Tag Archives: modern

Modern Residential Building Styles

city-of-olympia-survey-pmapdxBuildings constructed before 1965 have reached the age of eligibility for being considered historic by the standards of the National Register. That means that much of Modern Architecture, the general period ranging from 1950 through 1970, is historic, or soon will be considered historic as the 50-year mark is crossed. As historians assess and study Modern Architecture, we provide ever more precise descriptions and terms to describe the sub-styles and variations within the large umbrella term, “Modern.” As in taxonomy, which classifies and categorizes living organisms, we can recognize and assign groups of similar resources together for study.

Modern architecture had its roots after World War I as part of an egalitarian movement. The new architecture looked to industrial materials and processes to replace painstaking handwork; a horizontal proportion and deliberate embrace of the ground plane as opposed to a formal, vertical building proportion; and the rejection of ornamentation.

A Mid-Century Residential Survey in the City of Olympia

PMA has been working on a Mid-Century Residential survey in the City of Olympia. The date of construction for resources surveyed is limited to a two-decade span from 1945 to 1965, and the building type is limited to single-family residential. Surprisingly, there are more individual sub-styles found in this survey than were identified in a more broadly focused survey, our 2013 Mid-Century non-residential survey in St Louis, MO. The reason for this is that the tight focus of study allows for classification based on more specific characteristics.
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The St. Louis survey identified resources constructed from 1945 to 1975 as being either Moderne, Brutalist, International Style, New Formalist, Neo-Expressionist, or simply “Modern Movement” if the style could not be placed in any sub-style. A few had mixed characteristics. The wide variety of building types in the survey, including churches, high-rise towers, and industrial buildings, kept style classifications necessarily broad. Local variations of styles were observed and identified, but were not given their own identifying style name. A future regional survey of the same time period could invite more stylistic classification, if there were enough similar resources to compare.

The Olympia Mid-Century Residential survey covers approximately 400 single-family homes. The variations in style identified might be described in an overview as belonging to one of three “families.” Transitional Modern includes Stripped Classical, Minimal Traditional, and World War II-Era Cottage styles. The second group is Ranch style, which covers a broad range of sub-styles and forms, including Split-Level or Split-Entry Ranch; Contemporary Ranch; Storybook Ranch; and Colonial or Early American Ranch. The last group is a Neo-Expressionist collection of styles that were primarily constructed starting about 1965. These styles include A-Frame, Shed, Geodesic Dome, neo-Futurist, Pavilion, and other eclectic explorations and celebrations of building technology and structure. While none of these Neo-Expressionist styles were identified in the Olympia Mid-Century Residential survey, PMA expects at least one of these (Shed style) to be identified in urban Olympia if the time period studied is extended beyond 1965. Also, many of these styles were constructed in more rural areas than the concentrated Mid-Century neighborhoods examined in the survey. It is possible that Neo-Expressionist residences will come to light with further survey and exploration.

Min-Traditional-city-of-olympia-survey-pmapdxThe Olympia survey classified the first grouping of styles as those that are transitional. Transitional Modern styles have some elements of Modern and some elements of more traditional architecture. Windows might be vertically-oriented, double-hung wood windows (traditional) rather than having horizontal proportions (Modern). A roof might be a moderate pitch, with minimal overhangs (traditional), rather than a shallow pitch with outwardly-extending gables (Modern). In Olympia, 37% of the houses surveyed were Modern Minimal Traditional, by far the most prevalent Transitional Modern style.

Ranch-city-of-olympia-survey-pmapdxRanch style architecture is the style that architecture critics have generally spurned, since houses were often constructed by contractors without architect’s involvement. Ranch buildings are broad, one-story, and horizontal in overall proportion. They have an attached garage which faces the street and is part of the overall form of the house, and almost always a large picture window facing the street as well. Cladding is used to accentuate the horizontal lines of the house, so there is often a change in material at the lower part of the front façade- brick veneer was a popular choice. Many of the sub-styles of Ranch architecture are “styled” Ranch houses, meaning that elements from another style of architecture were placed on a Ranch form building. One example is Storybook Ranch, which uses “gingerbread” trim, dormers or a cross-gable, and sometimes diamond-pane windows. Are these decorated sub-styles still part of the canon of Modern Architecture? In many ways, they are more Post-Modern than Modern, but that distinction is worthy of an involved discussion of its own.

