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Following Path Architecture

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Most who are already familiar with Path Architecture, the firm headed by Corey Martin and Ben Kaiser, may associate it with two projects along Williams Avenue that were planned before the economic downturn and never came to fruition: the Backbridge Lofts and Backbridge Station. The firm is not only still active after those setbacks, but is seeing projects get built.
Two projects I visited are currently under construction (both houses), while the Williams Five condominium project (some of which has gone rental) has recently seen completion. Yesterday I visited the project with Corey Martin, the principal designer. Although a relatively modest project, this five-unit building uses a simple wood, glass and masonry palette to fine effect that both ties in with the residential historic vernacular and stands alone from it.

Martin got his start working for Brad Cloepfil and Allied Works Architecture on projects like the exquisite 2281 Glisan building; although not seeking to wrestle credit away from Cloepfil, he called Allied's Maryhill Overlook sculpture at the Maryhill Museum in Washingon "my baby."

Especially impressive at Williams Five, which includes three condos and two storefront live-work units, is the distribution of light. Martin favors big corner windows that use the adjacent walls to "wash" the space, as he describes it, with illumination.

Also peculiar but successful inside some of the units is a portion of the second floor made of metal grating, which is employed to help distribute light from the large ground floor, floor-to-ceiling sliding doors into the upper portions of the space. The grating wouldn't be very comfy on the toes, but it does indeed help render artificial lights totally unnecessary in daytime. I was there on a very foggy morning and there was plenty of light.

Apparently the clientele buying in at Williams Five speaks to the coolness of the architecture. Although the live-work spaces are unsold, recently arrived tenants in the other units include a successful rock band promoter and two artists.

Only about eight blocks away, Path also has a luxury duplex overlooking Unthank Park in North Portland. One of these homes Martin will occupy himself, and I believe the other is already spoken for by a top professional photographer. This project has a look of protruding glass boxes that resembles Holst Architecture's under-construction Sunrose Condominiums on SE 28th and Burnside. Even as I was briefly perusing the half-built house, somebody stopped to inquire about the project and ask if any units were available. This on a day the Dow-Jones dropped another several hundred points.

In Southeast Portland a few blocks south of Hawthorne Boulevard, Path is in the final stages of construction on a wood-ensconced three story house that gently cantilevers over its ground-floor portion to rise and reveal views of downtown that can be enjoyed on a rooftop deck. Who says you have to build a pitched roof?

You never know which small firms are going to rise from smaller projects into big-time commissions. A few years ago I believed firms like Colab and Emmons Architects would be doing condo towers and office buildings by now because of their talent, but so far despite continued success the big jobs haven't turned out that way. Which is fine, because design quality of course isn't measured by size and scale of projects.

Even so, Path Architecture is a very promising firm with not only impressive talent but the hutzpah to develop their own work much of the time. Before long in addition to the projects mentioned above, they'll also be building a medium-sized new mixed use building in the burgeoning North Mississippi neighborhood, and hopefully more than we even can say now. I'll be continuing to follow their path for awhile.

by Brian Libby, 2008

Published with permission of Portland Architecture

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