Thursday, January 30, 2014

Guest Viewpoint: Gabe Cross

(Photo by Eric Richards via Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)
The following is a reprint from The Register-Guard newspaper of a January 29 guest viewpoint written by Gabe Cross. Gabe is the current chairperson for the Eugene branch of the Cascadia Green Building Council and a sustainability consultant at New Axiom, LLC. He specializes in green building design and certification, and is well-versed in all aspects of LEED. 
With Gabe’s permission, I’m republishing his article here on SW Oregon Architect for the benefit of those who read my blog but may not receive The Register-Guard or access it online. I admire how clearly Gabe counters arguments made by those who suggest that LEED is bad for business. He forcefully makes the case that LEED certification actually is good for Oregon, our local economies, and the bottom line. 
*    *    *    *    *    *
Green Building is Good for Oregon Business
By Gabe Cross
In a misguided Jan. 4 guest viewpoint, “LEED’s ‘green’ certification hurt local timber industry,” Anna Morrison argues that green buildings are bad for Oregon business. Setting the record straight, LEED—Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—does not require Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood (you get points for it, but it is not required), many cities and states offer incentives for LEED but don’t require it, and green building is good for business in Oregon and everywhere else. 
The column is part of an ongoing organized attack on the green building movement from a small group of reactionary industry insiders. Representatives from the Sustainable Forestry Initiative, a watered-down version of the Forest Stewardship Council started by lumber companies, and Green Globes, a watered-down version of LEED started by plastics and timber executives, have been claiming LEED is “bad for business” in every paper and website that will publish them, and claiming that they offer business-friendly alternatives.
But their argument is not based in reality—it is based on fear that they can’t adapt to a changing marketplace. And the “alternatives” that they offer are not really green, they are business as usual with some greenwashing. 
So let’s examine the facts. Cities incentivize LEED and LEED incentivizes the Forest Stewardship Council, but LEED also supports buying local. So maybe there isn’t as much FSC land in Oregon as one might hope, but LEED is hardly driving projects to buy FSC wood from around the world for framing lumber. 
On the Gillem Residence, a recent high-scoring LEED for Homes Platinum project here in Eugene, the builder, Six Degrees Construction, worked with local vendors that sourced local timber for all of the structural wood and much of the finish wood products. Eugene and Springfield business were specifically chosen because they could prove that their logs came from local forests, and at least one sourced all of its logs from Southern Oregon. The requirement that local products be harvested, processed and assembled locally means local jobs at every stage of the supply chain, and this credit is available for a lot more than wood.
So LEED is hardly bad for Oregon wood, and may even be good for it. But what about other business? 
By at least one measure, LEED has a huge positive impact on businesses that lease green building space. Several studies have been performed on the effect of green buildings on the productivity of their tenants, and the results have consistently shown that workers in green buildings are more productive. The savings and increased revenue are often much higher than the additional cost per square foot for green building. 
That means that green buildings are creating measurable value for the business that build and inhabit them. LEED buildings may cost a bit more, but they deliver value to the owners, the managers and the tenants. 
The organizations that rail against LEED use the language of business and economics to suggest that the green building system is bad for the bottom line, but the facts do not bear their story out. Rather than stifling innovation, the stronger requirements of systems like LEED have led to an explosion of innovation in the building materials markets. Companies that manufacture everything from carpet to concrete are bringing new products to market or improving old products every day to meet the requirements of LEED, and all that innovation creates a positive feedback as processes and materials developed for one sector are repurposed for another. 
Finally, although LEED has been growing in market share over the years, it is still a minority player in the building industry. It is a program that is meant to set some buildings apart as being better for the environment and better for their inhabitants. But seeking a more “business friendly” alternative is solving the wrong problem. Rather than trying to stop cities or states from using LEED to recognize and reward the efforts of green builders, we should be asking why all buildings aren’t healthy, efficient and supportive of their surroundings. LEED should be a carrot leading the building industry in the direction of positive change. 
So LEED is good for business, good for people and good the environment. Change is always scary to entrenched companies that fear they cannot adapt, but in the end the successful company is the one that changes with the times instead of railing against them.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


