Yesterday Portland Architecture spoke by phone with Jeff Joslin, who as Land Use Manager administers urban design, design review, and historic landmarks programs for the city.
Here’s what Joslin had to say about the proposed Apple store on Northwest 23rd Avenue:
"The proposal has not been retracted by Apple. In our view the land use review is still alive. We are hopeful that we are in an active dialog in hopes that we will have such a store in Portland, if not there than elsewhere. "
"In my view, the requests offered by the Historic Landmarks Commission hopefully were not fatal. There was a specific request that certain areas be considered for modification that weave it a little more into the neighborhood fabric, both for character and for pedestrians. But it was not a fundamental criticism of the project."
"There’s been a lot of talk of the commissions saying modern architecture is not acceptable in a historic neighborhood. That’s not the message that I believe was delivered by the commission. We’re aware that Apple cares deeply about its projects from a design standpoint, but there have been similar kinds of concerns with Apple stores in other cities. In Boston during a similar kind of discussion, Apple came back with a number of design alternatives. There’s a precedent of them adapting to the specific environment, and we hope some of that same creativity and flexibility is applied to this project. We think we can get there."
This seems like a surprisingly encouraging sign for the fate of the Apple store on 23rd. I still think it's exceptionally discouraging that Apple wouldn't be able to use the metal cladding that had planned, and I think conceptually that decision was a wrong one. It's a modern building and that material needn't have been considered a threat to the surrounding historic urban fabric - especially, as many have pointed out, since there are plenty of structures on 23rd already that aren't really the least bit historically significant.
At the same time, though, I do believe there is a legitimate role for such design commissions to play in assuring a cohesiveness for such a neighborhood. You shouldn't be able to build just anything, at least not here. With those two conflicting opinions, allowing for modernism while accommodating projects thoughtfully into historic urban fabrics, it then becomes a matter of degrees and nuances, and something that gets evaluated on a case-by-case basis. I think Apple is the world's leader when it comes to corporations with an ingrained sense of design acumen, and that should give the company--not to mention its superb local architect, Holst--the benefit of the doubt with the city. Still, even if they get it wrong now and then, I'm very happy design review is here. Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater.