Tag Archives: mid-century modern

Abstract: Best Practices for Providing Effective Daylight in Mid-Century Modern Structures

When we think of energy conservation standards for our built environment an increasing amount of existing buildings do not comply with today’s standards. A large portion of these existing buildings are from the mid-century modern era. Additionally, mid-century modern buildings are approaching historic status, if not already there. This status compounds finding the best way to integrate current energy standards because aesthetic impacts to a historic resource must be kept to a minimum. At PMA we believe that while challenging, it is possible to maintain the integrity of historic mid-century modern buildings while meeting new energy conservation requirements. In an effort to explore this possibility, we have submitted an abstract for an upcoming Energy Conservation in Mid-Century Modern Buildings Symposium presented jointly by APT Northwest and DOCOMOMO_Oregon.
Abstract: Best Practices for Providing Effective Daylight in Mid-Century Modern Structures
Effective daylighting can reduce both lighting and cooling loads while improving user comfort, satisfaction, and health. Despite plentiful glass, using daylight in mid-century modern building can be challenging. Glare and uneven light distribution can cause user discomfort and pose challenges to effectively daylighting spaces. Frequently, artificial lighting is used to balance lighting in spaces over lit by the sun, negating any potential energy savings. For existing buildings, the available methods to provide effective daylighting are limited by the existing constructions and configuration. To both preserve existing structures and provide ample daylight a critical question must be answered – what are the best practices for improving daylight in existing buildings? This study provides insight to daylighting existing structures, specifically, how light can be controlled and distributed in mid-century modern buildings with plentiful glazing.

Emerging tools and technologies provide effective methods of analyzing hundreds of different daylighting simulations. Applications such as Grasshopper and Dynamo allow users to explore a variety of different design interventions and determine optimal solutions. This study explores and analyzes how common daylighting strategies can be implemented on existing mid-century modern structures. The study focuses on a 1963 residential tower in Portland, Oregon, and explores how interior reflectivity, interior/exterior light shelves, shading, and glazing can impact daylight availability and distribution. The study looks at a variety of ways each strategy can be implemented and analyzes the results to determine best practices based on daylight distribution/availability, glare, lighting loads, and heating/cooling loads.

Speaker Bio
Halla Hoffer, AIA
Associate / Peter Meijer Architect, PC

Halla is passionate about rehabilitating historic and existing architecture by integrating the latest energy technologies to maintain the structures inherent sustainability. Halla joined PMA in 2012 and was promoted to Associate in 2016. She is a specialist in energy and environmental management, as well as building science performance for civic, educational, and residential resources. Halla meets the Secretary of the Interior’s Historic Preservation Professional Qualification Standards (36 CFR Part 61).

Indigenous Mid-Century Religious Architecture of Oregon

During the 1960s Oregon architects, led by the Portland Archdiocese, created significant examples of unique mid‐century churches and religious structures in collaboration with local craftsman, artists, and influenced by European examples, resulting in a unique indigenous religious Modern Oregon style.

Indigenous Mid-Century Religious Architecture of Oregon

Oregon has several examples of unique mid-century churches and religious structures. Oregon is also rich in mid-century religious architecture that are unique examples of the community and/or church leadership’s interest in combining modern architecture with modern art.
During the late 1930’s Oregon architects were seeking ways to meet both the liturgical programs of their clients yet express the architecture using materials evocative of the Northwest.

Watzek-houseGreatly influenced by the 1936 publication of John Yeon’s Watzek House, Oregon architects began to experiment with wood skins and “Mt. Hood” entry facades reminiscent of Yeon’s design. The idea that wood was symbolic of Northwest character continued through the 1950s and 1960s mid-century modern aesthetics. Local architects like Francis Jacobberger, McCoy & Bradbury, Pietro Belluschi, and others crafter their designs from outside to inside using local species of wood while simultaneously using wood to express the structural elements.

During the 1950s and 1960s, architectural journals devoted pages and images to the increasingly innovative use of concrete as both a structural element and aesthetic material. Local Oregon firms too experimented with concrete. John Maloney’s 1950 design for St. Ignatius is executed entirely of formed concrete. The exterior, interior, and the bell tower are unabashedly presented as an aesthetic material worthy of religious structure. Maloney deliberately painted the interior white to match the exterior and emphasize the versatility and economy of concrete, the new material of choice.

Queen of Peace
One of the most unique indigenous examples of Oregon religious architecture is the Queen of Peace in north Portland. Queen of Peace combines both the engineering daring of concrete with the creative influences from local artists. Queen of Peace is created with clay, river stone, and stunning minimalist concrete structure.

120715 N Portland Church 001

Queen of Peace was influenced by Friar John Domin who served the Portland Archdiocese as a priest for 57 years, as a pastor of several parishes, a high school art teacher, and volunteer at the Art Institute of Portland. As Chairman of the Sacred Art Commission of the Archdiocese of Portland, he actively engaged in the design process of churches and chapels. He worked with architects and hired ingenious liturgical artists who worked in a variety of media to enhance churches with stunning sacred art. ” (Sanctuary for Sacred Arts website)

bronze-entry-doors-queen-of-peaceWell known Oregon artists, including Ray Grimm, a ceramists, created the dominating Tree of Life mosaic on the west façade. LeRoy Setziol, the “Father of Wood Carving in Oregon,” created the wood Stations of the Cross and baptismal font. Surprisingly Setziol was commissioned to execute the stained glass windows as well. And Lee Kelly, one of Portland’s best known metal sculptors, enriched the church with delicate displays of metal work both on the interior and exterior. Queen of Peace is a marvelous collaboration of architecture, art, and technical daring creating a wonderful display of Oregon indigenous mid-century religious architecture.

Written by Peter Meijer AIA, NCARB, Principal. This post is an excerpt from Peter’s presentation at this year’s DoCoMoMo_US National Symposium: Modernism on the Prairie. Peter is the President and Founder of DoCoMoMo_US Oregon Chapter. For more information, please visit: DoCoMoMo-US

Post Modern and Mid-Century Modern in PDX

New PDX development vs. post-modern Portland Building

New PDX development vs. post-modern Portland Building

Portland is home to the post-modern icon of architecture: Michael Grave’s Portland Public Service Building (aka The Portland Building). We have internationally known examples of Mid-Century modernism like Pietro Belluschi’s Equitable Building and Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The city is also home to vernacular Brutalist buildings. Many of these mid-century modern, and especially post-modern and brutalist, works of architecture are ridiculed by the press, Portland architects, and City leadership.

But recently local architectural firms have designed new buildings in direct comparison to some of the most criticized structures. Portland’s Design Commission and Bureau of Development and Sustainability have approved local mix-use developments that directly reference mid-century Brutalism and the Portland Building, small windows and all.

Perhaps these new forms of “ugly” developments are establishing the fact that Post Modernism, Brutalism, and despised Modernism are no longer obsolete, tacky, and disdained. The buildings of an older generation have been replaced by younger icons of questionable architectural value. And what is more, the Design Commission and BDS have destined the citizens of Portland to ogle in disbelief as the new ugly sit side-by-side.

New PDX development vs. brutalist Habitat 67

New PDX development vs. brutalist Habitat 67

Written by Peter Meijer AIA,NCARB Principal

Sustainable Housing: High Desert Design

Eco-Huts for Warm Springs Tribes

Warm-Springs-ProForma-pmapdx-designProjects that integrate building science, stewardship planning, and place design are simultaneously exciting and challenging. Any one of the three core concepts can drive the decision making process resulting in a number of solutions. Our current concepts for minimalist eco structures, or “Huts” in the beautiful High Desert of Eastern Oregon are a fantastic challenge.

PMA was provided an opportunity to create temporary Eco-Huts for both the avid fly fishing community and also the vacationer seeking solitude and natural beauty. The site is nestled on the right bank along a gentle curve of the Deschutes River adjacent to the Warm Spring Tribe Reservation. The site topography has a shallow slope towards the river with basalt escarpments forming the river valley. Landscape species include juniper, white pines, native grass, lavender, and wild flowers.

Warm-Springs-ProForma-pmapdx-designWorking with the The Confederate Tribes of Warm Springs, PMA created a prototype model, easily constructed and assembled off site (test fit), then transported to the site and efficiently erected. The prototype was designed to be economical and constructed from lumber from the local lumber mill that produces products from high desert pines. A contemporary design style was chosen to harmonize with existing mid-century Belluschi homes on the property. Both the Belluschi homes and the Eco-Huts stand in contrast with the landscape and topography.


