After a series of delays that saw its original early-fall opening pushed back, the new AIA/Portland Center for Architecture is throwing open the doors of its new Pearl District home at NW 11th and Flanders.
The first exhibit will be a retrospective on John Yeon, who ranks with Pietro Belluschi, A.E. Doyle and John Storrs among the top Portland architects of the 20th Century. Unlike those designers, however, Yeon's principal focus was houses. But Yeon certainly made his mark there. Throughout Portland and the Oregon coast are several gems he designed. Organized by Randy Gragg, the former Oregonian architecture critic and founding editor of the new Portland Spaces magazine making its debut in January, this AIA/CFA exhibit is based largely on Yeon's 1977 retrospective at the Portland Art Museum. (Wow, they used to do exhibits on design at PAM?) But Randy has also added numerous drawings, writings and new photographs that haven't been exhibited before.
Randy also wrote an essay for Arcade, the fine Seattle-based regional architecture magazine, about Yeon. I particularly enjoyed this passage about Yeon's talent seen in the circa-1937 Watzek House now owned by the University of Oregon that still stands in the West Hills:
"The house seamlessly blends a vast array of Modernist technical and formal innovations with a cunning use of historical precedent. Camouflaged in rough-sawn fir siding and fronted by a seeming bland (but studiously abstract) entrance, the house immediately opens to a world of breathtaking detail and craftsmanship, from the courtyard garden to the final crescendo of a floor-to-ceiling, glazed view of Mount Hood.
Published internationally and exhibited next to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water in the Museum of Modern Art’s 10th Anniversary exhibit, the house became one of the major icons of an the emerging West Coast interpretation of Modernism, the “Northwest Regional Style.” Yet in his radical reconfiguration of a veritable catalog of spatial effects and formal details from the architecture and landscape design of the past, he presages the most sophisticated notions of Postmodernism. Synthesizing elements of everything from urban Chinese gardens to the theatrics of Karl Friederich Schinkel, Yeon’s goal was to architecturally dramatize the procession from nature to culture and back."
In the months and years ahead after Yeon's exhibit, look for the CFA to be a gathering place for the design community in a way that the old AIA headquarters, for all its cool surfaces, probably didn't have. The AIA gallery should be more of a real player now in the local art scene, showcasing the efforts of great local architects past and present. And any number of art and community voices should consider the Center a gathering place for meetings, entertainment, and engagement.
(AIA/Portland is also a sponsor of this website.)
"In the Land of Influence", the opening Yeon retrospective, officially opens tomorrow with First Thursday, which given the AIA's new location closer to the hub of Pearl galleries should significantly add to its foot traffic. I used to work at the AIA in its SW Fourth Avenue location years ago, and there were some very nice exhibits that went largely unseen by the larger local art community. That should change now. If you're like me, and prefer to do your gallery hopping outside of First Thursday, the Yeon exhibit is actually up now.