Portland South Waterfront residential buildings

This is another of a series of older stories revisited. I think it is still relevant to planning in Ottawa today. This story is from 2015, on Portland’s South Waterfront community. With the recent planning permissions for Claridge’s Flats to go taller — look way way up — and the Sens Illumination LeBreton project west of Booth, and Zibi’s buildings on the Islands, we can expect the new neighbourhoods around Pimisi and Bayview Stations to look more like this.

Height, if well handled, is not antithetical to an urban neighbourhood. Let’s look more closely at Portland. And if you haven’t been down to Claridgeland on the east end of Flats, but instead base your criticism on drive-by sneers, I encourage you to go down and walk around the buildings there. You might see more similarities with Portland and Milan than you first think.



The NCC chose for the Flats a model of lowish podiums (7 stories) with mid rise towers above (another 7 stories, 14 floors in total). Portland’s South Waterfront is decidedly much more highrise. It is, no doubt, what Ottawa planners have wet dreams about when they imagine the Preston-Carling area in 30 years time with its snowstorm of highrises. I very much doubt we will achieve that.

I gather the NCC and Claridge are negotiating to abandon the rest of the existing low and mid rise LeBreton Flats plan (east of Booth Street) to build much taller towers on the remaining lots closer to Booth Street. So the South Waterfront vs LeBreton Flats comparison is useful for both what is currently underway and what the next bits of the Flats might shift towards.

The Portland development is several phases ahead of the NCC. LeBreton Flats didn’t get its office component of mixed use (two 11 storey towers at the SE corner of Booth/Wellington, until recently a bomb pit) whereas SWaterfront has a busy medical complex attracting employees, students, and patients. That building brings many people to the site and populates the parks and commercial mainstreet.

Pictures tell the story:  leaving the transit plaza along the streetcar tracks that wind around the Medical building  shown in the previous story, the newest highrises do loom high:



Podiums and differentiated architecture at the bases attempt to anchor them and create a more intimate street level environment:



Balconies are generous size, and well used, as is possible in the milder Portland climate. Nonetheless, Ottawa continues to amaze me as having the cheesiest smallest balconies on its buildings compared to just about anywhere else I’ve been.




New buildings are modern in style and scale:




Curves, modulated facades, and varied materials are tricks in the architects’ bags, but aren’t enough to make these human relatable; the SWaterfront buildings are imposing; the LeBreton buildings are much more pedestrian friendly:




Unusually angled balconies attempt to create interest. Recall from part 1 of this series, a similar balcony design is employed on the newest building on LeBreton Flats facing the aqueduct:




below: the view from the next development site back to the taller towers. Note the attempt at a podium and low rise element:



A podium in brick below a glass tower; half the tower is clad in brick to “trick” the eye into seeing two slimmer towers (here in Ottawa, similar efforts went into the new condos by Place Bell and Windmill’s Cathedral Hill. Does it work?)




Even amongst the tallest towers, some shorter buildings attempt to recreate a human scale for pedestrians; I felt a flush of relief, a loss of tension, when I came across these low rise bits:





(below)  An array of older buildings, very simple, with few balconies. I think these were student housing for the adjacent University. A number of ground floor apartments opened directly onto the sidewalk. I wondered if they were supposed to evolve into commercial locations as demand grows, as they had zero setback and privacy from passersby:




At the end of one street, by  a luxury condo tower, the next development site awaits. The low rise housing is visible in the distance, furthest from the River and closest to the elevated freeway:




next: walking the South Waterfront sidewalks …