Yesterday I had an appointment with a couple who live in The Metropolitan, the Jeff Lamb and BOORA Architects designed (and Hoyt Street Properties-developed) Pearl District condominium on Lovejoy between Jamison Square and Tanner Springs parks. (Their unit is being considered for a home magazine article.)
This was the second or third time I've visited the building, and only reinforced my feeling that The Metropolitan is one of the best looking large-scale condos in Portland, if not the best. (I'm leaving smaller scale condo gems like Holst's Belmont Lofts and Rick Potestio's Lair Condos out of the equation.)
It's hard to get much of a feel for the inside of these buildings because they're all more or less the same: ground floor lobby, condo units above, with a dark interior hallway. Usually there's also some kind of public gathering space inside with a big TV and some sofas. The units almost invariably feature ample floor-to-ceiling glass and an open floor plan with some pretty nice finishes. In the unit I visited, the homeowners had upgraded their finish options to add a lot of marble, which would not be my taste, but the view looking out at the Fremont Bridge and the Pearl was spectacular. The other thing I can say about the building's interior is that, at least as far as this unit was concerned, the building didn't seem to have those long, thin bowling alley lane-shaped units that have lots of light at the perimeter by the window and film noir-type shadows in the innermost portion of the space.
Even so, I find myself judging today's condos almost overwhelmingly by what they look like on the outside. And I like The Metropolitan's look a lot. First there's the white exterior, which feels not only refreshingly crisp and modern, and a nice alternative to all the grey, beige buildings nearby, but also hearkens back to the white-toned historic buildings surrounding Pioneer Courthouse Square, such as the Meier & Frank building and the Jackson tower. In our often rainy climate, I think white buildings are a great choice. I also like how the Metropolitan seems to offer a different look from every side, and an attractive one. There is no pretty front and ugly backside, like the Fox Tower, for example.
With The Metropolitan coming online as well as The Casey by GBD Architects (and Gerding Edlen Development) and the Holst Architecture-designed 937, I'm beginning to think we're seeing a new era of Pearl District architecture that's an improvement on the buildings built in this neighborhood over the past decade.
Casey I wasn't sure about The Casey at first, with its almost orange-toned precast concrete panel system. And I've gone on record numerous times in the past an ambivalence about the aesthetics of GBD buildings despite their hugely impressive green credentials.
But ultimately I've decided I like The Casey a lot. The fact that it's a quarter-block building helps it achieve a proper scale much more easily than a block-sized building, but the composition is compelling regardless of that. In the past few months I've happened to catch sight of The Casey from vantage points in other tall condos or from the West Hills, and it always stands out distinctly on the skyline. As does The Metropolitan.
937 is the only one of these three that's still under construction, but I think it's looking fabulous. The white or cream-colored brick is something new and elegant for the Pearl, and its size, which I believe is a half-block with a tall, long skinny tower, makes for a compelling shape.
Really, though, it's the random pattern of the window glazing and a series of red balconies that really give the building a terrific look on the outside. To me it looks like Mies van der Rohe on fractals. As 937 has been going through construction I've heard some skeptical remarks from others in the building community: that it's not exceptional in the details of its construction, or that the stalled housing market will make this not such a good investment for the developer.
But you know what? If The Metropolitan is the best looking condominium in the Pearl District, which I think it is, that title might be soon wrestled away by 937. It also continues Holst Architecture's rise. A few years ago Holst was hired by developer John Carroll for the Edge Lofts, but wound up getting switched out in favor of GBD when the program shifted from offices to condos. 937 is another collaboration, this time with Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects doing the interiors. (I'm guessing the division of labor wasn't this simple, but for practical purposes I'll characterize it this way.)
What do the rest of you think: are these latest incarnations of Pearl condos better than their predecessors? What are the best buildings in the district?
by Brian Libby, 2008
Published with permission of Portland Architecture