Thursday, December 22, 2011


Design and Construction has wrapped up for ISITE Design's new headquarters in NW Portland. Here are some wonderful shots taken by Scott Gerke of the finished space.

Scott Gerke has been a lifelong photographer, currently focusing his career on architectural portraiture. His clean yet striking style brings spaces alive, and Scott works hard to document the spirit and intent of architects, builders, and interior designers.  Scott also spends a great deal of time running the visual marketing department for his family's publishing business called the Moira Press. In his role, Scott takes photographs, provides visual images for business cards and web developement, and manages design jobs.  In his spare time, Scott spends time with his family at their houseboat on the Columbia River, works on his 1974 Dodge Dart, and teaches photography classes at Oregon College of Art and Craft. Scott and JP both attended Pacific NW College of Arts in the late 90s, and it was there that they developed a mutual respect for each other's artistic strengths.  Throughout the years, as JP has developed SiteWorks, Scott has been instrumental in documenting his visionary creations.  Scott has enjoyed the satisfying experience of creating beautiful shots, borne from such glorious architectural models as these.

Location Scout
PO Box 17613
Portland, OR 97217

Sunday, December 18, 2011


EcoFlats: bike-friendly and ultra efficient on Williams Avenue

EcoFlats (photo by Ben C. Gray)

Recently I toured the EcoFlats mixed-use apartment building, along North Williams Avenue in Portland with its co-developer, Jean-Pierre Veillet of Siteworks Design Build.
Williams Avenue, once the heart of a thriving African American community, is today well known as a popular bike route as well as a burgeoning retail area of restaurants, cafes and shops. The building deliberately aspires to cater to the cycling community and demographic. On the ground floor of the building, for example, is Hopworks Bike Bar. “Some 3,000 riders a day pass by Mr. Ettinger’s new brewpub,” the New York Times’ Linda Baker writes of Hopworks in a recent feature about the neighborhood and catering to cyclists. “It has racks for 75 bicycles and free locks, to-go entrees that fit in bicycle water-bottle cages, and dozens of handmade bicycle frames suspended over the bar areas.”
There are no automobile parking spaces for tenants, but the 18-unit building has storage for 30 bikes. “Cyclists are a great potential market for businesses that want people traveling at human-scale speed and will stop and buy something,” Roger Geller, the city’s bicycle coordinator, also told Baker.
Hopworks Bike Bar on the EcoFlats ground floor (photo by Scott Gerke)
Eco Flats is one of 15 building projects aiming toward net-zero operations through a pilot program launched in 2009 by Energy Trust of Oregon. Co developed by Doug Shapiro, it was designed to use approximately 60 percent less energy than a building constructed to code stipulations. Veillet says actual savings have been higher, approaching 80 percent. In the ground-floor entry to the apartments via elevator, a flat-screen TV affixed to the upper wall conveys in real time the amount of energy being used by each unit as well as how much energy is being generated by a rooftop array of solar panels.
“It took two years to convince the bank, but it was filled with tenants in 30 days,” Jean-Pierre Veillet says. “This isn’t a political statement. It’s something easy we can do now that saves 80 percent of the energy.”
The building’s architect is Works Partnership, the Portland firm that has won a slough of design awards and acclaim over the past decade for both new buildings like bSide6 and renovations like the Eastbank Commerce Center. (Rick Potestio, another of the city's top architects, also contributed early in the project.) Curiously, though, you won’t find the EcoFlats in Works Partnership’s website portfolio. This doesn’t seem to be because Works has washed its hands with its client or that there was friction. It’s a successful project economically, and I would argue aesthetically as well. But Veillet (whose work includes the expansion of Portland restaurant Genoa as well as a pop-up store in Manhattan for clothier Nau, also featured in the Times), is a  blend of builder and designer, more so than just the contractor-led method the name Siteworks Design-Build would indicate.

Ecoflats (photos by Brian Libby)

“I respect Bill and Carrie as a architects. Bill is very dynamic with his design sensibility and capturing a building in the larger built environment. Carrie is brilliance in a bottle,” Veillet says of the relationship. “But EcoFlats is not a project that was fully under their control. I had the role of main contributor of funds, was heavily involved in design, ultimately responsible to the construction, and the promoter to the banks and PDC to gather their support. They are not a stamp-providing architecture firm and this one is a tweener. I provided the seed, they all helped it grow, then I trimmed the bush.”
From a visual, aesthetic point of view, EcoFlats looks just like what it is: a handsome although maybe not outright beautiful building that resembles Works projects like bSide 6 in the three dimensional quality of its fa├žade, yet perhaps lacks the detail and rigor of a full-fledged Works Partnership piece of architecture. Yet this wasn’t something Veillet and Works fell into; at least from Veillet’s point of view, it was an intentional, pragmatic move that has resulted in exceptional efficiency yet reasonable rental rates.

EcoFlats (photos by Ben C. Gray)
What’s more, although the EcoFlats look is not a rigidly pristine one, it has a slightly rough-and-tumble quality that is not unsuccessful. The more I got to know the building, the more I came to like it.  That’s in part because of materials such as reclaimed timber used in the upstairs walkway, or ceramic-coated siding, a Japanese import that modulates the building’s temperature swings by absorbing heat or cold and ventilating it before the building core absorbs it.
I also particularly enjoyed the metal-mesh screens on the front facade and how they appear almost like drapery only more industrial. The facade here seems reminiscent to my eyes not only of Works' bSide6 but also Holst Architecture's celebrated Belmont Lofts.
And you can’t talk about the building of the EcoFlats without considering the timing: a so-called Great Recession in which government and nonprofit incentives exist for green projects but banks have been extraordinarily reluctant to lend. That Veillet was able to line up support and collaboration from the Portland Development Commission, the Energy Trust of Oregon to make his project both pencil out and receive funding is no small feat.



EcoFlats interior and back courtyard (photos by Ben C. Gray)
In the end, there are buildings that win awards for their sculptural quality, and others which find their prestige being certified by LEED or other green building rating systems, but both are a small minority of what gets built. I think of the EcoFlats as an efficient building like those with green certifications, and more than hinting at the kind of design presence on the street that turns heads, be they of passers by or design juries. If it’s more of a DIY version that wears its pragmatism on its sleeve, the EcoFlats also delivers ample helpings of both function and form, all at a time when the wheels of the building machine have been grinding at their slowest time in a generation. It’s hard not to hoist a mug of beer or pipe a bike wheelie in response.

Friday, December 16, 2011


That was the fun fact that jumped out in the review of an article from the English newspaper The Guardian that made the case for biking as a way to take a meaningful bite out of Europe's carbon emissions.
If the entire European Union boasted average cycling miles like Denmark's the region's emissions would drop by 25 percent. This according to the European Cycling Foundation.
But a cool infographic from a Northwest coalition of health care management advocates also points out the health benefits of bike commuting. For example: The average worker will lose 13 pounds in their first year of biking to work.
New Years resolutions anyone?
The group also posits that Portland's investment in bike-commuting infrastructure will save the city millions in health care expenses.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011