Slab, corridorSlab, gallery-accessSlab, corridorSlab, double-loadedTower
The Metropolitan
BOORA Architects & Planners | Portland, OR, USA | 2007
Image of The Metrop...
The residential tower seen from Jamison Square

ProjectThe Metropolitan
ArchitectBOORA Architects & Planners
CityPortland, OR
Address1001 NW Lovejoy St.
Building TypeSlab, double-loaded
Slab, gallery access
Number of Dwellings121
Date Built2007
Dwelling Typestownhouses, studios, 1, 2-BR flats, 3-BR Penthouses
No. Floors19
Section Typeflats, townhouses
Exterior Finish
glass, metal panels, fiber reinforced concrete panels, stone, aluminum
Construction Typeconc. frame, curtain wall
Ancillary Servicesretail, parking, public terraces

The Metropolitan is a mixed use complex built in a new community called “The Pearl” that is under construction north of the downtown area of Portland, Oregon. Formerly an area of railroad yards, warehousing, light manufacturing, and industrial uses, The Pearl is part of a larger plan to develop the North River District along the Willamette River. During the 1970’s the City, adopted policies to create higher density residential and commercial uses in areas adjacent to Portland’s downtown. These policies were expressed in the “Pearl District Development Plan”, in 2001, as a set of goals about urban redevelopment that adopted code changes to encourage innovative design and the preservation and adaptive reuse of historic structures. This required a mix of residential and small retail space, public open space, and the building of a transportation infrastructure. A new Portland Streetcar was opened in 2001 connecting to other points and institutions in the city. This was followed by the rapid construction of residential, commercial and retail facilities in different parts of the Pearl. New construction continued the existing pattern of 200’x200’ blocks. In 1999, Peter Walker and Partners, Landscape Architects, were asked to develop concepts for 3 new squares in the center of The Pearl and by 2005, two of these had been built and a space set-aside for the third.

A large part of the Pearl District was formerly occupied by the Burlington Pacific rail yards since the later part of the 19th century. Bought in 1994 by Hoyt Street Realty, this 34-acre site occupied a critical position at the intersection of an elevated viaduct above Lovejoy Avenue (that the city later removed) that connected the Broadway Bridge to older residential areas to the west and the route of the new Portland Streetcar on 10th and 11th Avenues. Jamison Square and Tanner Springs Park were built at this intersection and along with taller buildings on the two blocks between the parks, especially the 19-story tower of the Metropolitan. This constellation of taller buildings and public open space at the intersection of the major axes in The Pearl defines the spiritual center of the community.

At 19 floors the Metropolitan is one of the tallest buildings built to date in The Pearl. It was built as a demonstration project for a zoning change to a 225" height. While the project included an entire 200’x200’ block, the architectural massing consists of 4 different cubic elements of different heights resting on a 1-story-high platform of retail spaces. The 19-story cruciform tower forms a vertical marker at the center of an interpenetrating constellation of different height buildings and spaces that form the center of the Hoyt Street domain. The Pearl floor area ratio (FAR) might have suggested a strategy of filling the block to a constant height like earlier Pearl projects such as the Elizabeth, or the Gregory but the division of the program into separate building elements follows the existing pattern of block parcelization and allows for “view corridors” between buildings and spaces for parts of several blocks. The intent of The Pearl program to have building variety because of the ad hoc nature of much of the existing Pearl building, and the need to adapt historic buildings to new uses seems to be reflected in the fragmented nature of the Metropolitan ensemble. It is a microcosm of the larger urban context.

Jamison Square and Tanner Springs Park, the two public open spaces in the center of the Pearl that have been built, occur on alternating blocks and define a traditional solid/void relationship with the adjacent buildings. Both parks are enclosed along the sides by mixed-use buildings 5- 8 floors high that reinforce the 200 x 200 block organization and continue the alignment of building height and surface along 10th and 11th streets. The buildings on the two blocks between the parks, however, are detailed as an ensemble of free-standing elements, a 12 story residential slab and a 3-story block next to Jamison Square, and the latest addition, the Metropolitan, on the block overlooking Tanner Springs Park. The Metropolitan is a group of 4 cubic elements including a 19-story tower that is built on a 1-story high retail base. “View corridors” between the blocks and between the Metropolitan elements, let more light penetrate to the interior of the block and the result is a spatially interpenetrating massing that steps toward Tanner Springs and the recreational spaces that will extend north from garden. The architectural variety expressed in the details and materiality of the Metropolitan reinforces the varied character of Pearl building that was one of the original goals in the Pearl Guidelines. While the spatial zones set up by the building volumes in the blocks between parks forms visual connections to other parts of the Pearl, the combination of open space and taller buildings creates the quality of a central place. The complex formula of building heights that allows the use of air rights from other sites was negotiated with the City to establish FAR height requirements. The FAR manipulations used in the planning of the Metropolitan, however, create functional variety and made it possible to combine buildings with different footprints, including a tall tower with a double fire stair as part of the development of a 200’x200’ Portland block.

