The Central Eastside's restored Factor Building is a hive of creative energy waiting to happen.
In the early 1920s, Portland was booming. Emerging from World War I and a global pandemic, the city constructed hundreds of office buildings, apartments and warehouses for a growing population.
A century later and under similar circumstances, one of those buildings, a Miller Paint factory in the Central Eastside industrial district, is coming to life once again, as the Factor Building: an aspiring creative hive.
Admittedly it's too early to tell if the economy will roar in the 2020s once Covid-19 subsides, and the building remains mostly a stage without performers. Yet the skyline views from upstairs are panoramic and the grit that remains even post-renovation gives the Factor Building the kind of character that can woo people back.
At the front and back entrances to these conjoined renovated buildings beside the Hawthorne Bridge viaduct, a portion of the upstairs floor was pulled back to allow a double-height entry, with a pair of contemporary halo-shaped chandeliers glowing overhead in a pleasing juxtaposition of old and new. Nearby, a shared central stairway invites incidental interactions with fellow tenants that often lead to unexpected collaborations and innovations.
Developer Libertas Companies designer-partner SUM Design Studio couldn't have known a few years ago just how much difficulty they'd face restoring these 53,500 square feet. They did feel the pandemic's effect, for after initially planning to top the Factor Building with a multistory glass box, this instead became a more modest restoration without the new square footage.
Even so, after being targeted for demolition just a few years ago, the newly renovated and seismically stabilized Factor Building is a reminder of the creative energy that's possible in a high-density urban setting with architectural character. In a time when people can work from home more efficiently than ever, the antique charm of this restored warehouse (one occupied in the past by not only Miller Paint but a tin-can factory, recording studios, and most recently a mushroom-jerky maker) makes it a quintessential future hot spot waiting to happen.
For much of the past decade, "creative office" were commercial real estate buzzwords, with companies eschewing glass towers, cubicles and receptionist desks for more flexible open-office space. Once the Central Eastside's zoning was tweaked to allow offices, the district became a host not just to its traditional light-industrial base but a new generation of entrepreneurs, designers, artists and creators. That will return, but it will take time.
In the pandemic, millions of office workers learned how convenient and productive it could be to work remotely. Yet, according to surveys, most don't want to abandon offices altogether. That's because working together in person has a value that can't always be replicated digitally. It's the cross-pollination that comes not necessarily in meetings but in impromptu interactions throughout the day. Even more than manufacturing, when ideas are your stock and trade, neither a home computer nor a lifeless office park will do. In other words, inspiring architecture is always a factor.
Brian Libby is a Portland freelance journalist, critic and photographer who has contributed to The New York Times, The Atlantic and Dwell among others. His column, Portland Architecture, can be read monthly in the Business Tribune or Online at: portlandarchitecture.com
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