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Visiting The Eliot

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Last Friday I made an overdue visit to The Eliot, the downtown condo tower at 10th and Jefferson.

I've followed the project's design and construction since the project was first announced a few years ago, and from the first rendering I saw, I liked the project a lot. But this was my first trip inside, courtesy of Gene Sandoval from Zimmer Gunsul Frasca, the project's lead designer (Ankrom Moisan was also a collaborator).

One of my favorite portions of The Eliot (incidentally, I keep thinking there should be an extra 'L' or 'T' in the name) is its ground-floor entry, a glass box set on a plaza that looks out at the back of the Portland Art Museum. Outside, the entry formally seems almost like a self-contained building, which is a nice effect to pull of in a building this large. Inside, views of the PAM courtyard are framed.

And speaking of courtyards, developer John Carroll and the architects left the space between their building and the under-construction Madison Office Condominiums next door. Here the Eliot includes a series of brownstones that further help integrate with the street and break up the building mass. I actually like this courtyard better than the Art Museum's across the street, where the sculpture garden is cordoned off like a maximum-security prison and the pass-through space a mere leftover. (And that's not even getting into the Jubitz Center's entry/exit on the courtyard that isn't an entry/exit.)

Most any building has a good side, where the design looks best. For The Eliot, it's definitely its east-facing facade, where Sandoval's team fashioned a beautiful glass wall with the help of star local contractor (and Freedom Tower supplier) Benson Glass. There are several operable windows along the facade that open outward but move almost straight up and down. I also love the random pattern of windows and shadow boxes (glass walled in inside with corrugated metal - as per energy codes). And the designers/builders (the latter from Howard S. Wright, I believe) also chose a glass that doesn't feel too dark or too reflective.

The west-facing facade is probably more appealing to some buyers because it has balconies. But from a purely aesthetic point of view, I'm less fond of like the look of this side. That's also because of the gray granite used on this portion of the building. The rest of The Eliot is clad mostly in glass or gorgeous travertine. While granite is a quality material, I just don't like how it looks here. That said, one could find things to nitpick about pretty much any building, so this complaint comes within the context of liking this project a great deal. And besides, the balconies provide good daylighting by helping to shade the units from direct-light glare and add more shaded illumination.

Incidentally, the building also was supposed to originally be taller and thinner, and that would have made a better looking piece of architecture. But of course the developer, John Carroll, is a businessman first, and has to make the project "pencil out".

The only other quibble I have is inside. In both the ground-floor lobby and the interior hallways, somebody has chosen this hideous array of chipped travertine and chipped frosted-glass, either for the number outside people's units or for the front-desk in the lobby. It looks like it belongs in Caesar's Palace, not a contemporary Portland condo. But again, that's a minor thing. And considering that all four tenants I saw inside were old people, perhaps their tastes are different from mine. Besides, when you have views like this (pictured) penthouse has, who cares?

ElliotOverall, I think The Eliot is one of the better Portland condos of its era, which is full of them. This is in my opinion John Carroll's best project from an architectural standpoint by leaps and bounds. It's great to see the developer working with ZGF, a huge longtime Portland firm doing work of an increasingly high caliber in the last couple years, to design an unapologetically contemporary building that is of its time and looks great.

by Brian Libby, 2007

Published with permission of Portland Architecture

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