Split-level-city-of-olympia-survey-pmapdxThe Olympia Mid-Century Residential survey found over half the resources surveyed to be Ranch or variants of Ranch style. 31% of the surveyed homes were identified as simply Ranch, with another 11% Early Ranch, 9% Contemporary Ranch, 4% Split-Level or Split-Entry, and 4% one of the “Styled” Ranch variations. Sheer numbers alone remind us that the Ranch is deserving of study and shows us how the majority of middle-class Americans lived. As Alan Hess writes in his book Ranch House,

“Most critics overlooked or ignored the prototypical Ranch house architecture, the variety of its manifestations, the social complexity of its neighborhoods, and the tract Ranch’s often innovative mass-construction methods. To most critics living in traditional cities with little contact with the conditions, desires, and apparent satisfactions of middle-class suburban life, the suburbs were a foreign land.”

The more we study these styles of Modern residential architecture, the more they may be appreciated, celebrated, and well-maintained. And if you live in or grew up in a Ranch style house, it is now potentially historic.
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Written by Kristen Minor, Preservation Planner. For additional MCM survey projects, please visit our STL Modern Non-Residential Survey project.

Veterans Memorial Coliseum: Portland’s Architectural Jewel

Historic Aerial of Memorial ColiseumPresently, the City of Portland awarded a contract for Spectator Facilities Construction Project Management Services for a yet unnamed Veterans Memorial Coliseum project. The city is preparing for potential renovation scenarios. The uncertain future of the Coliseum feels like déjà vu.

Portland’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum, designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and built between 1960 and 1961, is a premier jewel of International Style modernism in the city. The structure consists of glass and aluminum, a non-load-bearing curtain wall cube with a central ovular concrete seating area. It is a true engineering and architectural masterpiece that offers uninterrupted panoramic views of Portland from the seating area. The Veterans Memorial Coliseum is also a war memorial, featuring exterior sunken black granite walls inscribed with the names of veterans in gold paint.

At its completion it was the largest multipurpose facility in the Pacific Northwest. And a significant structure within the larger urban planning Rose Quarter Development project. In 2009 the city of Portland proposed to demolish the Coliseum to make way for a new sports facility. The greater community of Portland, including architectural preservationists and historians, successfully applied for National Register of Historic Places status for the building. In 2011 it was placed in the National Register.

Portland’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum is a phenomenal renovation opportunity from both historic and economic perspectives.

Despite being listed in the National Register, built during an era of urban and planning reform that advocated for the latest in building technologies, and designed by one of our countries leading modernist firms, many challenge its architectural value. The Coliseum shows the remarkable and collaborative approach towards design and construction by SOM. It is also the only arena world-wide with a 360-degree panoramic view from the seating area. Consider the inability to experience this modern architectural marvel and war memorial firsthand. Simply put, the demolition of the Veterans Memorial Coliseum would be a loss to the city.

Concerns regarding its deferred maintenance and historic materials are often attached to the illogical demolition conclusion because the building does not meet specific 2014 building codes. It is possible to integrate new building technologies while retaining the building’s exterior and interior character defining features. Unfortunately, significant modernist architecture designed by influential architects in the 1950s-1970s have not been regarded with proper facility maintenance. Deferred maintenance has its price. Regardless of building age, if a structure is not properly maintained it will fall into disrepair. Thankfully, Portland has a robust AEC industry dedicated to solving design challenges.