North Eugene High School Commons (Robertson/Sherwood/Architects pc):  An opportunity-rich space 
The following is yet another brief excerpt from the late Bill Kleinsasser’s self-published textbook Synthesis. In this passage he makes the case for an architecture that is free of ego and yet rich with helpful conditions that are supportive of life and experience. He wanted his students to realize that an opportunity-rich organizational structure cannot be determined simply by acts of personal expression alone. He wanted us to understand that architecture is the making of places in ways that establish lastingly significant opportunities for people. 
I think that environmental supportiveness has to do with establishing opportunities for people, not determining what they should do or how they should feel. For example:
  • A place that is changeable establishes opportunities for its occupants to make changes as their circumstances change. It does not cause them to do so.
  • A place that is imprintable establishes opportunities for its users to imprint and perhaps to possess the place more so than they might otherwise. It does not cause them to do so.
  • A place containing spatial variety establishes opportunities for its users to find support for many purposes and states of mind, but does not cause them to do so. 
  • A place that collects great amounts of natural light and that also has a system for controlling the light establishes opportunities for light variation.
  • A place that is ever-changing because of the way it gathers in and dramatizes natural light establishes opportunities for its users to find pleasure and refreshment in that quality.
  • A place that has been organized and shaped in response to its particular physical context establishes an opportunity for its occupants to become more aware of that context.
  • A place that is organized so that spaces may be separated or joined establishes opportunities for its users to utilize this characteristic if and when they wish.
  • A place that contains many carefully developed, clearly differentiated subspaces establishes opportunities for multiple-use, and a place that is organized to be more than just a series of unrelated subspaces establishes opportunities for even broader interpretation and use.
  • A place that builds upon what had previously existed or upon memories (whether personal or archetypal) establishes opportunities for its users to find meaning (whether trivial or profound) in that historical continuity. 
So it is with supportive conditions in the environment: With them nothing is determined or caused, but without them much may be lost.
Environmental designers make the stage, not the drama (and the drama is usually more important). Sometimes the stage is for a very specific kind of drama. More often, as time goes on, it must support many dramas. To be a good stage it must be full of possibilities, full of opportunities, full of evocative and helpful conditions. 
WK /1976

Monday, January 20, 2014

January AIA-SWO Chapter Meeting Recap

Eugene City Hall - Council Chamber (my photo)
The saga of Eugene’s city hall—the slow, sad decline of a competition-winning design and now the promise of its revival—fascinates anyone who cares about downtown Eugene and the potential for City Hall to symbolically represent our participatory form of democracy. It was the hope for a glimpse of the building’s future that attracted so many of us last Wednesday to the Rogue Ales Public House(1) to attend the January 2014 AIA-Southwestern Oregon chapter meeting. On hand to slake our thirst for information were Mike Penwell (City of Eugene Facilities Design & Construction Manager), and John Rowell, AIA and Kaarin Knudsen, Assoc. AIA of Rowell Brokaw Architects (leaders of the master planning & design team). 

Mike Penwell has spent much of his past 15 years with the City of Eugene pondering what is best for City Hall. This process has taken many humbling twists and turns. Ultimately, it is culminating in an effort that Mike said is in many ways playing catch-up with the recent renaissance of downtown Eugene. Chastened by a jaded citizenry and the recent economic downturn the City of Eugene is now thinking big (by looking forward and imagining a rejuvenated City Hall as an ambitious catalyst for its corner of downtown) but starting small (limiting the total project budget to a modest sum). Given the many factors at play, I believe this outcome will in due course be viewed as the best one possible. 

I previously chronicled the protracted course the City followed in its selection of the team it would entrust with master planning City Hall’s future (as well as my frustrations with the process the City employed). I also earlier supported adaptive reuse of the current EWEB headquarters as City Hall but that’s an idea whose time has passed. Regardless of my previous feelings about the project, I’m happy for Rowell Brokaw Architects (and the rest of RBA team, which includes the Miller Hull Partnership) and have every confidence in their ability to deliver an outstanding master plan and a first phase design solution for City Hall on its current site. 

