Vancouver’s GBL Architects takes second place in Portland’s AIA annual international design competition

Vancouver-based GBL Architects have taken second place in Portland’s AIA annual international design competition, entitled Stitch II.

GBL have named their scheme “Entwine” to describe their efforts to adapt and reappropriate existing marginalized sites within city centres, in the context of limited expansion opportunities within our increasingly densifying urban cores. The linear arrangement of vacant lots below the 405 bridge in downtown Portland present a series of impermeable spaces that in their existing state contribute little to the connection between the adjacent Alphabet Neighbourhood and Pearl District.

Unique sites demand, and quite often generate, unique design solutions. In this particular case, the architects saw an exciting opportunity to create a diverse juxtaposition of spaces; open and enclosed, public and private, permeable and impermeable, that would all successfully contribute to a socially considered and integrated realm.

The concept is a simple one; lift and wrap the built form around the existing structure of the bridge and free up the ground plane for shared uses.

Trolls should live under bridges, people should not. By raising the building up along the peripheral edges of the site, an efficiently stacked arrangement of temporary housing units that are both dignified and humane are provided. The single-loaded corridor floor plan orients room views out to the street, buffered from the noise and vibration of the adjacent highway.

The symmetrical stacks of units are linked below the bridge by a unifying level of semi-public facilities, designed for the use and benefit of the temporary residents such as community workshop spaces, counselling rooms, and a soup kitchen/food bank.

The public spaces at ground level are deliberately non-prescriptive, a series of entwined open areas and connections designed to intrigue and delight. Each individual space has the opportunity to be repurposed by different users on different days, be it recreation, relaxation or contemplation.

Collectively the site has the ability to evolve as an interstitial link between its surrounding neighbourhoods, adapting to the diverse range of users that may cohabit or simply pass through the variety of open and enclosed spaces within.

The basic concept was to efficiently delineate the compact site by maximizing its potential without suffocating the limited open space available. The built form embraces the site volume in three dimensions, allowing for a more expressive ground plane, enhancing the provision of cross connections, public amenities, and opportunities for social interaction in and around the site.

The housing component is a simple ground plane extrusion that has been shifted to the north end of the site; maximizing the opportunity for natural daylighting and spatial openness within the site. The compact linear form of the enclosed public and semi-public spaces span across the site between the two vertical banks of housing units.

The resultant composition is that of an inverted arch gateway that frames the 405 highway, identifying arrival and departure to and from the downtown core. A more solid material expression is used on the inner surfaces facing the highway. Chamfering the corners in response to traffic flow serves as a method to further deflect noise while providing a more dynamic built form.

A matrix of primary and secondary connector paths have been overlaid onto the plan to enhance the permeability of the site, providing linear spaces for social interaction and integration. The variety and visual openness of these pathways help promote a strong sense of security and personal well-being.

The open spaces have been demarcated into a collection of plaza spaces designed to promote social interaction between individual users. The landscaped forms are deliberately ambiguous, allowing each user to interpret and engage with their physical surroundings in their own unique and personal way.

The collective arrangement of built forms and open areas form a balanced composition of public, semi-public and private spaces that are carefully entwined to create a micro-community that serves a combination of social, cultural and commercial needs, befitting the unique characteristics of the local neighbourhood.

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