Not too long ago, a friend asked me what my favorite building in Salem was. The answer? WaterPlace.


It’s visually appealing. The generous expanse of windows connects the building to the street, creates the impression of accessibility, and also reduces the perception of the building’s mass. The horizontal lines created by each floor’s row of windows and their low-profile metal awnings, as well as the cantilevered awnings on the second and top floors, create a pleasant stacked effect. The vertical lines formed by the marquee and the two narrow rectangles of paneled cladding prevent the building from looking too monotonously horizontal. The white screening on the exterior stairwell adds not only another vertical element, but introduces another color and texture as well. The same screening is used to shield the second floor HVAC system. Horizontal wood panelling adds a warm, northwest element to the building and contrasts nicely with the modern, white metal screening.

The lush landscaping draws heavily on a palette of grasses and maples. The decision to use grasses allows the designers to play with colors, textures, and heights, while also reducing maintenance costs and water use. In time, the grasses will grow dense enough that pedestrians won’t see bare soil, a hallmark of poor landscaping, while never growing so high as to obscure the facade. Using Japanese maples as street trees keeps a human scale to the street, echoes some of the colors in the grasses, and adds a northwest character to the landscaping. On the north end of the building’s face, native Vine maples are used for hedging.

Significantly for Salem, the building isn’t separated from the sidewalk by a large parking IMG_5193lot; instead, the building is set back about 5′, which is just enough to provide a bit of low landscaping. The sidewalk itself is buffered from the street with a planting strip of trees and grasses. This creates a pedestrian-scaled boulevard effect for the sidewalk, with greenery immediately to the left and right. The builder also opted for a parking structure to maximize the efficient use of space (even though it likely added costs).

If I had one critique, it is that 5′ setback and landscaping prevents Orupa, the restaurant occupying the building’s one-floor southern end, from opening up its windows and entrance directly to the street. Maybe in the future, the restaurant will place an entrance directly on Commercial and will also bring the windows down to ground level or even allow them to open up. The space could fit outdoor tables.

The building’s attributes go beyond its visual appeal. Architect Magazine details the environmentally friendly aspects that earned it a LEED platinum rating. Here’s an excerpt:

The design of WaterPlace addresses energy conservation in several key ways. First, interior lighting demands are greatly reduced by an abundance of fenestration and natural light. Over 95% of the building’s occupied interior spaces have natural light and over 75% of spaces have window views. Second, careful detailing during design and construction has resulted in a building with a highly insulated and tight envelope that provides 24% energy savings over a baseline building of similar size. Through the use of careful design and innovative fixtures, WaterPlace uses 34% less water compared to a baseline building. Finally, WaterPlace provides incentives for building occupants to use energy-efficient modes of transportation. Seven parking spots are designated solely for fuel efficient vehicles, and bike racks and a shower room encourage tenants to ride their bicycle.

As if good design and landscaping, proximity to the street, and LEED platinum status were not enough, Orupa offers food and drink on a landscaped, open-air roof. Any building that provides an outdoor rooftop bar is a building worth emulating.