Tower
The Casey
GBD Architects | Portland, OR, USA | 2008
Image of The Casey
Corner at NW Everett & 12th

ProjectThe Casey
ArchitectGBD Architects
CityPortland, OR
CountryUSA
AddressNW 12th Ave./NW Everett St.
Building TypeTower
Number of Dwellings61
Date Built2008
Dwelling Types1,2 & 3 BR
No. Floors16
Section TypeFlats
Exterior Finish
Materials
glass curtain wall, reinforced cement panels (Arcis), stucco, metal windows
Construction TypeConcrete frame, rain screen wall system, glass curtain walls
Ancillary Servicesretail, parking,

Following a period of heightened building activity in the central area of Portland in the 1970’s and 80’s, attention was increasingly focused on redeveloping rundown former industrial areas along the Willamette River on the outskirts of the city. The River District north of the downtown area was one of these areas, the site of abandoned rail yards and maintenance facilities, warehousing, and light manufacturing activities. The part of the River District closest to downtown called the Pearl District, was an area that had been the subject of various planning studies since the 1980’s. By the late 1990’s warehouses and industrial buildings were being converted to residential lofts and art galleries and in 2001, the City Council adopted a comprehensive plan for the redevelopment of The Pearl.

Now, after a decade of intensive construction, Portland’s Pearl District has been transformed from a dilapidated industrial sector on the outskirts of the city center into a thriving multi-functional community filled with restored historic buildings, a completely revitalized commercial and retail enterprise, a new public realm including new parks, and the Portland Streetcar, a new tram system that connects to Portland’s already substantial transportation system. The construction of new residential buildings and over 5,000 dwellings has been the catalyst to the success of The Pearl district and provides a compelling model for mixed-use urban redevelopment in other similar cities (further information about the Pearl district can be found at these sites: The Edge, 937 Glisan, and the The Metropolitan). The case study shown here, The Casey, is a 16-story point-access tower that is one of the most recent projects to have been completed in the Pearl. It contains 61 dwellings, over 4,000 square feet of retail space and several levels of underground parking.

Redevelopment advanced simultaneously in several different parts of the approximately 120-block area of the Pearl District. One of the early stages of development centered on a group of several buildings along the southern edge of The Pearl, around the old Blitz Weinhard Brewery. Called the Brewery Blocks, the group included the old Oregon Armory that was converted to a theater, the Brewery buildings that were adapted to commercial and retail use, and new high-rise condominiums. Gerding- Edlen, the developers of the Brewery blocks also controlled a corner site a few blocks from the Brewery group that they began to develop as a separate residential/retail project called The Casey. This was a 16-story tower that was much taller than its immediate surroundings but because of its height it suggested a formal relationship with the group of Brewery buildings.

The 200’ x 200’ Portland city block presents an interesting condition for the designer. Sometimes the block is completely covered with a single building built to the zoning height limits. Many of the warehouses that were built in the Pearl were of this type. Conversion of these sites to housing usually involves a strategy to create a courtyard to provide day lighting to dwellings on the interior of the block. In the second, more common strategy, the block was subdivided into to smaller parcels that were built out with, one and two-story buildings facing the street along the perimeter of the block. Development of these blocks involves the conversion of existing buildings to new uses or transferring air rights from adjacent sites to allow increased Floor Area Ratios and the design of taller buildings. The Casey is the result of such an FAR adjustment, a 16-story tower on a site 100 x 100’ in size or one quarter of the 200 x 200 block.

The Casey stands out as a tall, vertical element that is surrounded by lower, 1 and 2-story buildings. The ochre color of the exterior rain screen panel system and reflective glass curtain wall distinguish it from its older neighbors and reinforce the impression of a freestanding point block. The higher ceilings in the retail spaces and entrance lobby along the street continue the heights of the existing brick buildings along the street to the north and help fit the new building to its surroundings. Quartering the block results in very compact floor plans organized around an offset stair and elevator core. In the typical floor plan, dwellings are positioned in the corners of the tower where living spaces opening to narrow balconies that wrap the corners. The offset position of the service core allows for some variation in apartment size and types from floor to floor and some variety in the composition of the facades.