As a city, Portland boast’s its commitment to living green and investing in sustainable practices throughout the greater community. The renovation of the Veterans Memorial Coliseum is exactly the type of project that would highlight our city’s commitment to sustainability. There is no greener option than renovating and reusing existing architectural resources. This renovation would also economically benefit the city by boosting investment around the Rose Quarter area. Potentially extending and overlapping with the renewed development interest in the Lloyd District. Portland could have two premier sports facilities, doubling the city’s ability to provide world-class sports and entertainment events. It is a renovation project with long term urban renewal benefits.
Veterans Memorial Coliseum is an internationally recognized architectural masterpiece. Its architectural legacy is deeply intertwined within Portland’s socio-economic and cultural heritages. Portland must learn from the recent demolitions of modernist architectural marvels like Prentice Women’s Hospital, several Paul Rudolph buildings, and the forthcoming Astrodome. Threats to our modern architecture is a threat to our architectural heritage. It is time to celebrate the last fifty years of Portland’s international jewel with a thoughtful renovation that looks ahead to the city’s next fifty years of architectural history.

Written by Kate Kearney, Marketing Coordinator

The Evolution of Open Space

Photo by Charles Birnbaum courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Photo by Charles Birnbaum courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Public open spaces, especially urban open spaces, are coming into their own recognition as historic resources. They are receiving more attention because well-designed outdoor landscapes reflect our values as individuals and as a society. Though the way we use these spaces may shift over time, the designs still reveal our collective aspirations for our relationships with nature, the built environment, and with each other.

Two parkscapes in Portland are particularly good at showing us the values and aspirations of their era, and it is worth remembering the design concepts, and remembering how our interaction with the parkscapes has changed over time. These landscapes are the Washington Park Reservoirs, completed in 1894; and the SW Portland sequence of places anchored by Keller** and Lovejoy Fountains, completed in 1966-70.

historic-WPR-pmapdxWashington Park Reservoirs is a historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was developed to store and distribute clean drinking water, but it had another important function which drove its design: it was a recreational destination for a growing urban population. At the end of the 19th Century, the City Beautiful movement across American cities inspired planners and politicians to create parks as refuges from urban life. Parks were seen as restorative, where citizens could breathe fresh air, stroll along paths or promenades, and view natural plants, lakes, and garden vistas. Many of our most famous American parks were developed during the City Beautiful era, including Central Park in New York City.

Washington Park and the Reservoirs were directly served by public transportation (the Portland cable car) and offered panoramic views east over the City towards the Cascade Mountains. The Reservoirs served as reflective focal points in a landscape designed to look completely natural, yet evoke romantic memories of western European aqueducts and fortresses.

By the 1930s, civic open spaces and the development of public parks had become unaffordable for most municipalities, and also had become less valued by Americans who were increasingly moving out of the cities and into suburban developments. Existing parks were generally not well maintained, and crime and vandalism created more abandonment by well-off city dwellers. By Mid-century, though, a new type of open space was being developed in many American cities. Under urban renewal programs, cities razed perceived decrepit, crowded, and crime-ridden neighborhoods and replaced them with open, clear, utopian style developments.

Portland Open Space courtesy TCLF

Portland Open Space courtesy TCLF

One of the largest and most successful Modern-era urban renewal projects in Oregon includes a series of public parks, walkways, fountains, and plazas designed by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, known as the Halprin Open Space Sequence. The project, at the south end of downtown Portland, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013. The Halprin nomination quotes from J. William Thompson, editor of Landscape Architecture magazine, comparing Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. (the progenitor of the City Beautiful movement) to Lawrence Halprin: “For Olmsted, the vision was one of pastoral relief from smoke and crowding; for Halprin, one of celebration of the city’s rambunctious vitality. Both viewed city parks and open spaces as a meeting ground for people of all classes.”

How much has our use of these two open spaces changed over time? We still get out of the house to walk in a park, possibly more than we did 50 years ago or 120 years ago. We have more leisure time, many of us own pets that need exercise, and people stay active longer than they used to. There have been societal changes that work against the popularity of local parks, including the ease of automobile transportation (pulling people further afield), the proliferation of other ways we can spend our leisure time, and the rise in obesity; but in general we use and care for our shared local parks and open spaces. However, there are changes in our relationships with these two specific open spaces that illuminate deeper trends in our society. One of the most complex relationship is the trend towards an increased mistrust of government.

