Aerial Tram on its first day of public operation (photo Jeff Jahn)
Brian Libby has an important look back at the Aerial Tram
which is now 5 years old. Here is my original review of this watershed architectural moment for Portland
How does it hold up today? It still feels contemporary and very very European (OMA, MVRDV-esque). Still, it remains a controversial benchmark... some architects call it a glorified parking garage. So what? Of course it is! (BTW, interesting parking garages are the rage now) The point is it remains an elegant solution to OHSU's campus expansion problems on Pill Hill keeping Portland's largest employer in the city core.
It is also an extroverted piece of architecture... nothing preceding it (till the Graves designed Portland Building in the 80's) or after has preformed its job with such unrepentantly outward civic grace. Also, despite being ridiculously low balled in its initial price tag (a civic reality check for sure) the completed project kept the jobs here in an area that continues to expand. Unlike the Space Needle it isn't just a symbolic ride, it is a bridge and by following through it remains the most significant piece of ideologically inspired architecture put up north of Los Angeles in the last decade. Sure, there are more expensive/showy projects... but none of them was about knitting the civic fabric and ideals together like this was.
It further points to the fact that Portland has taken some steps towards being a leader amongst US cities. Last year the Bud Clark Commons
was another moment where Portland walks its talk as was the previous year's Charles Rose buildings for OCAC
. Now with Brad Cloepfil at PNCA's 511, a new transit/pedestrian bridge
and Kengo Kuma at the Japanese Garden
... as well as early preparations for the Portland Art Museum's next move there has a slow but steady renaissance at work here. Still let's not be complacent, the emphasis for cheap for cheaps's sake for major area projects like the Columbia River Crossing
or the Oregonian's lack of a true design critic has been nothing short of embarrassing in the face of Portland proper's recent steps forward. The Tram showed that a quality and nuanced approach pays larger rewards than simple expediency. That is its legacy and it helped solidify Portland as the Capital of Conscience in the United States, Portland isn't just quirky it has a moral imperative that is inherently civic.
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