Design Sparks Creative Solutions

By Midge Pierce

Growth is inevitable but ugly is not, according to participants in April’s Design Week activities that showcased the best of both new and old Portland from mid-century modern to turn of last Century landmarks.

Coinciding with deadlines to comment on the city’s Design Overlay Zone amendments, a certain urgency accompanied events.

DOZA, at least in theory, now includes SE’s construction-heavy corridors like Division St., Hawthorne and Belmont St.

In practice, under the amendments, these Main Street-style corridors won’t qualify for design commission reviews with height thresholds of sixty-five feet or 25,000 square feet of space, according to Heather Flint Chatto, co-founder of PDX Main Street Design (formerly Division Design Initiative).

She is seeking public support for DOZA to lower design commission thresholds, add eastside review boards and update community visual preference surveys.

The affordable architectural elements she is recommending include street-side stepbacks, human scale proportions, street-width and height considerations and contextual evaluation that respects existing neighborhoods.

Place-making and place-keeping, she says, can be compatible. During a rebranding kickoff, PDX Main Street gave Waterleaf Architects its Best New Design Award for the Community Vision, Inc. (CVI) building at 1949 Division St.

The event showcased Michael Molinaro photos of vintage Hawthorne buildings with vertically proportioned, aligned windows and classic features.

Architect Laurence Qamar, an apostle of both older building revitalization and new, sustainable planned communities, spoke of the importance of “pattern language” harmonious with surrounding buildings.

Flint Chatto added that time-tested features such as cornices enable attractive and equitable sustainable growth that is not costly. Showy, distracting elements like cantilevers can be pricier than traditional forms, she said.

An issue Flint Chatto praised but said few are tracking is the Neighborhood Contact Code Update Draft calling for posting visible signage before permitting. The thirty-five day recommended comment allowance, she said, is not enough to impact design.

For productive interactions between developers and neighbors, she recommended forty-five to sixty and, preferably, ninety day windows that would allow time for reasonable design adjustments.

Recognizing the best of Old Portland, The Architectural Heritage Center’s annual Old House Tour included several SE Portland homes – notably, the massive, ongoing restoration of the Cook House, upper Belmont’s so-called Christmas House, along with a small, early 1900’s Ladd’s Addition bungalow and a Colonial Heights re-do.

A nod to mid-Century architecture continues inside the AHC gallery with an exhibit of eclectic, Pioneer Square architect Will Martin. (A reputed SE example of his work is an unusual bunker shaped building on Hawthorne at 47th leased by Farmers Insurance.)

Restore Oregon devoted its most recent issue of Field Notes to the Northwest’s Mid-Century movement.

Coming on the heels of April’s Design Week activities, the conflagration of a world heritage site was an ironic and timely wakeup that architectural and cultural heritage matters.

Design Sparks Creative Solutions

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