In Burnside Bridgehead, off the Willamette River in Portland, a chocolate-brown high-rise is turning heads. Designed by native architecture firm Skylab, the residential building—called the “Yard”—is due to officially open in the coming weeks. However, not all are happy with the latest addition to the area.
“It’s great! It’s like O.J. Simpson in Towering Inferno. It looks like a ship’s bow,” remarked one enthusiast of the building to Oregon Public Broadcasting’s (OPB) radio show which covered the building. Not all the responses were positive, though. One commenter stated how it was the “perfect symbol of Portland’s soul being sold down the river.” Another questioned: “Why for the love of god do architects and designers think that black and gray buildings, in a place that’s gray eight months of the year, is a good idea?”
Resting on a site that has a 40-foot variation in elevation it has been dubbed by critics as “one of the most complicated high-rises ever built in Portland.” Boasting a 8,000-square-foot spa, two bars and restaurants, parking facilities, and bike lockers, the four-story housing complex will offer 60 units at 60 percent of area median rents for lower-income households.
The structure also lies adjacent to one of Portland’s most prominent skateparks. Jeff Kovel of Skylab, the architect behind the project, was acutely aware of the park’s counterculture importance, noting in a video (below) how numerous friends make use of it. Going one step further, light is even provided by the building for the skatepark so people can use the facility all day and night.
Speaking of the East Side Big Pipe, a large sewer line and tunnel that runs under the building, Kovel said “40 percent of this site was unbuildable for anything over five or six stories. That had a big impact in the engineering for the tall building foundations.”
“I would actually prefer the building to be darker, to be honest with you,” he added in response to some of the building’s criticisms. “At the predesign review we were encouraged to lighten it up. I don’t have an issue with the color that it is, but it’s interesting that a number of the other buildings in the neighborhood have actually became the same color—that wasn’t intentional.”
“All of the towers in Vancouver are using it, Toronto,” Kovel continued, speaking about the reflective glazing system employed on the Yard’s facade. “It’s generally a product that is visually kind of banal; it’s not something that you get super excited about. When we learned that we had to use it we were kind of exciting for the opportunity to use it and innovate with something that hadn’t really been innovated with. We started working with the manufacture to design custom venting, to work on essentially taking a run-of-the-mill system and elevating it to a higher quality of design and detail. I think if you were to look at this building in a portfolio of buildings using this system it would really stand out as one of the premier examples of what you can do with this system, so I’m really proud of that aspect of it.”