They look as though a godlike hand had poked square sections of building from behind, giving their façades the appearance of a half-finished game of Jenga. Their faces are broken by what can only be described as boxy protrusions. They cheekily ignore the glass-and-concrete-curtained, deck-bedecked norm of contemporary urban architecture (see ZGF’s 12 West tower, Boora’s the Metropolitan and the entire South Waterfront) but don’t go so far as to stumble into Zaha Hadid’s realm of alien contours. The are playful without being pretentious. They are bumpy buildings, and they seem to have suddenly popped up all over the city. Why? We called the designers of the three most prominent bumpy buildings in the city to find out.
IMAGE: Christopher Hodney
Designed by: Holst Architecture
Year built: Announced 2007, completed 2009
Location: Southeast 28th Avenue and Burnside Street
Why’s it bumpy? “Those are decks,” Holst co-founder John Holmes says of the white boxes that spring from the façade of the mixed-use condo that sits on the site of the old Hungry Tiger building. “The reason they protrude is to create deck space.” But these are not ordinary decks—they keep the rain off. “It’s stick framing, covered with stucco,” Holmes says. “They’re not cantilevering off the structure more than 4 feet. It’s just like any other deck that protrudes off the building, but this one happens to have walls and a ceiling.”
The decks do more than just expand the floor plan of the Sunrose’s 32 sunny condo units: “It’s an attempt to provide depth and shadow and make your eye move across the façade in a playful way,” Holmes says. “Distinguishing the deck in that way is a bit like a porch on an older structure.” He adds that the firm has no plans to deploy covered decks on future projects at this time. Indeed, Holst’s Resource Access Center, which just broke ground in Old Town, employs an inverse of the Sunrose’s protrusions, with a boxy frame and inset windows.
IMAGE: Stephen A. Miller
Designed by: Works Partnership Architecture
Year built: Announced 2007, completed 2009
Location: Southeast 6th Avenue and Burnside Street
Why’s it bumpy? “The building responds to the historic arcade district,” says Works Partnership partner William Neburka, referring to the style of sidewalk-encroaching buildings of lower East Burnside Street. “Really the building, more than boxy protrusions, has two skins: a black skin over a glassy facade. To fit the arcade nature of the neighborhood, we stretched the black skin out.” (The black skin, he added, “is for the energy code—you can’t build a glass box anymore.”)
What appear to be protrusions are actually incisions—Bside6’s exposed concrete frame overhangs the street, and the set-back portions of the façade are cut out of that frame. “Cantilevering out helped to balance out the building; it was inherent in the structural system,” Neburka says. “The one kind-of custom detail of the building—which was basically built out of off-the-shelf parts—is how to get that glass in there. We worked pretty closely with our waterproofing consultant to get it to fit.”
Like John Holmes, Neburka doesn’t see more bumps in his firm’s immediate future. “It was particular to this building because of the location,” he says. “It’s a little scary being part of something like this, but it was really kind of a result of the condition of siting the building.”
IMAGE: Leslie Montgomery
Designed by: Myhre Group Architects
Year built: Announced 2007, completed 2010
Location: Northwest 14th Avenue and Marshall Street
Why’s it bumpy? Well, we don’t really know. Repeated emails and phone calls to Myhre Group went unanswered, so we can only go on what’s already in the public record: Project manager Allen Tsai told the Daily Journal of Commerce in February that the firm “tried to incorporate the concept of motion into the building.” It does that. The most Jengalike of Jengatectures, the Enso has metal-wrapped window boxes protruding from dark wood siding, resembling stacked shipping containers. It’s a good look.
Bump to the future?
There may be more bumpy buildings on the way. Three to watch for: Skylab Architecture’s much-delayed Weave building (skylabarchitecture.com), Works Partnership Architecture’s Tandem Duo (tandemduopdx.com), and PSU’S Park and Market Building (sba.pdx.edu/parkandmarket).