In 2008 I was the first critic to call
for a design competition for the Columbia River Crossing
and publicly argued
that the project had gone astray by becoming a blind man's elephant of conflicting
interests without a sufficiently talented architect capable of creating a compellingly cohesive
design... which they could then sell back to the public. Today the project is that
same quagmire involving the same design by committee engineers and an architecture
firm that merely makes cheap, mostly cheesy aesthetic gestures.
There hasnt been much critique in the generalist publications because the
Oregonian does not have a proper staff architecture critic and they have utterly
dropped the ball with horrible taglines like, "Can we afford Pretty?"
when in fact the issue is more properly framed as a leaderless project in need
of a head... ie a great architect. Sadly, the O has made themselves inconsequential to this very important discussion. Anyone with any real experience knows that the project wont get built without a serious
design because this current franken-design doesn't make an arguement for itself. Previously I've
described the design as similar to The Homer
. What's more, Zaha Hadid has shown how the design could look and function
great without extra tall design elements and Mayor Sam Adams noticed.
Zaha Hadid's Shiekh Zayed Bridge, excellent without tall structural elements
Simply put the current design team is out of their league because they are
simply responding to pressures rather than the world class solutions this project
demands (a rethink is crucial right now but it will take world class minds).
Meanwhile Governors Ted Kulongoski and Christine Gregoire have simply ignored
the crucial question of a design that people will get behind. The project's
complexity requires a great architect to come up a with a convincing design
that creates a consensus... that takes innovation and that is something which usually comes
from top talent. A world class architect would then become the salesman, something
none of the politicians have the clout or political will to do. Why have all
of the designs originated from Vancouver Washington with additions from Tallahassee
Also, the new bridge IS needed, an 8.8 earthquake like the one Chile just experienced
would result in a huge death toll and the traffic already piles up worse on
I-5 every month. What's more federal funding at under 500 million seems startlingly
low considering this is nearly a 4 billion dollar project with light rail for
I-5, the major interstate arterial of the West Coast. About 2 billion dollars
in aid is what is needed, till that materializes I say let the project falter
or present a plan that requires that aid (or no bridge). The Federal Government
has already marked the river crossing as a projects for the millennia priority
but they need to know it wont happen without adequate support. You just can't
do certain projects on the cheap and expect there to be the political will to
complete them, maybe it will take a bad earthquake and lives lost to make this
I've long supported the project but unless a world class architect is somehow
brought In I'll be withdrawing support (the project is a necessity so maybe
a restart is what is needed). To me the best option would be to spend a mere
$200,000 for a design competition (the project spends over a million a month
already). Some architectural firms to invite would be Zaha Hadid, MVRDV
Foreign Office Architects
and Norman Foster. Without a great design to bring together all of the various
(now conflicted) interests the project will be certain to meet with overwhelming
opposition from Portland. Perhaps the city or a coalition of concerned Portlanders
can develop the design competition and offer the (for now) now doomed project
a way out.
Finally a group of local designers have taken up the charge with an exhibition
and series of discussions at PNCA
, but still I believe the only way forward is a serious design competition.
Official or unofficial, if a competition creates consensus among Portlanders it
will give this project new life... otherwise it is best to wait till the Federal
and State governments pull their head's out of the silt.
for further reading, Portland
Artchitecture posted this last night