WA Park Reservoirs 130329 011The Washington Park Reservoir area shows the most profound shift in use over time. The need to cover and further protect drinking water in underground storage contains in lieu of open Reservoirs reflects a growing national divide between government and the public made visible by current limited access to a once prominent bucolic public destination. Perhaps a certain level of distrust is to be expected from decisions affecting public safety, but the potential loss of the Reservoirs as a contemplative, experiential destination is in stark contrast to the one of original design intent. Part of the current limited access results from the explosion in liability, where government agencies can and will be found at fault for any harm that might befall a park user or a water consumer. Federal regulations requiring municipal drinking water to be covered also feed our collective sense that there are malicious people among us.

The City of Portland is boldly attempting to both comply with the federal ruling to cover our drinking water reservoirs and restore the original city beautiful interaction with the park. In so doing, the City will eliminate the biggest concern with the liability and safety of our drinking water and the restorative design will re-imagine the Reservoirs, not as a highly urban, interactive series of features like the Halprin Sequence, but as a tranquil, even romantic, natural setting for the public to once again walk through and enjoy a natural beautiful city.

Lovejoy-Pavillion-preservation-pmapdxAmazingly, the Halprin Open Space Sequence continues to survive the “age of liability” with its wonderful interactive fountains, plazas, and pools intact. Nothing this fun- and potentially hazardous- will likely be constructed again as a public project. The design reminds us that we must be responsible for protecting this level of freedom, and that this very public- and yes, democratic- open space, is uniquely valuable as a symbol of public trust.

Written by Kristen Minor, Preservation Planner

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

Historic Preservation and New Construction in Historic Districts

Historic Districts are not frozen in time.
Ideally, Districts are busy, vital places where people live, work, socialize, and see community values reflected. Typically, buildings contribute to a district and share common characteristics becoming more historically valuable as a group than as individual properties. If we create, restore, and invest in Historic Districts, the Districts will continue to tell a story about a particular time period, a particular community, or perhaps a particular industry. So is new construction appropriate within a Historic District, and if so, how does one properly design and integrate the new building within the existing historic context? This posting will explore some factors and opinions on new construction in Historic Districts.
PMAPDX OSU Buildable Landarea
Some individuals argue that appropriate infill must be visually identical to nearby historic resources. Most architects in practice today have a condescending reaction against recreating previous styles as making “faux” or “Disneyland” architecture, even though western architecture for hundreds of years has recycled various stylistic revivals. It is not an absurd concept to design and build beautiful, high-quality buildings that reflect an older style and method of construction. Other individuals have no trouble placing a contemporary structure next to older structures, since modern buildings have a responsibility to reflect our shared culture and lifestyle.

Neither of these absolutes works for most situations. New buildings, as stated in the Secretary of the Interior Standards, do need to be “differentiated” from contributing buildings in a District to avoid a false sense of history. The question is how much differentiation is required? Though there are cases where a “missing tooth” in a very cohesive pattern of buildings should be constructed to resemble its historic neighbors, in other cases the visual diversity of architectural styles and periods within a District allows for more flexibility in differentiating new buildings. Historic Districts are listed on the National Register because they possess a concentration of buildings that are linked either historically, aesthetically, or both. One Historic District might represent a fairly large span of time, various architectural types and styles, and a number of different uses. Another District might be much more specific in its focus.

Opsis Architecture for OSU

Opsis Architecture for OSU

As Preservationists and Architects, we need to analyze the characteristics and contexts that are the same and the characteristics and contexts that are different about the resources within the District. Each case is unique and site-dependent. It is possible to allow for stylistic additions and change without showcasing the change; to temper the inclination to design an individually iconic building; and to limit a modern “intrusion” so as to respect and highlight the older buildings. Good design, high-quality detailing, and high quality materials contribute towards compatibility, and adaptive reuse and change is inevitable to the vitality of a Historic District.