Perspective-pmapdx-designConceived to have minimal footprints on the land, the Huts rest on piers elevating the floor above the land and accommodating the undulating landscape. A modular dimension was chosen permitting variation in the Eco-Hut sizes. The floor, walls, and roof planes are built off-site and tilted in place. Exterior stained wood material varying from plywood to sawn boards were chosen to harmonize with the High Desert landscape and be of minimal maintenance to the Tribes. Plywood panels are dressed with battens and either in-set from the wood framing or installed flush to the exterior. Sawn mill boards are stained dark desert grey and applied horizontally to create solid side walls atop of which are placed ribbon windows. The primary entry and view wall is a wood frame window and door façade. A deep roof overhang protects the interior from solar gain. Interiors are exposed panel faces or stained mill boards. Partial height walls denote areas of more privacy. The process of assembling the Eco-Huts on-site and disassembling them in the future determined the material pallet of dimensional lumber and pre-assembled wood window walls. The prototype incorporates modular concepts enabling variation in floor plan and amenities in direct response to the Owner’s request for market flexibility.

Section-pmapdx-designInherent in our design approach for the Eco-Huts is the creation of design solutions that emphasize the uniqueness of Place. The concept includes Land Restoration and Land Stewardship. PMA’s goals when designing the prototypes was to help enhance the natural beauty of the river edge by integrating a built structure into the landscape that has minimal disturbance to the site and will leave no footprint when removed. Willows, sedges, and juniper will be planted to provide riparian cover along the Deschutes River in an effort to increase fish habitat and mitigate flooding. The plantings will also help mitigate visual impact from the river. The lumber mill site’s river edge offers an opportunity to create an employee park and river restoration replacing equipment storage and log staging. The Eco-Huts offer an opportunity to test the integration of stewardship planning and place design.

Written by Peter Meijer AIA,NCARB, Principal

Graphic Design and Architecture

Graphic design is a communication tool that plays an important role in architectural design. At its most fundamental level, graphic design visually communicates information with typography, color, and form. It also, and perhaps more importantly, influences our interaction with and the identity of place and space. From way-finding signage, supergraphics, branding, material and texture, to motion-graphics, graphic design helps integrate word and content with architecture.

Graphic design is used to visually communicate and reinforce the sense of identity for architectural projects – including both new design, renovation, and planning projects. From logo design, visitor orientation and infographics, graphic design is an integral part to the sense of place. It affects the overall experience with the visitor, public, or inhabitant. It is also dependent on the architectural design. Think of the range of materials and its finishes used through-out a building. Graphic design must be intentional, otherwise chaos results in color, type, and form within the design struggling against the architectural design, materials and texture.

PMA has had the pleasure of incorporating graphic design into projects. The most notable projects have included graphic design for way-finding signage and project branding. For Oregon State University (OSU) PMA created a campus-wide Historic Preservation Plan which included a Historic District, and the design of historic district signage, interpretive panels, and a campus walking tour brochure. We use way-finding signage daily to quickly distinguish different spatial areas, direction, and to distinguish landmarks. The way-finding signage produced for OSU was created to distinguish the campuses Historic District from other campus areas, which included a walking tour of its historically significant campus buildings. Color was utilized as the mnemonic devise to distinguish the Historic District, while also seamlessly integrating with existing OSU colors.

MCM-Logos-Example--pmapdx-graphic-designPMA has been involved with several architectural planning projects that center on significant structures from the Mid-Century Modern era. These projects surveyed and documented hundreds of architecturally significant structures that revolutionized architecture and design throughout the 20th century. On the surface such planning projects can be difficult for a wide audience to understand and appreciate because the final project is not a new or renovated building(s). What better opportunity then, for graphic design to communicate and connect the significance of the project and its structures. For these projects, project logos and marketing collateral were designed as the visual symbols that communicate the entire identity of the projects. While both projects surveyed Mid-Century structures one focused on residential structures while the other did not. Both logos use form with text and color to help shape the sense of which type of mid-century modern structures were surveyed.

