Portland Alley Thesis Conclusion – Greg Antons

Alley Map

Portland’s alley layout

Hi Everyone. My name is Greg Antons and I recently completed my Master of Architecture thesis at Portland State University focusing on the potential of Portland’s alleys. Some of you may have seen the UPDATED: ALBERTA DESIGN-BUILD PROJECT – APRIL 2015 earlier this year and are already familiar with my project. If not, it is a picture heavy post full of alley excitement. This post will primarily include my final thesis work and some concluding thoughts based on my entire experience as a student and as a supporter of the Portland Alley Project.
My thesis is comprised of three major components: the first being the structure for which I would design – the tier system, the second are the proposed typologies that would transform the current alley types (outlined below as existing conditions), and the third is the user manual which was produced to help generate a document for clarity intended to be distributed to residents for their use in improving their alley.

The Tier System

Throughout the development of my thesis I had been referring to my tier system as a phasing system. It felt cliche and misleading to describe the following visions as phases. Phases typically imply a sequence working to a certain degree of completion; for example a three phase project would mean each phase is 33 percent complete. The tier system differs dramatically in that tier one is not a degree of completion but rather a degree of investment, skill, maintenance, and
bureaucracy – each tier is also a higher degree of experience and quality.
Each of the reimagined typologies have four different visions [iterations] for inspiration as a response to “what could this alley be?” and are broken up into three tiers, with the third tier being a major step from the previous two.

Alley Typologies




The need for improving access and dwelling comes from the poor existing conditions of type I alleys in combination with the spike inADU construction adjacent to alleys. Utilizing the poorer of the alley types not only creates better spaces but has the capacity to start trends at the planning scale. By developing ADUs, ‘private’ [alley] access to them is ideal to keep the primary property separate from the new unit. Improving the interface along the alley by making changes to fence typologies,
increasing illumination and visibility, surface improvement, and ensuring that access between pedestrians and vehicles is equal.


Throughout the research phase of my thesis I had provided dozens of surveys to community members to gauge their interest, capacity, skills, and visions. Visions relating to natural systems, parks, gardens, etc… had taken the lead above all other intervention types; these people also indicated more skills in natural systems as well as capacity [tools, resources, etc…] The following interventions include community gardens, landscaped paths and pavilions, rain harvesting water features, and an urban farm concept.


Public and urban alley space came from the desire to encourage people to use the alley in a way that is social and promotes urban lifestyles. The interventions that come from this typology includes bringing the temporary functions seen around bigger city centers [farmers’ markets, for example] and making them a more permanent programmatic element in existing alley types [site context: type III]. These design proposals include concepts that relate to transforming the alley into a walk-in theater, public book exchange, play/recreation space, and a hub/incubator for micro-businesses.

Tiers I-III are below in a grid of thumbnails – click the images to see which concept and tier they relate to.

User Manual

The following are specific pages of the user manual which can be viewed in its entirety by clicking here.

Thesis Conclusions

I am an architecture student fulfilling requirements for the world of academia and my own personal requirements for the future of alleys. Throughout my process I found myself being the rope in a game of tug-of-war, being pulled from either end; making it a real challenge to produce a high quality result for both requirements.

To that end I would like to comment that the experience of working alongside Derek at the Portland Alley Project as my advisor, and as a professional, has given me the insight needed to make my project a success. Without his knowledge and genuine interest in the topic my thesis would have not have the potential that it has.

To my surprise my reviewers were having a hard time finding major issues (something they’re particularly good at) with my idea of using a tier system to integrate people with their alleys through various design concepts. The major question that was brought up had to do with scale – why not create an improvement plan and apply it to all of Portland’s alleys? My response: it takes the Portland out of alleys when you give the [creative] community the product instead of the tools and opportunities to engage and collaborate for a product that reflects a specific alley. Derek added that it has been attempted but given the nature of how alleys are managed (owned by Portland, maintained by residents) it is quite difficult to incorporate a large scale idea without failure.

Working with the community really shines a light on how well people can work together and also the backlash that comes from difference of opinions. That is, to say, during my alley pavilion event I had received significant feedback including praise and gratitude for my efforts and visions and few individuals who were strongly dissatisfied with my presence in the Alberta alleyway.

To see the full documentation of my thesis project please visit this page.

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