running its course through architectural education and media. But the opposite of Zeitgest is not just mindless, sappy, nostalgic mimicry of a bygone era, as some people purport. You'll notice that I did not speak of context in terms of style, or even materials very much. This is not an issue of style or even material.

I am only addressing here continuity of scale and proportion, both in height and overall massing, relative to the best buildings in the neighborhood, and relative to the proportions of the street spaces.

To emphasize my point about consistent or contrasting scales between neighboring buildings, consider the old tower building near the east side of the Morrison Bridge on Grand Avenue/MLK. While it's consistent in style and material with it's neighboring buildings, its height and bulk is awkwardly out of sync with its surroundings. It's not a bad building, but it looks like the remnant of a bygone real estate boom that crashed about 80 years ago, and still hasn't returned to that district. It's a good example of the zeitgeist, but a poor example of coherent urbanism. Towers next to two story buildings remind me of Houston with its lack of any zoning codes.

Again style is not the main issue, but coherent urbanism is.


Larry, I can understand that viewpoint and can agree to some extent...I think what is often forgotten when talking about issues like this is that Portland is still a young, growing city and it is still trying to define itself.

The form of thinking that you have been commenting on, while an understandable viewpoint, it also hinders the progression of the city. I for one am happy to see the core of the city to continue to increase density and I am happy to see major streets throughout the city and around transit stops doing the same. The city is at that point where some wish to keep things as they are, but that is not how a city operates.

One could argue that the first towers to be built in downtown Manhattan were out of scale to the neighborhood, but as that city has evolved, those towers no longer were considered out of scale. The West End is still searching for that identity, which I am all for letting that evolve in the coming years, which if that means taller buildings, then so be it, as long as it is reflecting what Portland currently is and what it wishes to be in the future while preserving as much as possible of what is there with its past.

Steve L.

The overall streetscape we are developing is more important than any single building and since this neighborhood is under-developed, this is the time to discuss if smaller would be better.

Density can be achieved through smaller 6 to 14 story buildings, the resulting neighborhood has a brighter, more natural feeling than deep canyons of glass, and concrete. In some circumstances, one tall building can do a lot of harm. I think the shadowing of Pioneer Courthouse Square by the Fox Tower is an example.

I would like to see more windmills; they are currently a bit of a token.


I realize I'm late to the party here, but Larry, you are committing the classic Alexander (as in Chris) error. Your whole argument is predicated on "...my observations and analysis of various cities, nationally and internationally..." Do you not recognize that this is unequivocally subjective? Even the more rigorous studies of urban spaces (Whyte, etc.) are undeniably on the fuzzy edge between sociology and design, and therefore it is of little use to pretend that you've measured in an objective way what makes " the most enduring and satisfying urban places." You are of course welcome to your opinion, but state it as such, rather than presume that your observations are tantamount to fact.


Congratulations to ZGF about moving to a new home, I will personally bring them a housewarming gift, of course provided that they organize a barbecue on their roof (although probably I'll get some acrophobia or something).

But seriously, it's great to try some new places and improve work environment, only good can come out of it.

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