John-Yeon-Example-pmapdx-graphic-design Following our planning projects centered on Mid-Century Modern architecture, PMA provided graphic design services for the renovation of the John Yeon designed Rose Festival Headquarters building (former Visitors Information Center). For this project, typography and color were the focal points for communicating the next chapter in this buildings life-cycle. The new graphics, color, and signage produced pay homage to the original design, while being entirely their own.

Graphic design is an essential component to architectural design. It is a visual communication tool that utilizes typography, color, and form as a way to influence our interaction with and provide a sense of identity of place and space. Graphic design can solve important issues such as spatial orientation within a space, or by using graphic tools to communicate story-telling and identity. For a more in-depth look at our projects incorporating graphic design, please visit our OSU and STL Modern project pages.

Written by Kate Kearney, Marketing Coordinator

Towards a Death of Architecture

Buildings are physical representations of the social, economic, political, technological, and cultural climates of their eras of origin. Ultimately buildings represent our cultural heritage and our architectural history. However, mid-century modern era buildings are increasingly interpreted as antiquated architecture that is functionally obsolete and lacking use in today’s society. Our recent-past modern buildings are being labeled as “failed” or “useless” architecture. As a result, mid-century modern architecture is rapidly being demolished and replaced with newer sustainable structures believed to better represent our most current social and cultural ideals. Current architecture is believed to be far more aesthetically pleasing than their modern predecessors.

Berkeley Art Museum interior

Berkeley Art Museum interior

But in the context of society, including heritage, what constitutes “useful” architecture verses useless building? There must be a relationship of parts to complete the building, but structure and function alone do not equate to architecture.Perhaps “useful” should be a term connected to architecture exhibiting enduring design excellence? Paradoxically, design excellence is tangled with style, and history demonstrates that style preference is ephemeral, subjective, and fluxuates at a high velocity. Yet the loss of style preference, or the falling out of design aesthetics favor, is one of the biggest rationale for the demolition of modern era buildings. Presently, Brutalism is at the crux of the demolition/ preservation debate.

Prentice Hospital

Prentice Hospital

Framed in the context of history, it can only follow that Brutalist buildings were going to be executed as formal monumental concrete structures that directly juxtapose (even challenge) their environments. But more often than not, the perspective of historic context is outnumbered by present aesthetic preference. For example, Prentice Women’s Hospital (Bertrand Goldberg) in Chicago, the Berkeley Art Museum (Mario Ciampi) in California, and several of Paul Rudolph’s brute beauties were technological and architectural triumphs of their time. However, the Brutalist buildings like other modern era buildings that rate low on the aesthetic-scale have been equally disregarded in their maintenance. The argument for demolition based on deficiencies caused by a lack of maintenance becomes all too convenient. The wide-spread demise of brutalist civic and urban buildings is a demise of the ideologies
behind the intent of the architecture and those housed within.

Aesthetics cannot be the pretext for significance or the preservation of architecture. Letting aesthetics judge value will strip our architectural history of some of the most influential and innovated examples of modern era architecture. In effect, we are killing, and ultimately denying claim to, a portion of our architectural history. There is value in the perspective of context and value in re-using and re-imagining modern era architecture. If aesthetic preference continues to get in the way, what use is there for the architect or an architectural legacy?
Paul Rudolph drawing, Yale Art & Architecture Building

