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There is a common set of design features found in buildings built for centuries and typically seen in most American cities celebrated for their architecture.

Portland is one of these cities long famed for their iconic architecture and charming main streets.
Many of our Main Street Centers are at risk without good design tools to guide their future. We believe we need main street standards attached to the Main Street Overlay (M-Overlay) to create good infill with respect to the people, place and culture of these areas.


The City has stated in their DOZA Policy planning documents that  they "acknowledge the historic and community value of the places studied in the Analysis. The identified areas comprise Portland’s earliest building blocks that still define today’s neighborhoods. The buildings that make up these areas are a lasting testament to the physical characteristics that design overlay zone espouses: defining context, contributing to public realm, DOZA and designing for quality and resilience through generations of merchants, residents, and visitors. They embody the image of what makes Portland, Portland. These areas are indeed well-positioned for growth with access to services, shopping, and transit. Without demolition protection, the blocks that comprise these early buildings and their immediate surrounding blocks are in danger of being fully redeveloped without a nod to their character-giving features.”

This article by Garlynn Woodsong describes many of these patterns that contribute both to an enduring form of architecture but also affordability and design for purpose, something that is often confused in the discussion of form versus style - two very different things. Style is the icing on the cake, form is the cake itself, and the ingredients are important. We stay away from talking about style and focus on these timeless patterns that contribute to human scale architecture at any height, and to design that responds to the way we live, work, and interact with out spaces. Mike Steffen, Director of Innovation for Walsh construction notes that many of these patterns like aligning floorplates, stacking windows and openings, using consistent materials, and using simple forms that avoid structural gymnastics are a sort of "farmers logic architecture". It makes sense, it's simple and affordable. Ornamentation need not be added but when it is included it can be a far less expensive way to demonstrate art, craft and local culture much more affordably than the structural gymnastics of much of the what we see being built today. 

View our Main Street Patterns at a glance in our Main Street Minute -

Base Middle Top.jpg


Storefront at the base, separated by horizontal bands, topped with a cornice or articulated roofline (common throughout downtown and entire city, previous requirement in standards)



Storefront designs in commercial or mixed-use buildings typically include the following design patterns: 

  • Raised sills of at least 18” 

  • Large storefront display windows with divided pane clerestory windows above and at least 4” recessed depth from building face 

  • Regular rhythm of recessed entries 

  • Permanent awnings 

  • Articulated rooflines, often with subtle pattern/detail in the brick or formwork 

  • Pedestrian-oriented signage 

  • Building facade lighting (sign band, entry, building address)




Sustaining Main Streets + Cultural Identity  | Thursday, April 11, 2019, 5-8 pm Architectural Heritage Center

Join us for a historic Hawthorne photography exhibit, speakers, Main St Design Awards, and launch party celebration as we scale up our past Division Design Initiative into a city-wide project under our new name as the Portland Main Streets Design Initiative (aka PDX Main Streets).  

Sponsors and partners include the Architectural Heritage Center, the Hawthorne Boulevard Business Association (HBBA), Portland Main Streets Design Initiative (PDX Main Streets), Qamar Architecture, Habitate, and Forage Design. 

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