At last week's Pecha Kucha night at the Ace Hotel Cleaners, I got talking with a local architect about today's new crop of buildings and the long-term outlook there will be for this era's architecture. He posed to me something along these lines: "I'm not sure if any of the buildings here from the last 50 years will still be here in 150 years."
There's a lot of ways you could look at such a statement. Maybe it means that with green building and global warming taking off, in a century and a half so much will have changed about the physical, thermal and electrical aspects of architecture that there won't be a place for many of today's works to endure. Maybe it means that only the most exceptional buildings from the past survive for a century or more, because to go through the extra headaches and cost of preserving and restoring them, they have to resonate enough to be really worth it. Or, maybe it's just a cynical way of saying nothing we've built in Portland in the last half-century (since about 1957 if you're playing at home) is significant enough architecturally to merit being preserved.
Suffice to say, Portland of 1857 looks scarcely anything like it does today. You'd really have to struggle to think of many or any buildings predating the Civil War (the actual one, not the local football game) that still have a presence here. Even the Pioneer Courthouse only dates back to 1875.
Perhaps you could argue that a few big local landmarks made in the last 50 will endure: Pioneer Courthouse Square, Big Pink. In cities with much longer histories than Portland, there are of course many buildings older than 150 years. Maybe the fact that we're more of an established semi-large metropolitan city now would give more buildings from 1957-2007 a chance to be here in 2157.
I think the square stands the best chance. There are other structures predating the last 50 years, like the Portland Art Museum or the Benson Hotel that you'd think, barring massive earthquake, would continue on almost indefinitely. And I just have this gut feeling that someday Memorial Coliseum will still be standing after the Rose Garden has been torn down. But recent buildings of the last 10 or 20 years? Hmm. Even the really exceptional ones don't always endure. Maybe OHSU's Center for Health and Healing at the base of the tram. Or the tram itself. Maybe the Wieden + Kennedy building, or 2281 Glisan, or one of Thomas Hacker's libraries. Or this new condo tower that Skylab has planned.
I think the architect who made that statement about the last 50 and 150 ahead was talking more strictly about the aesthetics of buildings. Is there anything so handsome people will fight fore it? Will people fight for, say, Big Pink a hundred years from now?
Of course with a question like this, anybody who thinks they really know is only fooling themselves. Who knows what context might exist in a century and a half that we could never dream of today? However, this is really an exercise in considering what architecture of our own past generation or two or three - the city's growth over the last five decades - has produced anything that is exceptional and resonant and relevant enough to transcend the limits of style, use and viability.
One would like to think there's a renaissance beginning for Portland in our time, and that, like Amsterdam or other great cities, the built reflection of that will be something future generations want to preserve. But then again, they probably thought back in the 60s and 70s that the Brutalist concrete behemoths and freeways they were building would be awed at a century later. And then there's a local case like the phrase "Portland's Eiffel Tower", which a hopeful mayor bestowed upon a Michael Graves building here that has not at all stood the test of time well.
So with that confidence in mind, who's brave enough among us to venture a guess about the last 50 in 150?