Brad Cloepfil's: Drawing / Making - Projects of Allied Works Architecture (1997 - 2007) at PDX Gallery
Brad Cloepfil's W+K Atrium (fg)
Architects take definite stances towards the future be it; irreverent,
hopeful, dismissive etc. Some like Rem
are aggressive, breaking moulds and ruts first and foremost... making every other issue subordinate to their drive to reinvent. It is almost
kitsch. While others like Portland's Brad
seem to excel at making the future a bit more dignified. An inherently less reactionary or revolutionary stance but one that still has room for a few twists and
turns within that essentially stoic outlook. In other words it is built to last. All of which sounds a lot like
the city Cloepfil calls home, though his very presence scares the crap out of
the "lets not change" crowd here.
Still, Portland is more than a little interested in the future
monorails and tractor beams, it is more about design and quality of life. We
want to inhabit a decent future instead of inheriting a crappy one.
In short Portlanders have an obsession with a better life as expressed through
interesting use of space, materials and all manner of other things basic for
life (even the Hawthorne Neighborhood's hippies do this). The real trick is
to transcend the ingredients and make life better without becoming a pastiche.
Lots of notable creative people are associated with the articulation of this
pursuit in the city, from designy artists like Sean
, Ellen George
, Jacqueline Ehlis, Philip
, Brad Adkins and Chandra Bocci, designers like Ziba
to architects like Randy Higgins, Holst
. Making life better is simply a big deal here. Yet nobody in Portland
is more associated with the way life can be affected through altering one's
environment than architect Brad Cloepfil.
Brad Cloepfil's Contemprary Art Museum, St. Louis
With projects from his early groundbreaking Weiden
+ Kennedy building in Portland
to art museums in Denver, St. Louis, Seattle
and New York, Cloepfil generates a great deal of discussion just by virtue of
Concept Drawing for Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis, 1999
Is he just regurgitating modernism?
Why hasn't Portland found a major new building project for our local starchitecht?
How much of building X was his work and how much of it was the staff's?
seem to follow a regular orbit around him in the way that all successful
people attract satellites.
To the chagrin of those who enjoy those questions, Cloepfil's
exhibition at PDX gallery
doesn't gage his talent, relevance or success
at all. Instead, it is an expose or a window into his practice, revealing some
interesting wrinkles in his aesthetics along the way. Though the fact that he
also designed PDX's gallery does make this a bit like that scene in Being John Malkovich
where all one can see is Malkovich saying "Malkovich."
Concept Model for Museum of Arts & Design, New York 2003 (fg), Plan studies for Weiden + Kennedy HQ, Portland 1996 (bg)
This show is somewhat special though, because unlike most of today's architects
Cloepfil frequently sketches on paper.
but his work is a great deal more radical than Cloepfil's,
whose work is more relaxed. Also, Cloepfil's models are assembled for their
materials and effect (like the controversial
Museum of Arts and Design
) as much as their ability to diagram space as
a plan. In other words he practices physical art making as a way to inform and
drive the process of making buildings.
Still, it is wrong to address these pieces as finished artistic statements.
They are more like notes and experiments. Cloepfil is no da Vinci but he does
come from that humanist/proto-scientist inventor mould
the type who sketches
first in order to let the mind understand. Also, by using the hand vs. a computer
it is more removed from the engineers and builders who figure out how to build
this stuff. It may give him a more idiomatic edge but it also makes his pitch
for various ideas more aesthetic
rather than a purely conceptual one.
By literally building upon a hand drawn artistic practice, Cloepfil engages
in a language of translation from his own body to proxy form. Once the gesture
is completed these drawings make all kinds of arguments for themselves and their
creator holds first refusal as to whether the pitch works or not. Really, it
hardly matters how good or consistent the work is, only that it keeps Cloepfil
engaged with the process.
Elvation study for Koehler/Hanlon Beach House, 2006
For example the elevation study for the Koehler/Hanlon beach house is a quick
sketch with a note stating, "flap open." Not exactly an earth shaking
statement but probably put there to allow others to read the flat drawing as
an invitation to enter. In other words a greeting, which is how most entrances
can be read.