John and Kaarin said RBA hopes to complete the master plan sometime in April of this year. The master planning process will entail RBA’s envisioning 5-10 distinct options, from which it will subsequently select three for further development and consideration by city councilors. Ultimately, City Council will choose a single design option, encompassing 25,000 to 30,000 square feet of program area through renovation, new construction, or a combination of the two. The City set the total project budget for this first phase of work at $15 million; $11 million of this sum will be committed to direct construction costs. 

The functional program includes the following:
  • Council chamber
  • City Manager’s office
  • Mayor’s and councilors’ offices
  • Community meeting rooms
It’s important to note how small the initial program area is relative to the overall site, which presently occupies the entire downtown block bounded by 7th Avenue, High Street, 8th Avenue, and Pearl Street. The upshot is the project isn’t likely to completely transform City Hall; there just isn’t enough money available. Instead, the first phase will crucially lay the groundwork for future development on the site. Whether these future phases will involve additional city facilities or commercial space may be determined by the master plan RBA is preparing. Most important is the establishment of a flexible framework that allows for change over time. As Mike quipped, the framework “will make it clear there is another chapter to the story.” We’re not going to witness a blockbuster transformation; instead, we can look forward to City Hall evolving organically over many years, responding purposely to needs as they arise and funding is available.

RBA is viewing its master planning process through a wide-angle lens. They’re applying lessons learned from recent urban design success stories in Eugene and elsewhere, and also working toward realizing the City’s broader goals for downtown (such as the reinforcement of the “Great Streets” concept). They’re looking at the “big picture” by projecting what the impact of their evolving plan may be upon the surrounding environment, and vice-versa. 

The master plan will likely establish the extent to which the existing building’s mid-century Modern design is preserved. The City wants to save the council chamber, so the iconic cylinder will largely be spared the wrecking ball. Intriguingly though, John and Kaarin posed the question of what “retaining” the council chamber really means. Does it necessarily stand for slavish preservation? Probably not. Considering all options, RBA has even broached the possibility of repositioning the council chamber, perhaps so its floor is aligned with a new street-level entrance. The City has also applied for a heritage grant to fund further study of how best to address the historic significance of the existing building. 

Soon after choosing RBA to lead the design team, the City selected McKenzie Commercial Contractors, Inc. as the Construction Manager/General Contractor (CM/GC). Jim Mender is McKenzie’s project manager. Since coming on board, he’s worked closely with RBA to examine the existing facility and the potential for retaining and/or salvaging and repurposing building components. For example, Jim determined that 30,000 board feet of high quality cedar is salvageable from the wood screen that is the most prominent feature on all sides of the building. While much of this lumber superficially appears rotted or otherwise of questionable value, much of it is actually intact beneath the surface. 

RBA is also exploring the potential of preserving the various freestanding and bas-relief sculptures that currently lend City Hall so much of its character. The City’s mandate to RBA is to not only retain as much of this art as possible but also include new pieces as part of City Hall’s future. RBA plans to add a master artist to its team to ensure that both the existing art and future commissions are thoroughly integrated in the design of the building. 

Additionally, the City wants to maintain City Hall’s existing parking capacity. The master plan will presumably describe exactly how this will be achieved. 

Of course, everyone wants City Hall to once again thrive as Eugene’s civic heart. We want City Hall to be an expression of what matters to our community. We hope it will become something all of us will point to proudly as “our city hall.” We want it to reflect our aspirations for what our downtown can ideally be. We also expect a renewed City Hall to be nothing less than a model of sustainability(2), “radically accessible,” and welcoming. We want to love our City Hall again. 

John and Kaarin did not include in their presentation any drawings that would have illustrated their initial thoughts about City Hall’s future. A first look at the master plan options is reserved for the City Council, as it should be. The rest of us will get our opportunity sometime in February at a public open house. Overall, things will happen quickly. Once RBA completes the master plan, it will prepare the construction documents for the limited initial phase of renovation. Mike envisions occupancy early in 2016, just two years from today. 

