Hyatt Place and Lawson Residences: preserving neighborhood character and meeting City growth through community sensitive design development
In a district that has undergone an urban renaissance over the past twenty years, the new Hyatt Place and Lawson Residences, set to open in the Pearl District in 2022, is more than the latest iteration of combined hospitality and housing space, and integrative multi-purpose design. It is the manifestation of a community vision coming to life in new ways never before realized and the culmination of a collaborative approach to solving density and livability challenges to address the needs of a growing city years into the future.
Hyatt Place and Lawson Residences is also a classic representation of how architectural firm Otak, Inc. continues to push the boundaries of the traditional design process.
Realizing A Community Vision
In 2017, Portland released its Central City 2035 (CC2035) Plan based on a seven-year visioning process that allowed the entire community the opportunity to provide input and involved more than 8,000 residents and city planners.The new plan, and resulting development code updates, serve as the guiding principles to future developments and addresses challenges and opportunities in the Central City to ensure Portland’s unique economic, transportation, and cultural hub will remain a vibrant resource for the city and all of its residents over the next twenty years.
Recognizing how the new Hyatt Place tower would be the first manifestation of both the community vision and the new codes, Otak’s architectural design teams took to heart the underlying values at the core of CC2035 and worked collaboratively with the City to maximize the opportunities the new codes presented. While the community vision provided the guiding principles for the new codes, the codes necessarily provided the framework within which the design could take shape. Ultimately, to meet the diverse needs of the community and the various interests of neighborhood associations, developers, and city planners, the design was driven by both the vision and the codes concurrently—one simultaneously informing the other—throughout the entire design process. Using this approach in designing the new mixed-use building, Otak’s teams were able to leverage the new codes to incorporate the functional and aesthetic components that supported the core ideas and values underlying the CC2035 Plan and the common community vision:
- Celebrate Portland’s civic and cultural life
- Foster creativity, innovation, and productivity
- Enhance the Willamette River for People and Wildlife
- Design streets to be great places
- Develop the next generation of “Green” public space
- Increase the resilience of the Central City
No small task! Yet, through a unique collaborative approach with city staff, Otak has designed a modern building in a manner that sets a new standard for bringing to life a community vision—in this case, a community vision that was nearly ten years in the making. At the same time, Otak has also provided a viable solution to two of the city’s most pressing issues—the need for increased density and the need for more affordable housing in the central city.
Preserving Neighborhood Character
Architectural design for the Hyatt Place and Lawson Residences presented a unique set of challenges and opportunities. The obvious need to reconcile the design with the community vision for the central city and the new city code was the underlying consideration in all elements of the design, but equally important was the need to remain true to the character of the Pearl District; an area that has undergone an urban renaissance and transformation from an aging warehouse district to a vibrant cultural center.
“Given the significance of this precedent-setting, mixed-use building, the architecture must be exceptional,” said Brian Fleener, Otak’s Director of Architecture. “How this building transitions from the tower down to the pedestrian realm, and complements the neighborhood’s architecture and character, is critical.” With a 23-story building on a small footprint, efficient and elegant design is paramount. The two different types of use only added to the complexity of the design which called for two separate entrances, with priority given to pedestrian experience and community character.
The inherent challenge to any project is matching design expectations with the reality of what specific codes allow. As the first development in the Pearl under the new vision and codes, the Hyatt Place and Lawson Residences had to marry building design that would reflect the progressive community vision outlined in CC2035 and maximize the opportunities presented by the new codes.
Responding to City’s New Design Code Allowing Greater Height
The design team has made rare and unique use of urban space, combining lodging and amenities into one-quarter block. The Portland Central City 2035 zoning changes, which came into effect in summer 2018, transformed the opportunities for this 10,000-square-foot property. In response to recent urban growth, the City is allowing unlimited density, or floor-area ratio, and a new allowable maximum height of 250 feet for this property if it includes affordable housing.
Stepping Away from Auto-Centric Urban Planning
Cars no longer drive urban planning as the communities where we live, work and play continue to contract and so much of daily life is within walking distance. A reflection of this is reduced car ownership among people residing in the city core with walking, biking, ride-sharing, public transit and other forms of transportation providing a more complete mobility picture. Recognizing this shift, Portland city staff wanted to allow developers the option of “no parking” within the new building. Portland’s trendy Pearl District is the perfect place to live and work car-free, so eliminating on-site parking was a calculated decision.
Solving Next-Level Sustainability Challenges
The building was designed to meet the current needs of today, solving human-level sustainability issues, as well as next-level demands of a City stepping into the future.
The design and development team embraced the opportunity for innovative, sustainable design using Green Globes to guide its sustainable design practices; and conducting extensive energy modeling. Working with the Energy Trust of Oregon, they also explored incentives and rebates for sustainable and efficiency elements.
