Today I dropped off my car for servicing at its usual shop in Goose Hollow. One of the things I like about this place is that they'll give you a ride to home or work (or in my case, both) afterward. And today, as one of the mechanics drove me through downtown toward the Hawthorne Bridge, I unexpectedly got some interesting opinions about architecture. He was the first to admit he didn't follow design or know a lot about architecture, but the guy repairs German cars for a living, so it's not like he's oblivious to form, function and beauty.
I didn't tell the mechanic that I wrote about architecture, or anything about what I do. We happened to start talking about it because their shop is right across from the new Jefferson Condos by Vallaster & Corl. I like this project a lot. But the mechanic wasn't impressed. He called it "bland" and lamented that it didn't have more color. I asked if he was adverse to modern buildings in general, but he said that he wasn't. He cited "that new one over on Burnside", The Civic (by SERA Architects), as one he liked.
We also drove east between the Museum Place condos by GBD Architects and the Mosaic Condominiums, which Myhre Group was I believe the architect of record for. When they were built I liked the Mosaic better, because it's much more colorful and glassy. As a few years have gone by, though, I've come to appreciate the simplicity of the brick Museum Place building and the vibrancy of the ground floor Safeway. My mechanic acquaintance, though, preferred the Mosaic. He also wasn't too fond of the Hatfield US Courthouse a few blocks away, which he again described as "bland".
Ultimately, though, he said his favorite building in town was probably the KOIN tower (designed in the 1980s by Zimmer Gunsul Frasca). I've often heard people outside of the architectural community, people not normally enthusiasts of architecture, cite that building as a favorite on the Portland skyline. Yet you never hear a lot of architects talk about it. I'm not saying one group is right and the other wrong, though. In the mechanic's case, he compared it to the Empire State Building but seemed specifically to respond to how the building gets more slender toward the top, which both the Empire and the gorgeous art-deco Chrysler building do most notably. It's such a simple, elegant move for most any building, but one you don't see happen much with the offices and condos comprising most tall buildings. It compromises floorspace.
I'm sure all of you who either practice or are enthusiasts of architecture experience this sometimes. Architecture is one of those art forms like movies that most every layperson has opinions about. I hope none of this sounds patronizing, but I think it's helpful to get this kind of input from people outside of the usual dialog about design. It's not to say this mechanic was any kind of soothsaying savant from whom we can learn great universal truths. But if you have your face a few inches from something most of the time, it's elucidating to get the perspective of someone standing further back.