Nov 5, 2020

Natural Elements Bring Mixed-use Building to Life

5 MLK features a series of terraced amenity decks on the lower floors, in part to emulate the mountains of Oregon. Construction of the development is nearly done. (Josh Kulla/for the DJC)

Not even face coverings could hide the satisfaction of architects Don Copper and Janet Olson while crews continued to wrap up construction of the 17-story 5 MLK mixed-use building in Portland’s Central Eastside.

Copper is a managing principal and Olson is a principal with GREC Architects, a Chicago firm known for designing lakeside high-rises in the Windy City or lush, sprawling parks in far-flung places like Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. But at the east end of the Burnside Bridge, general contractor Hoffman Construction is finishing a project in a much different setting.

Beyond the city, Copper and Olson were inspired by the natural landscapes of the Pacific Northwest as they designed 5 MLK. “We definitely looked at things on many levels of scale,” Copper said, “but all of them in the context of Portland and the region.”

5 MLK has two distinctly different faces. The northeast corner facing the Burnside/Martin Luther King Jr. intersection features the main entrance and lobby, which serves both residential and commercial tenants. The southwest corner, by contrast, is marked by a prominent sequoia tree and a rounded facade that serves to highlight the entrance to ground-floor retail spaces.

On the inside, 5 MLK is different from anything the firm has done before, Olson said. The goal was to start with a tree in the main lobby and adopt as many natural elements as possible. In addition, the lobby is intended to be a much more public space than those in similar buildings.

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