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Triangle and Fitzgibbon Glass: visiting two NW Portland warehouse conversions beneath the Fremont bridge

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Michael Flowers and Judson Moore both grew up in west Texas and attended Texas A&M. After graduation, they followed a professor to Montana State University and briefly taught there. Ultimately they set up practice in Portland, but many times drove back and forth between College Station, Texas (home of A&M), Bozeman, Montana (just like the hero of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), and Portland.

As a result, they came to love, as legendary French architect Le Corbusier did when he visited the United States a century or so ago, the simple agricultural silos and other architecture. It make sense: Texas A&M's team is of course the Aggies. It's for that reason, and their west Texas heritage, that their new-ish architecture firm, established last July, is called Farm Architecture and Research. I found this a personal bond as well, having been raised in McMinnville and having farmers in the family. I don't miss living in cow country, but I love some of the old agricultural buildings in my old 'hood.

Moore and Flowers came to think of Bozeman, College Station and Portland as a personal geographic triangle, and coincidentally, one of their first completed building projects as Farm Architecture is for the Triangle Building, a renovated warehouse at 1800 NW 16th Avenue near the base of the Fremont Bridge where Naito Parkway meets Thurman Street in Northwest Portland (the building is pictured in these first three shots, all of which were provided by the firm).

Visiting today with Tim McCarron of Pettigrove Venture, the developer, we started in a coffee shop on the ground floor of the Triangle that was designed with another small firm, Bolighus (whose work I already liked and blogged about here a couple years ago). There is also space above and behind the cafe for creative and building industry tenants, or whomever.

The architects and developer apparently wrestled with whether to seek National Register status for the LEED Silver-rated building, but decided against it because they wanted to add larger window openings. And whether it's inside the cafe or upstairs, I can vouch for it being a good decision, at least as it relates to being inside the building. For an old brick warehouse, it's teeming with natural light.

All of the brick was left exposed, as were the old wood-framed ceilings. All of the wood flooring is from timber reclaimed onsite. It's really a lovely little building.

A couple blocks away I also paid a visit to another warehouse-to-creative-flex-space conversion by the same developer. The Fitzgibbon Glass building at 2001 NW 19th Avenue is a LEED Platinum-rated renovation. These next six shots, the first of which was provided by the developer (I took the rest) are of the Fitzgibbon.

On its public corner, the building is a pretty reserved but well-done version of a standard warehouse turnaround, but the back parking lot (which they hope to eventually expand the building into, as the original client, Nau apparel, was planning before going out of business (since resurrected but owned by someone else). On that back side, there are a succession of double-height spaces for lease, and an elevator core at the corner clad in natural wood panels. The architect for this project was Stem Architecture of Portland, which frankly I don't know anything about yet but hope to find out.

Near by the Triangle Building and Fitzgibbon Glass building is not only the base of the Fremont Bridge, but train tracks, Naito Parkway, and a succession of new waterfront condos, as well as numerous industrial buildings such as a gear manufacturer. There is also a Montessori school across from the Triangle, and while we were at the cafe, a group of the kids were playing basketball on a playground in front of us, with a train going by behind that and the river further back still, not to mention the cars moving by overhead on the bridge.

It's a subtly incredible intersection of cars, trains, and boats as well as industrial and burgeoning condo districts.

And nearby on the other side of the Fremont Bridge's base, you'll soon have the Northern edge of the Pearl District, an open-field park, and the Centennial Mills redevelopment.

This is one of those sleepy little areas of close-in Portland that is about to wake up, it seems, in a big way. And it's often these kinds of slightly out-of-the-way or in-between pockets of land where smaller firms such as Farm and Stem get a chance to show what they can do. Funny how in Portland how these tiny industrial pockets and million-dollar condovilles can be right next to each other.

by Brian Libby, 2008

Published with permission of Portland Architecture

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