Strengthening the City’s Green Loop
The new building will be situated along the proposed Flanders Bikeway, which was, and still is, a major topic of discussion for the project. Honoring the bike-centric and pedestrian-friendly culture and creating a building without parking were all part of the requirement to further strengthen the central city’s “Green Loop”. Further discussions and refinement have been possible due to the continued responsiveness of Otak’s design.
Connecting to the Region’s Waterways
The city also wanted a strong connection to the region’s riverways and Tanner Creek, a former tributary running through the heart of what is now the Pearl. Additionally, specific language within the new code required design themes that pay homage to the importance of water in the city—rain, rivers, etc. Otak chose to highlight Tanner Creek, which ran directly through the new building’s site, as a creative way to meet the code requirement and some of the more artistic detailing in the building’s design, as well as sightlines from the upper most floors, were incorporated to provide this connection and embrace the river running through the heart of the city.
Adding Accommodation in a Tight Housing Market
Adding to the complexity of the project was the need for increased housing, with a provision for affordable housing to meet the city’s inclusionary housing rules. With 123,000 projected new residents by 2035, housing demands will continue to rise. The Hyatt Place and Lawson Residences project adds both market rate and affordable housing in a tight real estate market.
Responding to Neighborhood’s Needs
Designed to fit the way people live, work, and play, the new tower offers area residents the amenities of a spot to grab coffee, wine, or a bite to eat, either in a new café or on the sidewalk. The building also offers hotel conveniences to tenants and responds well to the context of the surrounding neighborhood.
From the concrete base, moving upward with metal panels, the design symbolizes moving into the future, yet also focuses on protecting the character of the neighborhood and preserving the past. Beyond architectural detailing and aesthetic elements, the design and development team intends to transfer floor-area ratio (FAR) to the site from historical buildings in the area, which will serve to protect those buildings from future development, further protecting the character of the Pearl district while making this project more feasible.
Collaborative Design Process
When the development of a new mixed-use tower in the Pearl was first proposed, it was clear from the outset that the architectural design would undergo extreme scrutiny—not only because it would test the new city code, but also because the tower would be constructed in Portland’s iconic Pearl District, a neighborhood with its own set of unique challenges and design aesthetic. Recognizing both the opportunity to create an innovative new building and the complexities inherent with the need to serve multiple constituencies and purposes, Otak’s team collaborated with residents, the City of Portland, neighborhood association representatives and other building owners to solicit feedback on the design. Ultimately, this precedent setting close collaboration and input from city staff allowed the architectural design to evolve organically and led to a positive review by the Design Commission.
“To get to this point in the design, with no major concerns by the commission, is a huge win for the city, and our team,” said Mixed Use Studio Leader Casey McKenna. “The level of scrutiny for a project of this nature was no surprise, but it is especially rewarding when a progressive community vision such as Portland’s Central City Plan begins to unfold.”
Traditionally, architectural design has always allowed for input at regular points from initial concept through final approval, but the degree to which Otak involved the community and city staff is relatively a-typical and sets an exemplary example for how similar new buildings and communities are being developed.Otak came at the project with the goal of maximizing every opportunity to leverage the new codes and bring the community vision to life. “It was never about what do we need to eliminate, or where do we have to compromise to get the design approved,” McKenna attests. “From the very start, it was always about matching the vision and expectations with a design that could satisfy a diverse constituency of city staff, developers, and neighborhood organizations, as well as be a commercial success.”
The complexities of urban planning will continue to evolve. As future developments are further dictated by a growing need for compact communities where people can live and work, and for sustainability in all aspects beyond just form, function, and materials used, this collaborative spirit will no doubt become more commonplace.
Sustainable Community Planning
The long-range sustainability of communities as a whole is being recognized as a critical component in future developments and new building construction, not just in the Portland Metro area as the CC2035 plan clearly illustrates, but throughout the Pacific Northwest. This is an area Otak has already had a significant impact as they have served communities in Oregon, Washington, and other Western states with master planning, transit and urban design.
With the Hyatt Place and Lawson Residences, Otak successfully married the broader community vision with the character that defines the Pearl. From the overall form of the building down to the purely aesthetic details, the Hyatt Place and Lawson Residences may be one of the first of its kind in Portland but is akin to other projects Otak is involved in. The firm is providing comprehensive planning and architectural design services for the Kirkland Tower and Hotel Indigo, another mixed-use hotel and residential property similar to Hyatt Place and Lawson Residences, that also includes 10,000 square feet of retail and 7,700 square feet of restaurant space. The design will highlight the hotel’s signature brand while creating an iconic destination on the recently re-developed waterfront in downtown Vancouver, WA.
As population projections continue to rise, communities and regions will be defined by how they handle growth and the increasing demands on transportation and economic infrastructure, as well as diminishing natural resources and wildlife habitat. To remain viable economic hubs and liveable cities, visionary community planning such as Portland’s CC2035 will be paramount and mixed-use buildings such as the Hyatt Place and Lawson Residence will be more prevalent.