The corner emphasis of the floor plans where the major rooms are located is reinforced by the detail treatment of the exterior. At first glance, the exterior walls seem to be made of some kind of ochre-colored plywood panels, but are actually a type of thin reinforced cement panel that is manufactured locally. These panels are used in a rain screen system as flush outer walls that have punched openings. A glass curtain wall system is used at the corners. The glass is recessed from the plane of the outer paneled wall while the balconies project several feet beyond resulting in a very transparent, multi-layered, deconstructive expression of the corner. The panels vary slightly in color and finish and recall the glazed terracotta tile that was used on the facades of many old Portland buildings.

The plan configuration, the interior spatial emphasis on the corner, the extensive use of glass curtain wall, and the corner balconies create vertical zones of repetitive elements and reinforce the extreme vertical qualities of the tower. This vertical thrust is terminated at the top of the tower in a two-story high deep cornice containing the larger dwellings, the terracing of the green roofs, the solar photovoltaic panels and the extensions of the mechanical systems.

Ordinarily, a tower is not the building type of choice for infill sites and this raises questions about the quality of day lighting, ventilation and general view for those dwellings that face the interior of the block. This is not an issue with The Casey because of the corner placement of the dwellings and the fact that there are no party walls above the 2nd floor. Still, the north façade has few openings and the position of the service core weights the plan organization towards the street. It is conceivable that future building could occur to the north and this raises issues about a site concept that applies the quarter block site planning using 100 x 100 building footprints with some strategy for day lighting dwellings on the interior of the block.

Donald Genasci, a Portland architect, developed a prototype courtyard housing system for the 200x200 Portland block using 4 point-access blocks at the corners of an interior court. Designed for a much lower height than the Casey package, Genasci’s system is an interpretation of a similar apartment building type that was built in west Portland in the 1920’s. In the Genasci system, each corner block has its own service core and on-site parking. Only two apartments face the courtyard.

Another example is the housing system developed by J.A. Coderch in Barcelona that was based on a repeating 7-story mid-rise building that was arranged in deep rows using terraced cutouts in the façade to admit light to interior rooms. Twenty-three buildings of this type were built in a large complex called Las Cocheras that was built in 1968. This was really a multifamily version of a house type that Coderch developed in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The typical floor plan of one of the Las Cocheras buildings is essentially a cluster of four of these houses that have been attached to a central service core. The deep slotting of the facades of Las Cocheras provides the lighting and ventilation of interior rooms.

A key issue with both of these examples is the design of the service core. Coderch did not have to provide two fire stairs at a considerable savings in cost and space. The multiple stairs (and elevators) in the Casey although they have the advantage of servicing only a few dwellings per floor, are expensive items, plausible perhaps, for expensive condos like The Casey, but hardly suitable for the affordable housing market. Genasci describes a more modest proposal suitable for the affordable market--four story buildings including parking-- but again, the stairs are a limiting cost factor.

The Casey was awarded a LEED “Platinum” certification from the U.S. Green Building Council for the sustainability features of the design. Gerding-Edlin and GBD Architects had received LEED gold certificates for earlier buildings in the Pearl, but this was one of the first “platinum” awards for multi-family housing in the US. It may seem surprising that a building with so much glass could ever meet the platinum requirements but the building has many energy and sustainable design features including the use of high performance glass, a landscaped roof, PV panels on the roof, and the use of high efficiency HVAC systems.

While The Casey seems to belong formally to the Brewery group and it does make a spiritual connection to other old, large neighboring residential buildings like Chown-Pella and the McKenzie Lofts, it invokes images of a modernist intervention in a vernacular milieu destined to remain this way because of the loss of air rights from adjacent properties needed to enable the 16-story height.

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