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Taller buildings in downtown Portland called inevitable

Portland's skyline. (KATU Photo)

Portland's skyline has been called quaint. While it can still shine beautifully for photographers, the city's buildings are no match for other buildings on the West Coast.

"Different cities have different approaches to height," said Brian Libby, a Portland-based freelance architecture journalist. "You could look to Seattle and any other number of cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles, and they all have 50- or 60-story buildings. That's not unreasonable in the center of a large American city."

Portland's tallest building, the Wells Fargo Center, tops out at just 40 stories and 546 feet.

The Rose City has had an aversion to height. Some blame it on West Hills residents who don't want views of Mount Hood blocked. Other Portlanders simply like a smaller feel.

"There's a kind of psychological difference when you're walking the streets and there are 20- or 50-story buildings versus five- and seven-story buildings," said Libby.

Despite that the city's skyline is likely to change over the coming years and decades. Libby sees taller buildings as inevitable.

"I think that the handwriting's on the wall that the city has to go taller," he said.

The Riverplace Development could mark the first step in that direction. Willamette Week first reported that developers have promised affordable housing in exchange for being allowed to exceed current height limits near the south waterfront area.

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler has signaled his support.

"As our city continues to grow, as the population continues to grow, we are going to need increased density," he said at a recent news conference.

It's a sentiment Libby agrees with. Density is a major goal as Portland grows, and density isn't possible without building vertically.

"Now that the city is growing more dense there's becoming more of a premium on real estate and there's more of a need, arguably, to go taller," he said.

A spokesman for Wheeler's office told KATU the City Council could vote on a change in height limits sometime next spring.

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