Everyone involved with the development of the master plan is acutely aware of what Eugene’s citizens and civic leaders want for City Hall. Mike, John, and Kaarin understand they’re stewards of a legacy to be passed forward to generations of future Eugeneans. Their goal is to develop a robust plan that a century from now will still reflect the best of what this community is and stands for. It’s a tall challenge, one that I believe they’re more than capable of meeting. 
*    *    *    *    *   

Scott Clarke, AIA used the January chapter meeting as an opportunity to introduce the theme for his tenure as AIA-Southwestern Oregon’s president in 2014. By definition “depth of field” is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image; however, the term also serves to express Scott’s goal of broadening (deepening) our chapter’s outreach to be more inclusive of the entire breadth of the AIA-SWO membership. Scott wants to deliver value to all members regardless of whether they’re based in Eugene/Springfield or elsewhere (for example, there are 62 registered architects in Bend, not all of whom are yet AIA members), practice architecture in a conventional sense or not, engaged in related professions, or active in academia. He wants AIA-SWO’s depth of field to be as great as possible so that everyone benefits through participation in our chapter activities. Under Scott’s leadership, I fully expect to see AIA-SWO grow, diversify, and prosper.  

(1)  I’m sure Rogue Ales are refreshingly tasty and produced using only the finest ingredients (I wouldn’t know because I’m not a beer drinker); however, the cramped quarters of the basement meeting room of the Rogue Ales Public House and noise from above were less than conducive to the presentations by Mike, John, and Kaarin. Many in attendance could not find a seat and stood for the entire program. Others complained to me afterward about not being able to hear clearly because of the occasional ruckus upstairs. What was wrong with The Actors Cabaret as a venue for AIA-SWO meetings? It has ample room and is better when it comes to acoustics.  

(2)  Rowell Brokaw is ambitiously targeting an Energy Use Intensity (EUI) of only 25 for the project. Additionally, their goal is to ensure a net-zero ready building, one that is an exemplar of resilient design.

Friday, January 17, 2014

C3 Conference 2014

Construction communication and collaboration are the focus of the biggest design & construction forum on the 2014 calendar for the Willamette Valley Chapter of the Construction Specifications Institute. Dubbed by the organizers as “C3 (C3 being a contraction of “Construction Communication & Collaboration”), the January 30 event will take place the Hilton Hotel & Conference Center in Eugene and succeeds the Willamette Valley Chapter’s production of its previous annual conference under the “BUILD” banner. 

The name may have changed this year but the content and information that you can gain from attending is better than ever. The free products show and educational seminars have always offered fantastic, convenient opportunities to learn about the latest developments in construction industry technology, practices, and knowledge. This year’s conference program includes two seminar tracks with three sessions each. One track will focus on technical presentations of various communication aspects within projects. The other will be a products and materials presentation track. Each seminar qualifies for one AIA learning unit (or other industry continuing education credit), so those of you who currently are short of your requisite yearly total should definitely plan on attending. No pre-registration is necessary for either the product show or the educational seminars: just show up and you’re in! 

C3’s can’t miss dinner program will feature Dr. Timothy Duy, who will present the latest information about the state of Oregon’s economy. Dr. Duy is Director of the Oregon Economic Forum and the author of the University of Oregon Index of Economic Indicators, the Central Oregon Business Index, the Lane County Business Index, and the Portland Metro Business Index. He has published in the Journal of Economics and Business and is currently a member of the Oregon Governor's Council of Economic Advisors. 

RSVP by Noon, Friday January 24, 2014 to Alorie Mayer to assure your place at the dinner program. There will only be a limited number of spaces available on program day. 

I hope you’ll join me and many others by attending the C3 Conference on Thursday, January 30. It’s sure to be a great event (the previous BUILD conferences always were) and will only be more so with your participation. See you there! 

