Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Post- Modern Buildings: The Portland Building

Peter Meijer Architect, PC nominated 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. 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,stylized-and reinterpreted-classical elements such as pilasters, garlands, and  keystones.

As 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. 

The 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.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Mid-Century Arenas: Memorial Coliseum

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. 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 were combined with cutting-edge craftsmanship to create a revolutionary new aesthetic of form-altering functionalism. Early arenas were established as public structures in the heart of the urban fabric offering unique and profitable opportunities for long-term future success. However, Arena Studies is an emerging field of study and currently suffers from a lack 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. A key element for successful conservation is an understanding of the adaptability of these structures in material composition, plan, and function. Mid-Century arenas provide its urban enviornment with enduring historic value, and the Memorial Coliseum showcases the architectural qualities of form-altering functionalism.

 When completed in 1960, Memorical 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 International-Style Modernism. The Coliseum's weight is supported by four cruciform-shaped, 70-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 used in arena construction, support the steel roof trusses. 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.

A special thank you to Matthew Hayes for contributing to this posting.