Each jurisdiction having authority makes its own interpretation of what it means to be compatible. One recent example is an approval by the Historic Resources Commission (HRC) in Corvallis, Oregon. The Corvallis HRC approved a design for a freestanding metal and glass canopy in the heart of the national registered Oregon State University Historic District. The HRC concluded that there was no historic precedent for a freestanding non-building element, but found that the canopy was visually light and well-designed and fit into the open space pattern of development without detracting from the neighboring Contributing resources. The role of the historic consultant in this case was to construct an argument as to why the canopy was compatible in the District, and push back against earlier suggestions that the canopy become more “building-like” with masonry columns. An open structure with a veneer of building material would have created a less compatible design.

Opsis Architecture Canopy design for OSU

Opsis Architecture Canopy design for OSU

Each proposal for new construction in a Historic District should be informed by its context. There is latitude for new construction to be distinct, as long as the new work does not detract from the surrounding historic resources.

Written by Kristen Minor, Preservation Planner

Brutalism: The Ugly Face of Preservation.

Brutalist architectureIn recent months there has been much discussion and conflict over the preservation of architecture from the Modern Movement. Structures that once represented the technological and artistic triumphs from the mid-twentieth century are viewed as unruly intrusions to the environment around them, especially Brutalism. Brutalism represents an aesthetic of architectural design and planning that is rational, geometric, stripped of ornamentation, and predominantly composed of corrugated concrete. This style was initiated by Le Corbusier whose architecture was perhaps the “brutal reaction to the machine mass-produced Miesian building types” born in the post-World War II era. (Curcic, Slobodan. “Review of The New Brutalism. Ethic or Aesthetic by Reyner Banham.” Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 3, No. 2 (1969) 171-173.)

While we have come to slowly accept, as significant to our architectural history, the glass curtain wall machine-like jewels from one camp of the Modern Movement, we are quick to deny claim and significance to those rugged, concrete, man-made structures of the Brutalist style. Why? They are aesthetically unattractive. Brutalist structures are testaments to urban ideals for civic and educational facilities of the Modern Movement. They also project attitudes of raw unforgiving dominance, and were built by some of the world’s most forward thinking architects. Yet, Brutalism has been and continues to be met with severe criticism and cold reception. Not only is the criticism directed towards the design and rough aesthetic qualities of the facades, but also for the lack of resilience of corrugated concrete with damp climates. No wonder vocal distain was heard loud and clears at the University of Oregon campus during the late 1970s, implementing the initiation of The Oregon Experiment. (University of Oregon. [Accessed May 2, 2012].)
Paul Rudolph designed Orange County Government Center
Still, today there are cries for the demolition of Brutalist structures, many of which are called architectural eye-sores or more simply, ugly. Two of Paul Rudolph’s designs, The Orange County Government Center of 1958 and Sarasota High School of 1960 have been in the spotlight of the demolition or renovation debate. Acceptance of Brutalism has been rough from the beginning, and history has proved it is not getting easier. However, we must preserve structures from the Modern Movement, even the declared eye-sores, because they are significant markers of our architectural history. The Brutalist style of architecture offered an alternative and direct challenge to the glass curtain wall that was a dominant characteristic of urban renewal and planning during the Modern Movement. Brutalism was the bold statement to the passivity of glass curtain wall design, and perhaps the closest bridging of conceptual architectural drawings and building. (Rohan, Timothy R. “Rendering the Surface: Paul Rudolph’s Art and Architecture Building at Yale.” Grey Room, No. 1 (Autumn 2000) 84-107.)