It's tantalizing to speculate about the goals and effect of such a greeting:
For example, did the architect notate the drawing for himself? If so then it
implies the entrance had an indistinct quality as he should know what that smudge
of charcoal stands for. Or was a "flap" chosen instead of a door to
emphasize the casual nature of a beach residence? It is just a draft, but it
If Cloepfil had notated the beach house drawing for his client or staff that
is another thing altogether. That would indicate he wanted to focus on the flap
feature and was seeking a response? If so how did it go?
I like this sort of guessing game but I'm certain that some art gallery visitors
aren't willing to become architectural anthropologists, too bad for them.
Concept drawing for Seattle Art Museum, 2003
Other pieces give more instant gratification like his early floor plans for
Weiden+Kennedy and PDX contemporary art. They resemble the spaces that I've
been in hundreds of times. The W+K HQ drawings come off like Anni
, full of stiff but shifting rhythms. There is a tension
in the works for the W+K HQ in this show that I don't see in any of his other
projects save the Clifford Still Museum (more on that later).
Generally, Cloepfil's line is generally loose and soft, not hard edge, explaining
something about his aesthetics that I both love and dislike depending on the
type of building... a certain lightness or dematerialization of space. At
other times Cloepfil is earthy and heavy (which I prefer in his work). In this show Cloepfil's sketches often have
a transparent softness caused both by his relaxed line, muted colors and penchant
for using trace paper. You can see it best in drawing for the Seattle Art Museum;
it is as if the drawings were made to calm the audience down.
That kind of softness is somewhat anachronistic as Cloepfil generally works
with a lot of hard rectangles and the Weiden+Kennedy interior is a masterpiece
in that form. Consisting entirely of heavy rectangles made of flying concrete
and giant wooden beams it honors the materials. His sketches for that building
are similarly earthy. In many of his other spaces like the sadly defunct PICA
exhibition space or the new PDX contemporary art gallery the white walls allow
natural light to seep in from the sides. This dematerializes the wall and anything
on them, and resembles the effect of his tracing paper drawings. Dematerialization
isn't my favorite effect for exhibition galleries and I prefer Cloepfil's dark
and heavy side seen best so far in the W+K building.
Still, I understand Cloepfil's white walled dematerialization effect a lot
better after seeing this show as nearly all of his art space drawings are on
floating semi-transparent paper which when coupled with the architects loose
lines have a classy, genial sense to them.
This classy ease works great in drawings for St. Louis' Contemporary Art Museum
or best in his drawings and models for the Krause residences.
Concept Sketch for Krause Residence (detail), 2007
The Krause Residence concept sketch with its cascading series of open cube
forms are directly related to Sol LeWitt's modular cube forms. This is one building
that gets me excited. The transparency of the trace paper and the open volumes
are extremely elegant and Im certain the dematerialization will work perfectly
in this forest setting. The model for the Krause guest house relates and looks
even more Sol LeWitt. Might the Krause's be big LeWitt fans?
Structural Concept Model for Krause guest house, 2007
Other situations like Cloepfil's Section Study for a New World Trade Center
are well, uninspiring blocks though not as offensively unimaginative like the
design by David Childs (the greatest failure in architectural imagination in
Concept Study for Clyfford Still Museum, Denver, 2007
The most interesting work here besides the Krause and W+K projects is the highly
. The sketches are really fast and dark, almost scary. The exhibition
spaces seem to be punctuated by large deep light wells from the ceiling. A study
in light and dark.
The model for the Still Museum consists of a basalt-like carbon base with a
light filled clear box atop it. This model reveals Cloepfil (and Still's) Pacific
Northwest roots best as Oregon and Washington are covered with waterfalls that
resemble the light element (water) as well as the dark element (basalt lava
flows over which the water flows). This could be Cloepfil's best building since
W+K as it seems to embody the twin reactions to gravity itself; epic futile
defiance and epic dreadful resignation. It makes sense, Still was a man of serious
life and death convictions and no museum with his name on it should be without
that combination of delight and dread.
Overall, this isn't an authoratative exhibition on Cloepfil; the Portland Art Museum or the Seattle Art Museum will have to do that but it is a fascinating sampler that will probably annoy all but the biggest architecture fans.
Through June 30th 2007 at PDX Contemporary Art
*note none of these works are for sale