Oregon Sustainability Center

building partnerships : advancing best practices : creating green jobs

Place Matters

In the coming days, we’ll be sharing some early concept designs for the OSC. They are the culmination of hours of heads-down, sleeves-rolled-up creativity from the team at GBD and SERA.

But first, we thought it’d help to set the scene.

This takes some eye squinting. Blur your vision, tap into your imagination, and have a look at the city block between SW 4th and 5th Avenues, and the streets Harrison and Montgomery, in downtown Portland.

This is the intended home of the Oregon Sustainability Center.


Bird’s eye view, as seen from the 16th floor of the Cyan, looking to the south and west.

Today, it is primarily a parking lot. The historic Harrison Court Apartments sit in the southwest quadrant of this block, and there’s an old couch, missing its cushions, stashed in some bushes behind the parked cars.


View of 4th Ave., looking south. The OSC site is just out of view, to the lower right.


The Portland Streetcar traveling north, skirting the eastern edge of the OSC site.

The city grid around here is about 20 degrees off of the north-south axis, and 4th Ave., home to Portland State University’s LEED Gold Engineering Building, jogs to the right just as it hits the OSC block. Currently, the Portland Streetcar skirts around all this, its tracks converging at 5th and Montgomery, where it either continues on to South Waterfront, or heads back north, depending.


Streetcar tracks passing underneath the College of Urban and Public Affairs.

To the north and west, between 5th and 6th Aves. and Montgomery and Mill, the streetcar cuts diagonally across the block, passing directly under Portland State University’s Urban Center, home to the College of Urban and Public Affairs. It has been, to date, the only place in the city where the streetcar cuts through a block in this way.

SW 5th and Montgomery is also the only point in the city where the streetcar tracks intersect with those of the new MAX line, the Portland Mall Light Rail (opening later this year), making this a significant hub for public transit.


Montgomery Street, looking to the west.

Looking to the west of the parking-lot-turned-OSC, Montgomery Street extends into, or actually flows from, the West Hills. It alternates between being car-full and car-free. The Urban Center Plaza one block west carved out Montgomery’s most recent pedestrian corridor, and the South Park Blocks, home to the Portland Farmer’s Market, and visible here as the swath of green trees beyond PSU’s elevated walkways, are also car-free.

Spin yourself around 180 degrees, with the OSC site now to your right, and you’re looking east down Montgomery, past the nearly finished Cyan, to the historic Pettygrove Park, designed by Lawrence Halprin, and part of Portland’s 1960’s urban renewal zone.


Pettygrove Park from above, with the Willamette River to the east.


Pettygrove Park from the ground, looking east.


Montgomery Street on the eastern edge of Pettygrove Park, where it is car-free.

The park extends from 4th Ave. down to 1st, dropping off at the waterfront, linking this SW Portland neighborhood to the Willamette River with one long stretch of green.

The potential for this green corridor has not been lost on the city. Together the Bureau of Environmental Services and the Portland Development Commission are pursuing a strategy for what is being called the Montgomery Green Street Blocks. An innovative plan that spans from SW 11th Ave. down to the eastern edge of Pettygrove Park, this Green Street incorporates a variety of district-wide stormwater management strategies, including pedestrian-centric curbless streets, pavers, stormwater planters, and vertical and horizontal green walls.


Click here for a larger view of the plan.

Neighbor to an urban university committed to revitalizing its district with sustainable planning and design…the nexus of a public transportation hub…within a network of green streets…part of a district that is being planned at the watershed scale…the anchor to what will be one of Portland’s first official EcoDistricts

Place does matter.

Having just done some eye squinting, and, starting from 5th and Montgomery, a vast visual sweep in every direction, you’ll now be able to see the upcoming designs as they’re intended: not for that of a single building, but rather for an exciting new project that is one small part of a much bigger thing.

Thank you to Damin Tarlow of Gerding Edlen Development for the very helpful tour.

All photos by Eugénie Frerichs.


Filed under: Design Progress, Project History

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