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Lair'd With Design

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Recently I made a first-time visit to the Lair Condominiums, which were designed by a longtime favorite local architect of mine, Rick Potestio.

Regular readers may remember Rick from the Q&A that I did with him in February. So...Rick again? Hey, the guy has a great project out, and I'd be remiss in not giving it the attention it deserves. Any other local architect doing this caliber of work I'm happy to write about multiple times as well. (Holst, are those Clinton condo renderings ready yet? Colab, where for art thou?)

Developed and built by local contractor Don Tankersley, the Lair project was one of the last Rick designed before he joined Mahlum Architects a few months ago. (He led a 2-3 person firm previously.) It’s just south of downtown in the Lair Hill neighborhood (hence the name), near where Southwest Third Avenue curves toward the Ross Island Bridge ramp, but on a sleepy residential dead-end street.

From the moment I stepped out of the car, the Lair stood out as a very impressive piece of architecture. In fact, I think it’s up there with the Belmont Lofts among the very best residential buildings in Portland of recent memory.

The Lair consists of 13 units varying roughly from about 500-1500 square feet. Situated on a fairly steep hillside, it has a communal driveway in the middle that leads downward to a series of compact stalls, with the common space able to double as a courtyard. Two units connect like a bridge over the driveway entrance, unifying the two-sided complex and preserving the integrity and continuity of its front façade, where floor-to-ceiling glass windows extend gently from a Richard Meier-esque white shell.

Rick’s a proud paisan, and the classical sense of proportion and soulful play with forms seems faintly Italian. At the same time, the Lair’s incorporation of wood in its exterior and interior finishes is very much in Northwest tradition of modernism. I also see craftsman-like touches reminiscent of renowned local architect Thomas Hacker, under whom Potestio studied at the University of Oregon.

Watch out for this project at the next AIA design awards ceremony and maybe in a design magazine or two. This is precisely the kind of high-quality residential design we’ve sought in burgeoning higher-density neighborhoods but so far have scarcely achieved.

by Brian Libby, 2006

Published with permission of Portland Architecture

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