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Climbing Aboard The Rocket

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Late last week I visited The Rocket at 1111 East Burnside, the new building designed and developed by architect Kevin Cavenaugh. Kevin has made a career out of developing his own projects, and I've long been a fan. (He also was the subject of a 2004 Metropolis cover story I wrote.)

The Rocket is immediately striking, and for a few different reasons. It's painted red and has an array of arcades and outer decks extending from the building, in keeping with the existing design vocabulary - lower East Burnside being full of buildings transformed into arcade spaces (the building extending over and covering the sidewalk) during a previous generation's street widening.

The building also has a very ingenious and inexpensive way to combat heat gain: exterior sun shades that tenants can move back and forth to control light and ventilation. And best of all, the sun shades all feature artwork. There may be some people out there reading this who'll think the checkerboard of moving paintings on the building is tacky. I think it's terrific.

Although mostly offices, both long-term tenant spaces (a wine marketing company) and flexible short-term small rental spaces, the bottom and top levels have bar/restaurant spaces: Chesterfield below and Rocket above. The latter space, operated by chef extraordinaire Leather Storrs (whose voice is a dead ringer for John Tuturro), occupies the top level, which has an all glass wall. As much as I love the moving art-wall sun shades and the red cladding on the rest of the building, as I sat having a beer and appetizer up there, I thought about how cool it would have loo

But it's also important to remember that this is a building done fairly cheaply. Kevin has pulled out a lot of stops to make a bare-bones building really take off. And that's precisely what the Rocket does.

Two other bits of news: This Friday, there will be an open house at The Rocket from 5:30pm to Midnight, with all floors open to the public. (I'll be sneaking into the restaurant to abscond with some lamb corn dogs.) And Kevin has been selected for a prestigious Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University, where he'll soon depart (in the footsteps of former Oregonian architecture critic Randy Gragg) for a year's worth of study and elbow-rubbing with top creative professionals from around the world. But Kevin, promise us you'll come back after Cambridge and build some more?

by Brian Libby, 2007

Published with permission of Portland Architecture

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