In April I wrote about how a proposed Apple Computer store on NW 23rd Avenue had seen its plans significantly altered by the Historic Landmarks Commission. A stainless steel facade had to be changed to stone. The logo had to go. And so on. The point of the previous post was to raise concern about how the Landmarks Commission may be over-stepping its bounds, judging a work of modern architecture that seems to have little to do with historic buildings. Moreover, I argued against the larger principle that modern buildings can't complement different older architecture. In fact, I think it's the juxtaposition of two different forms, each true to its era and aesthetics, that makes a neighborhood and a city all the richer.
Now an update: If you haven't already heard, the project is now dead. Even after Apple and its local architect, Holst, agreed to the Landmarks Commission's changes, the commission as I understand it, still told Apple that more significant changes were needed. So Apple pulled out of the deal.
Certainly there will be those who read this and feel compelled to defend either the Landmarks Commission specifically or the values behind their decision. That's fine. But I don't think I'm the only one that feels the commission is way off base here.
In an interview published in Friday's Daily Journal of Commerce, Belmont Lofts developer Randy Rapaport came down strongly against the commission:
"We have a real problem in Portland...The mayor should immediately do two things. First, appoint a committee through one of the commissioners to do an application process so that professors of urban studies, professors of architecture, the finest architects in the region, can put their resumes in to quickly reformulate the commission. Potter should set up a quick application process - members on the commission currently can reapply - and there should be a refreshment of that board immediately."
Just so we're clear, here's how the City of Portland's Office of Neighborhood Involvement defines the task of the Commisison on its website:
The Historical Landmarks Commission provides leadership and expertise on maintaining and enhancing Portland's historic and architectural heritage. The Commission identifies and protects buildings and other properties that have historic or cultural significance or special architectural merit. The Commission provides advice on historic preservation matters, and coordinates historic preservation programs in the City. The Commission is also actively involved in the development of design guidelines for historic design districts.
The Historic Landmarks Commission consists of eight members, none of whom may hold public elective office. The Commission must include a member of the Planning Commission; a historian with knowledge of local history; anarchitectural historian; an architect; two members from the following: landscape architecture, real estate, construction, community development, urban planning, archeology, law, finance, cultural geography, cultural anthropology, or related disciplines; and two members at-large. All members must have demonstrated interest, competence, or knowledge of historic preservation. No more than two members of the Commission may be in the business of buying, selling, leasing, or developing real estate for profit, or be officers of such a business. The Planning Commission member is chosen by the Planning Commission chair. The other members are appointed by theMayor and confirmed by the City Council.
I don't see anything there about delivering verdicts on new buildings. There is mention of weighing in on design guidelines for historic districts, and the Apple store would have been located in one. But guidelines are different from rendering verdicts on actual cases. Somebody want to enlighten us on how the commission came to be telling Apple how to build its store?