Tag Archives: post-modernism

Portland’s Architectural Heritage from the Recent Past

In March 2015, we wrote about PDX Post Modern and Mid-Century Modern architecture, which to our eyes was being referenced by local architectural firms for their new designs located at the Burnside Bridgehead and elsewhere. A year later and the City of Portland is continuing to build, build, build especially around the Burnside Bridgehead. In addition, cries for the demolition of a Post Modern icon of architecture: Michael Grave’s designed, Portland Public Service Building, have turned into a proposed $200 million design-build project. Has Portland come to appreciate its architectural heritage from the recent past?

PoMo-Portland

Portland Building, PacWest Center, Koin Tower

Before definitively answering, let’s look at efforts to repair and utilize some of Portland’s recent past architectural resources.
DoCoMoMo_Oregon, a local chapter of DoCoMoMo_US, is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the interest, education, and advocacy of the architecture, art, landscape, and urban design of the Modern Movement. Recently the Board voiced concerns for the type of alterations proposed for the late modern (post modern!) PacWest Center designed by Hugh Stubbins & Associates / Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, which underwent a Design Advice. John Russell, the original developer of the project who chose Hugh Stubbins as the architect, from a shortlist that included Philip Johnson and Minoru Yamasaki, provided testimony that agreed with the design team that the retail in the building isn’t currently working, but that the building’s design isn’t the major contributor. Overall, the Design Commission encouraged the design team to treat the PacWest Center like a historic building, and use the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards as an approach for the renovation.

The Koin Tower, designed by ZGF Partnership in 1984, is one of the most prominent buildings in Portland’s downtown rising sky-line, and an example of Post Modern architecture. It is Post Modern with whimsical lines and historical references to Gothic, Spanish, and Deco architectural characteristics. (King, 106) However, unlike the Post Modern Portland Building (interiors designed by ZGF), the Koin Tower has been accepted for its architectural whimsy in a place with a known tag line, “Keep Portland Weird.”

And on a smaller scale that truly connects to placemaking, the Lovejoy Fountain Pavilion designed by Charles Moore in 1962 as part of Lawrence Halprin’s fountain sequence was thoughtfully restored in 2012.

Appreciating the Recent Past
So, has Portland come to appreciate its architectural heritage from the recent past? While these four examples offer a glimpse of optimism towards the maintenance and rehabilitation of architecture from the recent past, there is still an uphill battle towards the preservation and rehabilitation of Post Modern, Modern, and historic architectural resources. This is not an argument to save every resource, but it’s our responsibility to our present and future communities to have places rich in architectural resources from different movements of history- architecture rich in diversity. For architectural diversity contributes to our place making, culture, and identity. Let’s Keep Portland Architecture Weird by both adding to and maintaining and rehabilitating.

Lovejoy Pavilion

Lovejoy Pavilion

Written by Kate Kearney, Marketing Coordinator

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King, Bart. An Architectural Guidebook to Portland. 2nd ed. Corvallis: Oregon State University Press, 2007. Print.

Post Modern Building Materials Part One

Advances in science and material properties have always played a role in the development of building products. Postmodernism fueled the advent of several new building materials including Glass Reinforced Polyester (James Stirling, Olivetti Training Center, c.1972), Insulated Exterior Metal Panel Systems (Richard Meier, Bronx Development Center, c.1979), Dupont’s Fabric Tensile Structures (University of Florida Gainesville, O’Connell Center, c.1980), polycarbonate sheets (Kalwall, et.al.), pre-fabricated brick panel systems, and many other new construction technologies.

richard-meier-bronx-development-center

Richard Meier, Bronx Development Center, 1977


Post Modern Building Materials and Life-Cycle
Like any new technology or building material, the life span of postmodern materials is now known but there is a lack of case studies and journalistic papers describing the failure mechanisms, and more importantly, how to repair, retain, or preserve the exterior materials. On one level there is an inherent impermanence of the original materials based on a default decision making process that limited a building’s longevity to a twenty-five (25) year life-cycle. On another level, the façade of the Postmodern building incorporates building systems or individual components that are neither produced nor assembled currently in similar manners due to improvements in technology and building envelope science. In either case, the process and method of building envelope repair could dramatically or minimally impact the exterior character of Postmodern structures.
aldo-rossi-theatro-delmondo-venice

Aldo Rossi, Theatro Delmondo, Venice 1982


There are some Postmodern structures, despite the polarizing opinions regarding the aesthetic values, that are iconographic examples of the high-end of Postmodern style. Included with those structures named above, are the Portland Building (Michael Graves, c. 1984), Piazza d’Italia (Charles Moore, 1982), and Theatro Delmondo, (Aldo Rossi, Venice 1982) to name a few. Rossi’s Theatro Delmondo poses an even more challenging theoretical debate as to whether or not to preserve or repair the structure since the theater was built as a floating temporary stage set.