Paul Rudolph drawing, Yale Art & Architecture Building

Written by Kate Kearney, Marketing Coordinator

When A Master Work Fails: Three Case Studies

Some of the greatest restoration challenges arise when historically significant works weather, degrade, are neglected, or simply have suffered through inappropriate renovations. Restoration strategies are compounded when original historic materials, either natural materials like wood or stone, or production processes are no longer available. And when the failure is due to improper design or inadequate construction methods, corrective restoration methods may alter or compromise the original design intent. The following three case studies illustrate restoration philosophies based on balancing preservation, resolving the underlying building deficiencies, and introducing “thoughtful change” in protecting significant local structures for future generations.
John Yeon 2012 004
Case Study 1
John Yeon’s 1948 Portland Visitors Centerwas designed as an exhibition showroom with large open spaces, a pinwheel plan, on a highway dividing median, accessible by car, and constructed of standardized wood framing components including recently developed experimental plywood. When the highway was replaced with a riverfront park and the Visitor Center programming was relocated, the singular purpose building became obsolete resulting in a number of incompatible conversions including substantial alteration of the main gallery space to an industrial kitchen. Contributing to the slow demise was the degradation of the exterior wood components and failure of the plywood as a result of the northwest climate and inadequate weather protection. By the time the Friends of John Yeon and the City of Portland Water Bureau invested resources into the restoration, the Visitor Center had lost or compromised 80% of its historic interior finishes and the exterior façade had been heavily altered. However, the original floor plan, massing, scale, exterior spaces, and essence of Yeon’s modular design and sense of place remained.
WS Scheme 3 Entrance 101209Space programming respected the historic floor plan and scale of the original structure and recreated Yeon’s original design intent of integrating indoor space with outdoor space. Extraneous equipment and unsympathetic additions were removed from both the interior and exterior. Interior design elements, furniture, and fixtures maintain the open gallery spacial quality while integrating new furniture and fixtures meeting the needs of the tenant. Major preservation focused on the exterior restoring original paint colors through serration studies, restoring building signage in original type style and design, preserving original wood windows, when present, and restoring the intimate courtyard with a restored operating water feature.

Case Study 2
120907 Lovejoy Pavillion 002Moore, Lyndon, Turnbull & Whitaker’s 1965 Pavilion at Lawrence Halprin’s Lovejoy Fountain is a whimsical all wood structure with a copper shingle roof. Although a small structure, the pavilion represents a major mid-transitional work for Charles Moore as his design style moved from mid-century modern to Post-modern design. In keeping with the naturalistic design aesthetic established by Halprin, northwest wood species comprise the major structural system including the roof trusses, vertical post supports, and vertical cribs built from 2 x 4 members laid on their side and stacked.

Vertical loads are transferred from the trusses to the wood posts and spread to the wood cribs. Under the point loading, the cribs have compressed resulting in a sag or lean in the roof structure. Since the 2 x 4 wood members have crushed, they cannot be restored or salvaged as part of the restoration effort so new members were designed to replace the historic material.

120907 Lovejoy Pavillion 009The restoration approach is intended to correct the structural deficiencies and replace the failed members with no changes to the historic appearance of the structure. The crib design allows for insertion of new steel elements, invisible from the exterior, capable of providing additional support for vertical loads. The difficulty arises because standard wood products available today have different visible and strength attributes from standard components available in 1965. Sourcing appropriate lumber is dependent upon clear and quantifiable specification, high quality inspection, and visual qualities. There are no structural standards for reclaimed or recycled lumber compounding the incorporation of “old growth” lumber as part of a new structural system. When original source material is no longer available, best practices for narrowing the selection of new materials will of necessity be combined with subjective visual qualities and a best-guess scenario as to how the new material will age in place similarly to the historic material. There are no single solutions so experience is key.

PMAPDX-survey-city-of-portlandCase Study 3
Whether or not Michael Graves’ Portland Building is considered a master work is greatly debated. Never the less, the building was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places after only 30 years and is recognizable around the world as THE building representing the start of Post Modernism. There is no debate to the fact that the building leaks. However, the method of building envelope repair could dramatically or minimally impact the exterior character defining features.

The façade of the Portland Building incorporates standardized aluminum single unit windows, aluminum windows ganged together to form a curtain wall, ceramic tile, and stucco veneer as the prominent construction materials. All of these systems or individual components are neither produced nor assembled currently in similar manners due to improvements in technology and building envelope science.

Proposals to improve envelop performance of both the individual window units and window systems are challenged in finding products that will both improve performance and retain the aesthetics of a Post Modern building. (i.e. retain the essence of criticism towards Post Modernism by preserving the appearance of insubstantial material installed as a thin veneer). Windows have always been a source of controversy in preservation and now the definition of windows has expanded to include curtain wall systems as the importance of preserving Recent Past and Modernism has entered into the mainstream.

When a structure, like the Portland Building, relies heavily on the expression of its skin as the character defining feature, off the shelf solutions for fixing envelop deficiencies must be expanded to include customization, façade impact studies, robust strategies for solving the issue, and out-of-the-box thinking by conservators, architects, historic consultants, and building envelope experts. A collaborative approach based on the original architect’s design intent must drive the decision making. It is an unusual approach, but original design intent will be a key factor when resolving façade problems on Modern and Post Modern structures.