What:   C3 Conference 2014 

When:  Thursday, January 30, 2014
  • Seminars & Product Show 1:00-5:00 pm
  • Social Hour 5:00 pm
  • Dinner 6:30 pm
  • Program 7:00 pm 
Where: Hilton Hotel and Conference Center – Eugene, OR 

Cost:    Educational Seminars: FREE
             Economic Forecast Dinner: $30 (Students: $10)


Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Bucket List, Part Deux

Salk Institute (photo by Jim Harper via Wikimedia Commons under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic license)

I recently came across a treasure-trove of television programming I was not previously aware of. Produced by Illuminations, a British media company, and originally broadcast on Ovation TV, The Home Channel, and other outlets during 2006-2007, Artland: USA is a coast-to-coast travelogue of America’s greatest art treasures. One of the hour-long episodes, devoted to America’s best architecture, may be of particular interest to readers of this blog. 

Artland’s hosts, New Yorker Mame McCutchin and Londoner Charlie Luxton, drove across the U.S. in an RV, documenting their trip to see the “most fabulous art and architecture in the whole country.” Luxton studied and is passionate about architecture. For him, touring America was an opportunity to “live the dream” by seeking out a handful of buildings he simply had to visit. These buildings were, effectively, among those on his “bucket list.” I recently posted my own bucket list of landmarks I need to visit, so discovering this episode of Artland: USA was a vicariously pleasant treat. What did Luxton (and McCutchin) consider to be must-see architecture? Which buildings did they visit that also appear on my bucket list? 

The following is the roster of projects visited by Mame and Charlie: 
Fallingwater remains on my bucket list, but I happily have checked off Trinity Church (which I visited in 1999) and Arcosanti (in 1988). Of the other sites featured on Artland: USA, I was remiss by not including Mies’ Farnsworth House on my list to begin with. 

Farnsworth House

Nadir Khalili passed away in 2008, and Paolo Soleri in 2013, so their appearances in this episode of Artland:USA was my first clue that the show is not a recent program. Regardless, it’s worth a look today for its high production values and insights from those who care for the buildings or (in the case of Khalili and Soleri) from the architects themselves. 

Although Artland:USA is no longer in production, you can find the original episodes on the Reserve Channel, which is an original YouTube channel. The Reserve Channel boasts "access to the world's most extraordinary people and places life has to offer," a place "where the content appetite of the cultural creative is satisfied."

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Perils of Building Cheaply

The Portland Building (photo by Steve Morgan, via Wikimedia under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license) 

The fate of the Portland Building is in question. The City of Portland’s infamous administrative headquarters, completed in 1982, is currently the subject of serious discussions by city commissioners about whether it should be overhauled to correct an estimated $95 million in deficiencies or demolished and replaced altogether at considerably higher cost. Completed in 1982 for what even then seemed a remarkably meager sum ($25 million for a 364,000 square foot, 15-story tower occupying an entire block in downtown Portland), the building today suffers a litany of costly problems: long-standing structural defects, leaky roofs and windows, lack of natural light inside, and general user-unfriendliness. Its current turn in the spotlights raises significant questions regarding our throw-away culture and reluctance to invest adequately in sound design and construction to begin with. 

The Portland Building is well-known to most architects, particularly those of us who were around at the time of its genesis during Postmodernism’s heady days in the 70s and 80s. Its notoriety largely derives from the fact it was the first large-scale example of Postmodern architecture completed in the U.S. and because it was designed by Michael Graves, FAIA, one of the movement’s enfants terribles. I well remember the hubbub raised by the jury’s selection of Graves’ design, particularly the accusations of patent lobbying on its behalf by Philip Johnson, the professional advisor for the contest and one of the godfathers of Postmodern architecture.(1) 

Younger architects may not grasp how radical Graves’ design for the Portland Building appeared when it was first unveiled during the course of the competition. His highly personal design vocabulary fundamentally strayed from the principles and orthodoxy of Modernism, which since WWII had established itself as the architectural doctrine of choice for large institutional and commercial projects. Graves employed color and grossly over-scaled Classical elements (keystones, pilasters, garlands, etc.) in an unabashedly symbolic way.(2) The Portland Building’s design overtly acknowledged the power of architecture to communicate meaning. Its arrival on the scene was a watershed moment in the history of 20th century architecture, one which critics of its design (particularly those in Portland) would all too happily see erased and forgotten. Most notable among these critics was Pietro Belluschi, who in a conversation with a reporter for the Oregonian later declared it to be “totally wrong. It's not architecture; it's packaging. I said there were only two good things about it: It will put Portland on the map, architecturally, and it will never be repeated.” 