Rehabilitation and Postmodern materials
The rehabilitation of Postmodern materials is compounded by the lack of physical or chemical stability in the original product (e.g. color fading or material breakdown by UV light); changing urban context and surrounding development; inadequate original construction means and methods, and lack of precedence – Postmodern buildings are just now reaching the end of their design life-cycle. Proposals to improve envelope performance are challenged in finding products that will improve performance and retain the aesthetics of a Postmodern building. Given these challenges, is the proper repair, rehabilitation, or conservation of Postmodern structures to retain the appearance of insubstantial material installed incorrectly? Or should any new work, often entailing proposals for replacing the building facades, to discount the design appearance and fix the problems regardless of the impact.

zgf-koin-center-materials

ZGF, Koin Center, 1982


Moving forward, there are precedents set by the early and current challenges associated with mid-century modern structures that can be followed. For example, circa 1960 glass curtain wall upgrades have created methods to retain the exterior appearance while upgrading the thermal efficiency of the system or conversely, left the existing original curtain wall in place and upgrade the mechanical system and distribution system as both more cost effective and more energy efficient over the life of the building. The solutions towards postmodern materials will similarly be led by research, initiative, and innovation. Engaging the manufactures in the dialogue is essential, particularly when replacing a failed product is critical to retaining the building design character.
james-stirling-olivetti-training-center-materials

James Stirling, Olivetti Training Center, 1972


Unique Challenges
There are unique challenges with Postmodern buildings, but as is the case with all new materials and systems, developing a strategy of research, methodology, and documentation will result in extending the life-cycle of these provocative structures.
pomo-text

Portland Building

Written by Peter Meijer, AIA, NCARB / Principal

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

Practices for Preserving Post Modernism

Post Modernism, a style of architecture beginning in 1965 with the publication of Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and extending to 1989, has always elicited great public debate on the architectural merits of its built works perhaps best exemplified in the controversy over one of the most iconic Post Modern buildings, Michael Graves’ Public Service Building (aka the Portland Building).
portland-building-NR-nom-pmapdx

Whether or not Post Modern architecture is considered merely flamboyant superficial decoration or serious building design and genuine work is greatly debated. The debate, beginning a mere thirty years after the apex of the style, has arrived sooner than expected and focuses on the distinction between design and architecture. Whether or not the materials and assemblies used to construct the buildings are impermanent remain to be assessed, understood, and judged over a longer duration of time. Therefore, are material conservators and preservation technologists ready (and willing) to contribute a scientific approach and unbiased assessment to a controversial debate over a design style?

Post Modern design was broadly practiced in both the United States and internationally. Large and small firms were attracted to the stylistic incorporation of classical western design vocabulary in stark juxtaposition against the plain, unadorned, square box that many argued architecture had become. Design magazines published examples of Post Modern buildings ranging from the academic and scholar approach by architects like the Italian Aldo Rossi to the flamboyant American style creator Philip Johnson, as well as, buildings by architects only known on local and regional levels.
panorama

Architects, engineers, and material suppliers were pushing new materials and innovative construction technologies as a way to create Post Modern design elements. Continuous innovation in building skins reintroduced porcelain enamel panels, a product brought by Lustron to the building industry during the housing boom following World War II. New skins made from Glass Fibre Resin (GFR) capable of being molded in classical curves and ornamental shapes favored by Post Modern design were created. Innovations in brick technology including large scale brick panels made from a single wythe of masonry to panels whose outer face was only one half inch of masonry, or thin bricks. Improvements in resins created new wood or simulated wood products and adhesives for mounting faux finishes to structural systems. Perhaps one of the more ubiquitous new materials used in the creation of Post Modern architecture was the faux stucco product Dryvit, and Exterior Finish Insulation System (EIFS). Like porcelain enamel panels, EIFS were introduced as insulated wall assemblies as a means to improve energy performance during the world’s energy crisis of the 1970s.
141013 APT Assemblies 2

