When I started writing the Portland Architecture blog three years ago this month, the very first post (after the one that said, "Welcome to the blog") was about Powells Books.
I've long felt that the store, considering its cultural landmark status here and how it anchors the Brewery Blocks area as a gate between downtown and the Pearl District, has a responsibility to make their buildings better. Granted, no one wants Portland to lose the rough edges that balance out its more glossy new condo buildings. But having a single-story building along Burnside with a shabby facade isn't good enough for Powells.
Now, the nation's largest new-used bookseller is stepping up with a plan to renovate the store's entrance and principal rooms at the Southeast corner entrance by 2010.
Of course not all renovations are created equal, and while it's exciting to imagine a new front door and more space, I'm not at all a fan of the architecture that Powells favored in its last renovation, of the Northwest corner in 2000, which has a very bland and neo-traditional look that seems counter to the spirit of Powells and Portland. I'm not saying they need some clean-lined modernist look with no grit or enduring power to it, but there ought to be a happy medium, ya know?
Powells' entrance also sits at a very key corner, of Burnside and Southwest 10th. If they're renovating and expanding that building, it will also be important to integrate it with the surrounding environment. There's talk of making Burnside and Couch into one-way couplets (an idea I'm vehemently against). How might that affect the architectural decisions? Is there a way to do something special with that intersection? I once heard architect extraordinaire Rick Potestio suggest some kind of plaza there with the buildings themselves curved to create some kind of grand circular public space. At the very least, Powells seems better served with widened sidewalks on a two-way Burnside than being hemmed in by two one-way streets.
Regardless of Burnside's plan, though, we're finally getting a fixed-up Powells, and I'm excited to see how second-generation Powells head Emily Powell puts her stamp on the job. And Emily, just on the outside chance that you read this, how about opening up the dialog about who you hire as an architect?