Portland Building (photo Jeff Jahn)
The Oregonian is reporting
that the infamous and historically very important Portland Building is to be renovated instead of torn down. Now 100 million dollars might seem like a high price but it achieves two important objectives. First and most obviously, it improves a building whose interior is mostly terrible to work in... thereby correcting mistakes that were mostly the City of Portland's own fault, not the architect's as Brian Libby has detailed
. Second, it is the most famous important bit of architecture in the Pacific Northwest, the first major Postmodern building. You might not like it but as a an arts and design city Portland simply cannot condone destroying what constitutes an important moment in world history. We cannot as Randy Gragg last year suggested
simply let photos suffice... that would continuing to act as if nothing ever happened here or take real ownership of the legacy (positive and negative) we've inherited. If we can't take care of the first Postmodern building can we ever become good patrons of the arts? When Portland commissioned an important project the city of Portland became the custodian of a short, weird moment in the history of design and part of Portland growing up is to take care of its responsibilities. We try to save every nice old building but to not save this would highlight some unsavory xenophobic paradoxes still very alive in Portland. The City Council has shown leadership here. What's more with a renovation Portland can walk the talk... on a civic level we appreciate the idiosyncratic, we can be stewards of new ideas and we can double down after learning from admitted mistakes as a patron of the arts. Not renovating would be the equivalent of the city of Pisa not trying to save/preserve the leaning tower
I think the exterior and the very weird maze-like second floor gallery should be kept mostly as is (it would be perfect for 80's like music videos and films too) and the rest should have the original architect Michael Graves involved. This is a moment where Portland matures into not merely a quirky place but where we take well considered risks, even on things that more than partially failed once.
It seems to say, help me I'll help you
Hopefully, the very successful RACC funded installation art exhibition series can be continued, even expanded as part of the new plan as well
. By continuing to commission new and challenging works for the city it makes the Portland Building a laboratory that explores why Portland is such a special place. True the Portlandia Sculpture is beloved but if you know anything about presenting art you'd realize that Grave's design schemes are actually what give it a lot of punch through compression and foreshortening of perspective. If one were to put the sculpture on the waterfront the scale would absorbs and make it simply into a figure. AS it is now it is like the Colossus of Rhodes bt channeling the space around it and directing its presence upon the entrance. In its intended context it is a positive/strong gesture... city workers working to keep this a hopeful, humanized place. We owe it to Graves and the city to fix the building. Some light wells and other modern solutions should do the trick and give us a building to be proud of, even if it isn't to your taste. It is an allegory of good government.
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