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    Mixed Use Brewery Blocks


    The gamble paid off. In a slowed market for office space, the Brewery Blocks have far surpassed local occupancy rates. Eighty-five percent of the office space was leased in one year at higher than market value. With a blend of high-end retailers such as Whole Foods and Adidas Originals, the development enjoys some of the most crowded streets in the city. (This is helped, admittedly, by having as a next-door neighbor Powell's City of Books, the largest new/ used bookstore in the United States.)

    And because of its sustainable design and construction one building has been certified LEED gold and others are awaiting expected gold or silver ratings the Brewery Blocks have also shown the market value of "going green."

    Design Calculations

    The designer for all five Brewery Blocks buildings is GBD Architects, but the larger story here is one of integrated design that also involved the general contractor, engineer, and several consultants at an early stage. An "eco-charette" within this extended design team was held to generate strategies that took into account local development rules, existing land use regulations, energy codes, and the long-term value of the project.

    Throughout this process, life cycle cost analysis was used as a reference point, with energy modeling and payback analysis providing assurance that investing in high-efficiency heating and air-conditioning equipment, above-code insulation, daylighting, operable windows, high-efficiency windows, and other sustainable measures would be economically prudent.

    The extra design services necessary to include these integrated sustainable measures is estimated to have increased overall cost by about 10 percent, but the net results seem worth it. Most office space has been leased, and energy performance exceeds code by 21.5 percent, returning an anticipated annual savings of $58,700. Water use was reduced by 25 percent over baseline, as was stormwater leaving the site, thanks to an "eco-roof" on one building's fourth-floor setback.

    History Meets LEED

    In addition to an oft-changing program leading up to construction, the architects also faced the challenge of incorporating historic buildings of varying condition into the plan. The first building, for example, retained on the first floor a circa-1929 art deco facade from which an otherwise modern multistory palette of glass and steel rose, with a steel exoskeleton honestly but poetically exposing the structure of the building.

    That mix of skyscraper sleekness and industrial grit turned out to be a key stylistic aspect of the Brewery Blocks. "It's a transitional place in the city," says GBD Architects principal Bruce Brown. "We wanted there to be a balance."

    The first block to be completed houses a grocery store on the ground floor. Above is a rooftop high-efficiency chilled-water plant that provides cooling for all five Brewery Blocks buildings plus a few others downtown. This configuration achieves energy savings in excess of 20 percent above ASHRAE 90.1 code stipulations.

    This plant is but one of many sustainable features, which also include high-efficiency HVAC equipment, low-flow and dual-flush toilets; a heat exchanger to recover energy from stoves and other equipment; a minimum of 20 percent local materials used in construction; mandated low-toxicity and low-VOC paints and wood products in all finishes; over 25 percent recycled content used in construction; a demolition waste recycling rate of over 94 percent; and over 50 percent certified wood.

    The second of the five reconstructed blocks retained the 1906 Blitz-Weinhard brew house, former home of Henry Weinhard's Private Reserve beer, a local favorite until being bought out by Stroh's. With its handsome, newly spruced-up red brick facade and eight-story smokestack, the building is now paired with a ten-story office building. Here again the brick cladding and exterior bracing give the building a coarse industrial character while retaining a simpler, more refined overall form.

    Brewery Block number three is "The Henry," a 15-story, 124-unit condominium that received a gold LEED rating from the U.S. Green Building Council, only the second residential project to receive that designation. All the units sold out long before construction was completed in late 2004, and residents have said the green features were a strong selling point along with the doorman, possibly a first for casual Portland.

    More than the other Brewery Blocks, The Henry grapples with its status as both a downtown highrise and a Pearl District building seeking to uphold the area's industrial heritage. The south-facing side of the building is clad in precast concrete, while the north-facing side is metal. Crisscrossing glass on both sides, however, helps to bridge the twin faces of the building into more interlocking fingers than opposing fists.

    Also designed to achieve LEED gold, the fourth block is a ten-story, mixed-use building clad in golden brick that houses the Art Institute of Portland as well as several office tenants. At its base, it preserves a high-density, pedestrian experience, while the tower becomes more slender as higher levels. This was done to preserve view corridors in a carefully thought-out relationship between the five buildings.

    While one architect designed all five structures, it was important that they each carve a singular identity while fitting well into the overall urban fabric. This is a deeply held value in Portland, a city with virtually no signature architecture (except the widely disliked postmodern Portland Building by Michael Graves) but arguably some of the best urban design in the country.

    Indeed, the Brewery Blocks are quintessential Portland. While individual architectural moves are impressive, ultimately these are what architects call "fabric buildings." They fit into their context, simultaneously evoking the historic character of the neighborhood while also striving for a more contemporary identity.

    The buildings enhance the pedestrian experience at street level, and, though handsome, they also do not call attention to themselves in the almost cartoonish manner of some signature architecture. And considering their ultra-green design and construction, the Brewery Blocks seem destined to stand for another century and more.

    Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...

    Brian Libby is a Portland, Oregon-based freelance writer who has also published in Metropolis, The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, and Architectural Record.



    ArchWeek Image

    Market-rate rental condominiums comprise The Louisa, the fifth and final Brewery Block, completed in the spring of 2005.
    Photo: Gregg Galbraith/ Red Studio

    ArchWeek Image

    Brewery Block 1 (left) preserved the art-deco facade of the existing structure, with a modern glass and steel building above.
    Photo: Gregg Galbraith/ Red Studio

    ArchWeek Image

    Site plan of the Brewery Blocks, which straddle Portland's downtown and Pearl District along busy Burnside Street.
    Image: GBD Architects

    ArchWeek Image

    The eight-story smokestack from Portland's historic Blitz-Weinhard brewery, preserved as part of Brewery Block 2, now abuts a mixed-use building with offices and retail.
    Photo: Brian Libby

    ArchWeek Image

    The Henry Condominiums, Brewery Block 3, with its legendary neighbor, Powell's City of Books. The luxurious Henry has proved that sustainable design has tangible market value to residential buyers.
    Photo: Brian Libby

    ArchWeek Image

    Architect's model of the five Brewery Blocks.
    Image: GBD Architects

    ArchWeek Image

    The historic brick Blitz-Weinhard brewery is a local icon and was preserved as part of Brewery Block 2.
    Photo: Gregg Galbraith/ Red Studio


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