Portland, Oregon, has a rich legacy of landscape architecture. Its downtown is structured by multiple linear park sequences, from the waterfront to the Halprin sequence to the Pearl District series of three parks. In addition to these sequences, the primary open space alignment within the city’s core is the discontinuous-but-related North and South Park Blocks. For over a century it has served as a spine connecting the central city’s diverse districts of university, residential, cultural, retail, commercial and governmental.
For as long as these districts have existed, there has been a desire to connect them with downtown parks and open space. Early in the new millennium, a vision to accomplish this significant goal emerged – named the Park Avenue Vision, it called for the creation of episodic parks and enhanced streets to serve as a promenade through downtown.
Director Park presents the first piece of this vision and sets the benchmark for quality materials, complete street design and urban watershed management. After decades of sitting dormant as an asphalt surface parking lot in the heart of downtown Portland, private initiative stimulated the development of this sophisticated piece of urban infrastructure. By shifting zoned development capacity from the Director Park site to the adjacent site to the north, the City of Portland enabled the design of the first new public park in downtown in more than 25 years.
Conceived as a catalyst for districtwide street enhancements and private redevelopment, the new plaza was developed on the surface of an underground parking structure serving the adjacent multiple Class A office towers. Situated within the overlap of the retail, office and cultural districts of the central city, Director Park is active from dawn to twilight, and it accommodates the ebb and flow of a broad range of urban communities.
The design is intended to create new open spaces with a variety of microclimates, amenities, and places for activity that present a unique destination and landmark for residents and visitors. A key feature in the park is an open, glass-and-wood canopy sitting high along the street’s edge, offering covered seating space and views over the plaza.
The plaza is designed to engage pedestrians with programmed and non-programmed activities. A water element, with arching jets and a semi-circular basin at the northeast corner, creates a comfortable environment for pedestrians. It reinforces the architectural massing of the site by addressing the street edge and providing a balance of built elements within the open space of the plaza. Other elements of the design include loose table and chair seating, permanent architectural concrete and wood benches, street trees, custom lighting, and a café. Both the stone-paved surfaces and glass canopy incorporate innovative stormwater techniques to capture runoff on-site.
European piazzas were an inspiration for the design of the park. The concept of an urban hardscape stretching from building face to building face allows the park to engage the active street fronts of the adjoining properties.
This piazza provides the canvas for a composition of structures and spaces that accommodate a variety of programmed and unprogrammed functions. From children playing in the fountain and business professionals enjoying lunch under the canopy, to yoga classes, chess games and professional sporting event viewing parties that draw thousands, Director Park provides a public space unlike any other park in Portland.
While the piazza is meant to be a pedestrian space that cars are invited into, on special occasions the entire city block can be closed off from vehicular traffic to accommodate largescale events (such as the 2010 World Cup viewing party shown above).
With the park’s close proximity to Pioneer Courthouse Square, also known as Portland’s “living room,” the more intimately scaled Director Park was designed to act as a complementary “parlor” or “sitting room.” This juxtaposition provides two public spaces that accommodate a balancing array of functions and programs.
The design concept was the result of a collaborative process among the public, the design team, and the City of Portland Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Transportation, and the Water Bureau. The process spanned several months and included significant public input at an open house, multiple visioning sessions, and numerous conversations with the City of Portland Design Review Commission.