 Elevation drawing by Michael Graves, 1980
While a student at the University of Oregon (1980-83), I took note of the Portland Building’s rising each time I traveled north and south along I-5 between Eugene and my parents’ home in Vancouver, British Columbia. I found the building particularly striking once the bare concrete shell achieved its final height: it looked to me like nothing if not a colossal, ghostly gray columbarium, a foreboding fortress of the dead amidst an indifferent gaggle of sleek, stark towers. The Portland Building was also ill-proportioned and lacking in scale, traits that would remain even after it received its vibrantly painted coat of colors. 

Therein lies the rub. As noteworthy an achievement as it is from an historical perspective, there’s no getting around the fact that the Portland Building is simply ugly. Belluschi and the building’s other detractors were quick to cite its superficial and inelegant design, as well as its many functional shortcomings. What appeared beguiling and nuanced in the competition renderings would be realized as a grossly unrefined, miserable, squat box of a building. Regardless, its significance as a piece of architecture cannot be understated. For this reason alone, I believe the Portland Building and its salient features are worthy of preservation. This is easy for me to say: I don’t have to come up with the money to properly repair and refurbish it. Others agree though, and as of 2011 the building has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places, unusual for so young a property.(3) 

Short-Sighted Thinking
By opting for a design-build competition, the City of Portland believed it would ensure itself of both a prominent architect and also a new public services building for a predetermined price. Among a number of reasons (chiefly the mayor’s goal of projecting an image of fiscal responsibility and municipal modesty) the cost of the competing designs was the most heavily-weighted criterion. It turned out the design-build proposal submitted by the team of Michael Graves, Architect and Hoffman Construction was the only one of the three finalists (the other two being designs by Arthur Erickson Architects and Mitchell/Giurgola Architects) that met the strict budget without compromising the building program.(4) 

The problem with the Graves design was its consequent cheapness. It’s little more than a painted concrete box, with scant consideration given to the activities that take place within. I attended a lecture delivered by Graves in 1980, shortly after the City of Portland announced results of the competition.(5) During his talk he freely admitted how completely the inadequate budget dictated his firm’s plans for the Portland Building. Additional value engineering further compromised the design after the city awarded the Graves/Hoffman team the contract to build the project. The flowing metal garlands that adorned the sides of the competition model became flattened facsimiles; the village of rooftop structures was consolidated as a single penthouse; the exterior cladding was reduced to paint, and so on. Worst of all, the general cheapening of the design and the hasty construction schedule resulted in a building that today is so flawed its continued viability is being seriously questioned.  

The Oregonian recently quoted Eugene’s own Otto Poticha, FAIA, as saying the City of Portland made a poor decision by using cost as its primary motivation for selecting Graves’ design over the competing entries by Erickson and Mitchell/Giurgola. “A public building should last a minimum of 50 years without needing major repairs,” he said. “Thirty years, a building like that, it's an embarrassment,” he said. “It's an embarrassment architecturally. It's an embarrassment to the city. Why the city let that happen, I have no idea." 

I personally find it bizarre to think a major facility built during my lifetime may be nearing the end of its own. The construction of the Portland Building is too fresh in my memory and I should be considered too young to have outlived it. We should be building to last for many generations, not a fraction of one. Even more egregious is the tale of the Kingdome in Seattle, which enjoyed a mere 24 years of useful life before ceremoniously being blown to bits. What an enormous waste and a sad commentary about our culture. 