As Post Modern buildings reach thirty and fifty years, systems and products are aging and, like all older buildings, significant investments or improvements to infrastructure systems are often needed. Compared to more recent material innovations, Post Modern building performance levels are low and some of the innovative materials resulted in long-term material failures. As it is with any building skin, often the deficiencies of one material are in combination with more robust materials or the failing components are critical to the character defining features of the Post Modern design. And when material failure is coupled to design aesthetics and those aesthetics do not offer universal appeal, questions arise as to the merits of retaining the component. But should subjective opinions about design, a very personal matter compared to one’s appreciation of art, drive decisions to preserve or demolish a building. And when the building carries international recognition as a work of architecture, or as a work that defines the Post Modernism, should more resources be given to its preservation? Does the inherent impermanence of the original materials justify an approach of non-preservation as preservation? Many Post Modern buildings incorporate systems or components that are neither produced nor currently assembled in similar manners due to improvements in technology and building envelope science. Therefore, the process and method of building envelope repair could dramatically impact the exterior character of Post Modern structures.
Ext Ceramic tile
Is the proper approach to retain the essence of criticism towards Post Modernism by preserving the appearance of insubstantial material installed incorrectly? Proposals to improve envelope performance of both the individual components and building systems are challenged in finding products that will both improve performance and retain the aesthetics of a Post Modern building. Like previous building styles and periods, the preservation of character defining elements that were originally inadequately or incorrectly produced or assembled has always been a source of preservation controversy. in preservation and the undersized windows of the Portland Building are defining elements of the Post Modern design. The preservation community should be prepared to participate in discussing the merits of Post Modernism. The conversation has begun.

Written by Peter Meijer AIA, NCARB, Principal.

Post- Modern Buildings: The Portland Building

Peter Meijer Architect, PC nominates Michael Graves iconic Post Modern Portland Building to the National Register of Historic Places. The Portland Public Service Building, known universally as the Portland Building, is one of the most notable works by internationally-known master architect Michael Graves and is widely credited as the design that established Graves’s preeminence in the field.Portland building The Portland Building itself is significant as one of a handful of high-profile building designs that defined the aesthetic of Post Modern Classicism in the United States between the mid-1960s and the 1980s. Constructed in 1982, the Portland Public Service Building is nationally significant as the notable work that crystallized Michael Graves’s reputation as a master architect and as an early and seminal work of Post-Modern Classicism, an American style that Graves himself defined through his work. The structure is ground-breaking for its rejection of “universal” Modernist principles in favor of bold and symbolic color, well-defined volumes, and stylized- and reinterpreted-classical elements such as pilasters, garlands, and keystones.

Portland buildingAs one of the earliest large-scale Post-Modern buildings constructed, Graves’s design for the Portland Building was daring; almost shocking, in its vision for the future, and for its proposition as to what “after Modernism” could mean for architecture. The building itself is a fifteen-story regularly-fenestrated symmetrical monumental block clad in scored off-white colored stucco and set on a stepped two-story pedestal of blue-green tile. The building’s style is expressed through paint and applied ornament that implies classical architectural details, including terracotta tile pilasters and keystone, mirrored glass, and flattened and stylized garlands, among other elements that are intended to convey multiple meanings. For instance, the building is organized in a classical three-part division, bottom, middle, and top in reference to the human body, foot, middle, and head. At the same time, the building’s colors represent parts of the environment, with blue-green tile at the base symbolizing the earth and the light blue at the upper-most story representing the sky. The building uses layers of references to physically and symbolically tie it to place, its use, and the Western architectural tradition.

Portland BuildingThe boxy, fifteen-story building is located in the center of downtown Portland, Oregon, occupying a full 200 by 200-foot city block right next to City Hall. The Portland Building is a surprising jolt of color within the more restrained environment and designs of nearby buildings, with its blue tile base and off-white stucco exterior accented with mirrored glass, earth-toned terracotta tile, and sky-blue penthouse. The figure of Lady Commerce from the city seal, reinterpreted by sculptor Ray Kaskey to represent a broader cultural tradition and renamed ‘Portlandia,’ is placed in front of one of the large windows as a further reference to the city. The building is notable for its regular geometry and fenestration as well as the architect’s use of over-scaled and highly-stylized classical decorative features on the building’s facades, including a copper statue mounted above the entry, garlands on the north and south facades, and the giant pilasters and keystone elements on the east and west facades. Whether or not one judges the building to be beautiful or even to have fulfilled Graves’s ideas about being humanist in nature, it is undeniably important in the history of American architecture. The building has been dispassionately evaluated in various scholarly works about the history of architecture and is inextricably linked to the rise of the Post-Modern movement.


Written by Kristen Minor, Preservation Planner