Following the Pearl mandate for retail stores along the sidewalk, The Metropolitan is built on a retail base that covers most of the block. Four discrete cubic elements, each containing different residential types, define the corners of the block and reinforce the “view corridors” generated by the other buildings and spaces of the larger site, while stepping towards Tanner Spring Park in a “cascading cubes” concept. The first type, the 19-story residential point-access tower with several floors of large exclusive dwellings, recalls other tower precedents with stepping profiles; a miniature residential skyscraper expressed as a cruciform organization with double fire stairs. An anathema for most speculative residential or commercial building in the U.S. because of the cost of multiple exit stairs, the small footprint used here enables the location of luxury dwellings above the 8th floor. The second type is an 8-story double-loaded residential slab that connects to and shares a lobby and vertical circulation with the corner tower. Attaching at the 8th floor and aligned north and south, this element forms a larger “L”-shaped building that continues the stepped form of the tower, shares vertical circulation with the tower, and has balconies overlooking Tanner Spring Park. The third building on the NW corner of the site facing the park is a place is for a unique “Live/Work” dwelling type. It is expressed as a separate 4-story glass office building that houses gallery-access studios that open to the two side streets at the corner. A tall travertine wall along the east side encloses the gallery access and vertical circulation and serves to separate this corner from the common activities in the garden terraces between buildings. While this building supports residential functions, the curtain wall details and views of the “X” bracing of the structural frame that can be seen through the glass suggest a speculative commercial use. A row of townhouses is imbedded along the east side of the retail platform. These are entered from a raised arcade and extend to the roof terrace at the first floor. A final type is a single small 1-story pavilion at the southwest corner of the plinth that is a guest apartment a place for a short stay for one of two people. While hardly a significant program element, this is, nonetheless an important part of the architectural concept because it serves to extend the plinth beyond the 1-story retail height, defines the corner of the block where the street car turns and helps to enclose the terrace area on the 1st floor roof. This small, probably programmatically unnecessary structure, is consistent with the mix of retail, commercial, and residential, functions and goes well with the live/work apartments that open to the terrace areas.

Altogether there are about a dozen different types of dwellings in the Metropolitan, ranging in size from one 1 and 2 bedroom units in a double-loaded organization along the corridor and large multi-bedroom corner apartments in the upper floors of the tower to the luxury suites that are expressed as an elaborate terraced cornice at the top of the tower. Balconies are typically detailed as cantilevered vertical zones that accentuate the cruciform qualities of the tower. The Live/Work units are basically a type of loft space that is a reference to the tradition of artists’ lofts in The Pearl. A row of townhouses, are organized as a Live/Work type, arranged on two levels with a living suite at the level of the roof terrace, and a work space that is set back and raised slightly from the level of the sidewalk along 10th Ave. on the east side of the block. These dwellings are organized with a small living suite opening to the roof terrace at the upper level leaving the ground floor available for mixed commercial/residential use.

The terrace garden has several defined areas, including an outdoor fireplace, different level changes, stairs and an access ramp to the entry to the Live/Work apartments. A varied mix of materials and landscaping has been used for this area: travertine, textured fiber reinforced cement paneling, and various different glass materials that give this area the special quality of an exclusive shared domain overlooking Tanner Creek Park and future buildings planned for the north end of the Hoyt Street property.

The extensive use of a very flush, planer glass curtain wall, the highly reflective/crystalline nature of the metal panels, and the extreme verticality of the massing of the Metropolitan suggest commercial rather than residential precedents. The real clues to its residential use are the zones of repetitive balconies. The glass walls and metal panels often reflect the typically gray Northwest sky and take on the same coloration so that the building elements seem almost to levitate in space; a miniature crystal skyscraper, pearl-like in its finish and color that marks the axis mundi of The Pearl.

The stepping idea on the site is further developed by the use of a larger frame suggesting a secondary reticulated composition of metal panels that traces the basic plan organization. The massing concept is further emphasized by cantilevering the floor slabs at the corners so that balconies and interior spatial zones are expressed at the corners resulting in architecture of mutually perpendicular planes and articulated corners reminiscent of neo-plastic construction of the 1920’s. Like these precedents, the structural frame, while it is revealed in some areas--the entrance, for example-- is less the generator of the building composition than the development of the cubic intersections, the sophisticated development of the planer surface and the basic interior organization. As a result of the corner emphasis, 60% of the 121 apartments are positioned on the corner. The use of the curtain wall here also marks a change in the use of exterior building materials that has occurred in the Pearl from masonry to glass as sustainability issues are increasingly the driving force behind design. The Metropolitan received a LEED silver certificate for this effort.

The Metropolitan dominates the skyline now and establishes the center of the Pearl. But, it remains to be seen how it will fit with the taller FAR limits that can be expected as the North River District grows. The newest Hoyt projects, The Encore at 16 floors and The Pinnacle at 14 floors, offer a preview of what can be expected in the Hoyt build-out of the northern part of their holdings northward toward the River. The curving Encore seems to represent a ville radieuse strategy of individualized, freestanding slabs around the perimeter of a large “recreational” space. Other buildings suggested for this area in the Hoyt master plan seem to have abandoned the block strategy in favor of a field of independent elements. The gradation from the high-density blocks along East Burnside to the spatial interpenetration that occurs with the Metropolitan and its associated public squares is now dissipated in a poorly defined landscape populated with more-or-less stereotypical modernist residential buildings. It is hard to see how the street life so critical to the sense of urban density that characterizes the Pearl will be able to be maintained in the North Pearl area. Ending the 10th/11th street axis is a big problem, but some kind of continuation of the 200x200 grid, making a clear boundary, and developing gateway concepts seem more in tune with the whole Pearl experience.

Business Journal of Portland , Oct, 14, 2005.

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