Written by Peter Meijer AIA,NCARB, Principal

Preserving the Modern in St. Louis

St. Louis, MO is home to several architectural gems from the mid-century modern era. The city recently conducted a property survey of over 2,000 non-residential buildings constructed between 1945 and 1970. The Cultural Resource Office of St. Louis is highlighting a selective survey & inventory of 200 significant properties with input from PMA and the public to help develope a master list of 25 of the most significant mid-century modern masterpieces. Surveying these architecturally significant structures gives a voice to a past era that still directly influences today. St. Louis’s built heritage from the mid-century modern era showcases structures from internationally recognized architects that revolutionized architecture and design throughout the 20th century.

A Legacy of Modern Architectural Design
The post-World War II era in the United States led to the development of the Modern Movement Architecture across urban areas. Contributing factors of this development included the impact of the auto industry on the built environment, a more cost-conscious public and government, and several technological advances. In addition to these factors, St. Louis was home to the prestigious school of architecture at Washington University. The school had diverse and international students and teachers that contributed to some of the most prolific designs of modern architecture.

When discussing St. Louis mid-century modern architectural design three architects stand out: W.A. Sarmiento, Gyo Obata, and Minoru Yamasaki. Their designs were sleek, yet whimsical, and made St. Louis globally recognized for its modern architectural designs.

W.A. Sarmiento design

W.A. Sarmiento design

W.A. Sarmiento is an internationally regarded architect who designed some of the most prolific buildings in the city of St. Louis. A native of Peru, Sarmiento began as a draftsman for Oscar Niemeyer. In 1952 he accepted a position with the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation. From 1952 through 1964, Sarmiento revolutionized the design and function of banking facilities. Ten years after working for the Bank Building & Equipment Corporation, Sarmiento left after J.B. Gander’s death and formed his own company. W.A. Sarmiento Architects expanded to included offices in St. Louis, Phoenix, and San Francisco. Sarmiento closed his practice in 1978 and left behind a legacy of modern architectural design including the saved American Automobile Association (AAA) Building (1976), the Chancery of the Archdiocese of St. Louis (1962), and the Jefferson Bank and Trust Building (1955).

St. Louis Science Center James S. McDonnell Planetarium (1963

St. Louis Science Center James S. McDonnell Planetarium (1963

The St. Louis Science Center James S. McDonnell Planetarium (1963), was designed by the local firm of Hellmuth, Obata, & Kassabaum (HOK), with Obata as lead designer. HOK was founded in 1955, and to this day is a global leader in architectural design. The practice began by designing schools in suburbs of St. Louis, and by the 1960s it a grown and began to open offices nationally, with their first international branch opening in 1984. Obata was the lead designer of the Saint Louis Science Center along with other notable St. Louis buildings. The building has a visually striking and expressive shape, somewhat reminiscent of a nuclear power plant tower. It is a thin concrete shell structure, hyperboloid in section. This architectural design is a premiere example of continuous contemporary design.
Lambert International Airport

Lambert International Airport

Minoru Yamasaki’s domed design for Lambert’s main terminal became the forerunner of modern terminal building plans. In 1951, the firm of Hellmuth, Yamasaki, and Leinweber was commissioned to design and update the Lambert- St. Louis Municipal Airport. In 1956, their design was the first building in St. Louis to receive a National AIA Honor award. This building was originally composed of three vaults, with a forth added in 1965. Yamasaki’s design became a model for a new generation of airport terminals. Eero Saarinen’s designs for the TWA terminal at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, and the Dulles Washington Airport terminal both echo the repetitive concrete vaults of Lambert St. Louis Municipal Airport.

STL MODERN logo PMAPDXFor more information about this exciting project, including a list of buildings for intensive research, mid-century modern properties, city map with property locations, and property descriptions. Visit: Mid-Century Modern Survey

Written by Kate Kearney, Marketing Coordinator

Conservation: A Case Study between Art and Architecture

The Oregon State Capitol
The Oregon State Capitol is a landmark of Modernistic design based on Classical Architecture, and was designed by the New York architectural firm of Trowbridge and Livingston in association with Francis Keally. Completed at the height of the Depression in 1938, the Capitol received funding assistance from the Federal Emergency Administration of Public Works (P.W.A.). Constructed of reinforced concrete, the building is distinguished by angular, unadorned exterior elevations and a massive, ribbed lantern – all sheathed in brilliant white Vermont marble. Artists of national reputation, Ulric Ellerhusen, Leo Friedlander, Barry Faulkner, and Franck Schwarz, collaborated in the winning design and were employed at the recommendation of the architects to produce sculptural relief and paintings of a taut and finely wrought decorative program. Erected in the Modernistic style, the Capitol was sensitively enlarged in 1977 by the Portland firm of Wolff Zimmer Gunsul Frasca in association with Pietro Belluschi.
OR State Capitol Building
On Labor Day 2008, a construction fire damaged the exterior Vermont marble, interior Oregon walnut wood panels and a painting by Barry Faulkner adorning the Governor’s Ceremonial Suite. A team of preservation architects and art conservators collaborated to guide the faithful restoration of this important Oregon icon. All restoration work was based on historic research and field analysis of existing materials, but conservation principles were applied differently to the restoration of interior finishes compared to The State of Oregon artwork by Barry Faulkner.
OR State Capitol Fire Destruction Interior
Fire destroyed all the wood panels on the south wall and caused extensive smoke and heat damage on the east and west walls. The north wall suffered minor smoke damage with little to no impact from heat. Oregon Walnut, a species of wood no longer readily available or milled, was incorporated into 30” x 30” veneer panels separated by 1” wide solid walnut splines. Each panel was book matched resulting in pairs of cathedrals providing strong visual character. It was determined through both field and laboratory testing that the original finish system was a shellac formula readily used during the late 1930s. Conservation strategies had to consider: proper dismantling techniques of the remaining panels; reproduction of original finishes using volatile compounds or the replacement with new finishes; repair options for the various degrees of damage to the wood panels, incorporation of new replacement panels, and anticipate potential similar catastrophic events in the future.
Restored OR State Capitol interior
The remaining panels were measured, documented and classified by the extent of damage. Drawings were produced that recorded each panels’ location relative to the adjacent panel and position on the wall and compass orientation. It was determined that each panel and spline were individually blind nailed to a wood lath support grid which was in turn directly fastened to a back-up clay tile wall. Remaining panel construction from the south wall provided evidence of the construction techniques. As a result, it was determined to the remove the panels in an assembly as large as practical for transportation to a controlled restoration shop environment. At the shop, a more thorough, up-close evaluation of the damage was surveyed. During review of the restoration options, discussion ensued over the incorporation of pre-existing conditions, post fire damage, to include evidence of repair, or should all the panels have a uniform appearance.

After considering the impossibility of achieving uniformity with new panels and cleaned and repaired panels, it was decided to remove all finishes, including the protective shellac, by sanding to bare wood. Following the removal process, each panel was stained to match a patina color visible on a panel protected from damage. The final clear coat was a catalyzed finish formulated to provide long-term protection.
Damaged OR State Capitol Art
To further embellish the Governor’s Suite, a map of the State of Oregon was painted by Barry Faulkner, signed and dated in 1938. The work was framed within the wood paneling over the marble mantel on the ¬East end of the Governor’s Suite. Faulkner painted the work in oil on canvas that was subsequently marouflaged to a section of the wall. This section of the wall was clearly part of the original design of the room and was reserved and prepared especially for the painting. As was customary in New Deal era murals, Faulkner’s work was painted on canvas off site and then adhered to the wall when the construction process was advanced or complete. Also quite typical of New Deal murals was the use of a lead paste adhesive for the marouflage, which was suggested in the later W.P.A project guidelines to the artists. The presence of the lead paste adhesive proved to be decisive in the formulation of a method for the deinstallation of the piece. The tenacity of the adhesion of the canvas back to the plaster via the lead paste is such that separation of the canvas from the plaster was impossible, and so the entire section of wall needed to be removed intact for the conservation treatment. The section of wood framing was carefully removed from the clay tile wall substrate by severing the nails that fastened the wood to the tile, and cutting the vertical studs above and below the work. Special precautions were made to protect the fragile paint surface during transport of the work to the conservation lab.
Damaged OR State Capitol art detail
The fire’s effects caused extreme heat damage to the painting primarily in the upper and right areas of the composition, with numerous areas of blistered paint, and many sections of blistered delamination of the canvas from the substrate plaster. The combustible by-products of the fire combined with embedded soot and smoke created a deposited layer of darkened material that obscured the image. The solubility testing results were consistent with the combustible origin of the fire, and a solution of organic solvents was used to remove the deposited surface material, revealing the original chromatic palette of the work. It also became evident that the painting had been cleaned in a previous treatment. The fragile areas of heat-blistered paint were consolidated and smoothed. The areas of blistered delamination were brought back into plane with localized use of humidity and mild head and then, once smoothed into place, were adhered to the substrate plaster. The large blister in the upper right corner of the painting protruded 1 ½” from the plaster surface. Areas of loss were filled, textured and retouched to match the original surface and color. A protective layer of varnish was applied to the painting.