Perhaps a more pressing issue is why is there a lack of value associated with preserving architecture from the Modern Movement. Even the more favored glass curtain wall structures are still met with uncertainty in regards to preservation. Let’s not forget that Veterans Memorial Coliseum once faced cries for demolition, despite its intellectual display of form and material. Structures from the Modern Movement are historical documents that attest to the cultural, social, economic, technological, and artistic climates of the eras in which they were conceived. Yet, preservationists are met with ferocious declarations of demolition once these structures begin to show any signs of weathering and aging, reminding preservationists that for some individuals modern structures are aesthetically disappointing and offensive.
Brutalism is Beautiful
Preservationists have to ask the more difficult questions of which structures should be saved, and why. Preservation becomes problematic because a set of criteria has been created that ultimately judges the significance of a structure not only for the manners in which it was conceived, but as part of our “perceived architectural heritage.” Declaring a structure(s) as part of our cultures architectural heritage further complicates the preservationists roll because it is then implied that the structure(s) has been significant to the contribution of our current cultural identity. Have structures executed in the Brutalist style been significant towards the contribution to our cultural heritage? Perhaps not, but they are important markers in our architectural history. (Whiteley, Nigel. “Modern Architecture, Heritage, and Englishness.” Architectural History. (1995) 220-237.)

Should structures executed in the Brutalist style be wiped clean from our architectural history? No, but this style should not be fostered, recreated, and executed again. And one of the best manners in which to ensure this is to keep a physical and visual historical record. Preservation cannot be for the aesthetically pleasing only, because our architectural history would be stripped bare and left with dispassionate and boring structures.

Written by Kate Kearney, Marketing Coordinator

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.

Mid-Century Arenas: Memorial Coliseum

Mid-Century Arenas
The emerging interdisciplinary field of Arena Studies focuses on the dwindling global supply of modernist multipurpose arenas—an overlooked subject spanning the fields of historic preservation, architecture, architectural history, engineering, preservation technology, industrial archeology, urban studies, city and regional planning, landscape planning and environmental history.
Veterans Memorial Coliseum Exterior
After World War II, arena builders began to utilize a variety of new technologies and modern building materials to enclose large-scale urban, suburban and rural arenas. Innovative technologies (such as retractable roofs, glass curtain walls and clear-span timber domes) were combined with cutting-edge craftsmanship to create a revolutionary new aesthetic of form-altering functionalism. As an emerging field of study, the topic of historic arenas currently suffers from a dearth of scholarly research, resulting in typological confusion. General and pervasive misidentification and misclassification has greatly hindered the efforts of conservationists to rehabilitate, restore and repurpose these undervalued community resources.

Case Study – Memorial Coliseum
When completed in 1960, Memorial Coliseum, a flat-roofed square “box,” measuring 360 linear feet per side, 100 feet in height, and part of a larger 30- acre area, was a technological feat of engineering and operation unrivaled by any other large civic structure and a fully-articulated example of lnternational-Style Modernism. The building is the only large-scale public arena glass-walled structure of the mid-century retaining its original design, materials, workmanship, highly urban context, and original relationship to nearby geographic features such as the Willamette River.
Veterans Memorial Coliseum Interior
The Coliseum’s weight is supported by four cruciform-shaped, 7O-foot high reinforced concrete columns, 240 feet apart in one direction and 270 feet in the other. At the column pinnacle, “steel hemispheres,” the first use in arena construction, support the steel roof trusses. These half-round bearing points enable the entire structure to move under force, such as strong winds or earth movements. A prominent feature of the building is the oval, free-standing concrete seating bowl, visible from every exterior vantage point due to the building’s transparency giving rise to the nicknames “Glass Palace” and “Tea Cup in a Box.”

VMC steel structure

Photo courtesy of the City of Portland Archives.

Inflecting the conservation and re-use of public arenas is the political desire of the community and receptiveness of the team owner and manager. Many arenas were constructed with complicated financing and management agreements providing the sports organization authority over reuse, urban planning, and demolition options. The single, sports purpose arenas require dramatic alterations to adopt the structure to reprogramming like housing, office, or entertainment. Early arenas are, however, established public structures in the heart of the urban fabric offering unique and profitable opportunities for long-term future success. A key element of successful conservation is an understanding of the adaptability of these structures in material composition, plan, and function. The architectural qualities combined with the urban settings provide mid-century arenas with enduring historic value.

Written by Peter Meijer AIA,NCARB, Principal. A special thank you to Matthew Hayes for contributing to this posting.