A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Newbury Street Lofts: The Architectural Expression of a Midlife Crisis

Some say it looks like a marooned cruise ship. Others point out that its blank first-floor parking garage facade will be an impediment to redeveloping Franklin Street.

The proposed new condos on Franklin Street would feature two floors of parking garage facing Franklin, Newbury, and Federal Streets. The developer, the hedge fund billionaire Donald Sussman, owns a little-used parking lot next door, but he seems to believe that every condo buyer in the city needs to have their cars parked directly beneath them.

But the project's car-first mentality might be the least of its problems. The main entrance is located down a narrow alley, as though it's a gated community.

And the project's architect, David Lloyd of Archetype, tries too hard to distract from the ground-floor ugliness by adding lots of wacky flair to the floors above (hence the cruise ship comparison).

As I wrote in a Portland Daily Sun column today, the proposed "Newbury Street Lofts" are the architectural expression of a midlife crisis — a fuddy-duddy at heart, trying too hard to be "edgy."

Sure, I'm concerned about bums urinating (or worse) in the vacant corners of the parking garage. And I'm concerned about the antisocial attitude the building takes with respect to the public spaces of the surrounding streets.

But what might be the worst thing about this building is how its cheap materials, lousy design, and prominent location downtown are bound to give contemporary architecture a bad name for years to come.

If there's one bright side, it's that such a cheap structure is bound to have low resale values — within a decade it'll likely qualify as low-income housing.

Now that I mention it, it does bear a striking resemblance to some of Portland's 1970s-vintage public housing projects...


rasor said...

Sad to say, knowing the area so well, I am confused from what vantage point the shot is taken - not recognizing some of the context massing and what appears to be new street opening(s)?

C Neal said...

The rendering is looking north from near the Franklin/Middle intersection (or from the top floor of the police station, as someone has pointed out).