The exposed finish plaster surrounding the painting was also cleaned with dry sponges, consolidated and filled. Some original pencil drawings by the artist were found on the plaster that had been hidden under the paneled frame.
restored OR State Capitol art detial
The most extreme heat damaged areas were irreversibly altered in both their color and texture, and the full extent of the color shift was not revealed until after the cleaning process. In these darkened areas, Gamblin conservation colors were applied over the varnish layer to retouch the creamy yellow ground color only, leaving the darkened red color of the letters in THE STATE OF OREGON untouched. This manner of retouching allowed the painting to acquire a more finished appearance in line with the decisions made regarding the restoration of the wood paneling, while conserving also the memory of the history of the piece.

Written by Peter Meijer AIA, NCARB, Principal. A special thanks to Nina Olsson, Nina Olsson Art Conservation, LLC, who helped write this post in conjunction with Peter Meijer. Nina Olsson Art Conservation , LLC is a private practice for the conservation of paintings and polychrome sculpture based in Portland, Oregon.

Surveying Modern Resources in Portland’s Central City

“Modern” is not traditionally part of a historic preservationist’s vocabulary, but as time rolls on, modern resources have become notable for their architectural significance, construction technologies, and association with significant social patterns that define national, state, and local history.

During Summer 2011, Peter Meijer Architect, PC (PMA) performed a reconnaissance level survey of modern historic resources in Portland’s Central City. The work was completed for the City of Portland Bureau of Planning and Sustainability to dovetail with the Bureau’s Central City 2035 Plan. For this survey the modern period is defined as 1945-1985, beginning with Post-World War II development and ending when all Modern era properties will be at least fifty-years in age when the Central City plan is fully realized in 2035.

PMAPDX Survey of PDX Many of Portland’s iconic landmark buildings are modern era resources, such as the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Lloyd Center Mall, U.S. Bancorp tower, and the Portland Building. The survey intentionally excludes these well-known properties in order to highlight broader architectural patterns and identify some of the less prominent buildings that may be considered historically significant in the future.

PMAPDX PDX survey modern resourceOf approximately 976 modern period resources within the Central City’s seven geographic clusters, PMA selected 152 properties for reconnaissance level survey. Representation of geographic clusters, resource typologies, and
potential eligibility were considered when selecting properties to survey. In a selective survey, most properties should be considered potentially eligible for historic designation. Online maps, tax assessor information, and Google Earth were used to inform the selection process. Fieldwork involved taking photographs of each property, recording the resource type, cladding materials, style, height, plan type, and auxiliary resources, and then making a preliminary determination of National Register eligibility based on age, integrity, and historic character-defining features. A final report outlines the project and findings, and survey data was added to the Oregon Historic Sites database.

PMAPDX modern survey historic photo

Historic photo of East Burnside & Sandy Drive-In

Mod-toids: Some interesting modern survey findings:
• Glass and metal curtain wall, roman brick, and various treatments of concrete (block, poured, panels are the most common exterior materials found on Modern Period buildings.
• No single-family residential units were constructed in the Central City during the modern period.
• Small industrial buildings, including warehouses and service bay resources, are found in every cluster of the Central City. These building types have highly adaptable plan types and their size, character, and location make them ripe opportunities for redevelopment as industrial needs change.
• Modern period transportation developments, such as freeways and bridges, have greatly impacted the Central City urban landscape. Many of the Central City clusters are geographically defined by transportation developments. Larger modern resource types tend to be more concentrated near freeways and freeway entrances.

Written by PMA preservation staff.