Notwithstanding the estimated $95 million price tag associated with the necessary repairs and refurbishments, a total accounting of the cost to demolish the Portland Building and build a replacement must also include the cost of the energy embodied in the extraction, processing, manufacture, and delivery of construction materials to the building site. In terms of carbon footprint and environmental impact, the true cost of a replacement might be many orders of magnitude more costly than a rehabilitation project, regardless of how “green” and energy-efficient a new building would be. 

Portlandia (photo by Raymond Kaskey)
Keep Portland Weird
Need another argument in favor of preserving the Portland Building? I contend the Portland Building is essential to maintaining Portland’s high ranking on the weirdness scale. Other cities can boast their own monuments by Michael Graves—the Humana Building in Louisville and the Denver Central Library come to mind—but the Portland Building was the original. While not ranking up there yet with the Eiffel Tower or the Sydney Opera House, the Portland Building is becoming universally recognized as an iconic Portland landmark. Its cheapness aside, the Portland Building’s brand of quirkiness plays well within the dreamy and absurd rendering of Portland portrayed by the TV series “Portlandia” (which not-so-coincidentally borrows its name from the enormous sculpture by Raymond Kaskey perched upon the building’s entrance on 5th Avenue). 

*    *    *    *    *   
The Portland Building is an influential structure, the product of a prominent design competition, a milestone in the history of American architecture, and yet here we find it, in such dire need of improvements that its very future hangs in the balance. Whether you love it or hate it, you must appreciate the Portland Building’s place in the canon of  20th century architectural design. You—and more importantly building owners, developers, and the general public—should also recognize the very real value of investing for the long-haul. All of us cannot afford to continue placing first costs at the top of every project’s priority list; the perils of building cheaply are too great. We cannot afford to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Such a strategy is neither sustainable nor ultimately cost-effective. What we can do is learn from the example of the Portland Building and avoid problems of our own making for which there are no easy solutions.

(1)  Among other trends: Johnson also championed the International Style in 1932 as curator of an exhibit for New York’s Museum of Modern Art, and after Postmodernism faddishly dabbled in Deconstructivism. 

(2)  I actually find Graves’ earlier work more intriguing, particularly those projects (mostly unbuilt) he designed during the brief period between his neo-Corbusian phase and the cartoon-like use of classical motifs that have characterized his career since. These transitional projects were marked by a Cubist sensibility, involving the collage-like assemblage of abstracted, allusive forms. An example was Graves’ 1976 design for the Fargo-Moorhead Cultural Center.

(3)  Generally, buildings are at least 50 years old to be considered eligible for listing.

(4)  An excerpt from an excellent paper about the Portland Building’s problems written in 1997 by Meredith Clausen and Kim Christiansen summarized the competing designs by Erickson and Giurgola:

Erickson proposal
"Erickson's proposal consisted of a shimmering, reflective glass structure poised on pilotis, with a series of setbacks at the base freeing the ground floor for public use; on the principal facade facing onto a newly established transit mall, a large monumental arched entry opened into a great, glazed galleria that stretched through the building, terminating in a broad open-air plaza facing onto the park. To provide this amount of open public space and still remain on budget, however, the team had to compromise certain other aspects of the program. 

Giurgola proposal

            “Giurgola, who had argued that a public building of this stature could not, or rather should not, be built for so low a price, submitted a proposal that pulled together the park, adjacent city buildings, and the transit mall by means of a diagonal circulation system, with entrances at each of the four corners of the block; these met in the center of the building to form a light-filled, glazed courtyard, with a major artwork forming the focal point, and providing views onto the park. The building, a 10-story precast concrete building with side walls of reflective glass, maintained the street wall on all four sides, with sloped canopies allowing a transparency at the street level. Their proposal most fully met the specifications of the program, but exceeded the budget by some $6 million.”

(5)  Ironically, this lecture took place in the auditorium of Arthur Erickson’s recently completed Provincial Courthouse and Vancouver Art Gallery complex. Graves poked fun at Erickson’s three-block long, glass and concrete “groundscraper” before contrasting its west-coast modern design with his classically-inspired solution for the Portland Building. Erickson did not attend the lecture.