Today in The Oregonian's A&E section is a story package I wrote called "Dreamers + Builders", highlighting the key players on Portland's architecture/design scene.
The piece has two principal components: an overall feature story about how the local scene has changed over the last decade, and a list (with portraits by Motoya Nakamura) of 11 people making it happen. It's actually a list of 10, but one entry on the list consists of two people: Bill Neburka and Carrie Schilling (at left) of Works Partnership Architecture.
The other 9 people on the list, in no particular order, are:
- Brad Cloepfil, Allied Works Architecture
- John Homes, Holst Architecture
- Eugene Sandoval, Zimmer Gunsul Frasca
- Tiffany Sweitzer, Hoyt Street Properties
- Sohrab Vossoughi, Ziba Design
- Jeff Kovel, Skylab Design Group
- Heinz Rudolf, BOORA Architects
- Robert Thompson, TVA Architects
- Thomas Hacker, Thomas Hacker Architects
The list was intentionally made up almost entirely of architects. If it had been a list of the most important building industry people, of course it would have been very different.
I decided to choose one developer for the list, and that was probably the hardest part. To me Mark Edlen of Gerding Edlen Development is arguably the most significant developer in town, and I want to make it very clear that I'm a fan of Mark, his firm and the work they do. Not having Mark on there is probably the most glaring omission. But in making these lists, one has to make a couple of contrarian or at least somewhat surprising choices. Originally I wanted to have a three-person developer entry with Tiffany Sweitzer, Mark Edlen and Randy Rapaport, but the list was getting too big. I chose Sweitzer instead of Edlen for a few reasons. One, it's been fascinating watching Hoyt Street, the Pearl's most prolific developer, evolve in their designs as they go north. Does Hoyt Street build better buildings today than Gerding Edlen? Not necessarily, and certainly not in the past. However, I like Hoyt's latest, The Metropolitan, better than about any big condo in the city.
There are also, of course, several other architects and firms I could have chosen as the city's most significant. The first two coming to mind are GBD Architects and SERA Architects. The Brewery Blocks, which GBD designed, are a wonderful success, particularly as neighborhood placemaking. SERA has also been a real leader in sustainable design and I think their design quality is only going up. If the list were based solely on design talent, I might also have chosen Rick Potestio. But he's in between firms and being under-utilized lately. Would some firm please reach out to this superb architect, like, yesterday?
In terms of the feature story that accompanies the portraits by Motoya Nakamura, I tried to compare Portland's architecture/design environment to how it was in the late 1990s. Back then it was the age of Bilbao, and lots of cities were investing in signature architecture - particularly museums, but also courthouses and other public buildings. I worked at the AIA at the time, and I remember during Architecture Week there was a panel discussion hosted by Jonathan Nicholas of The Oregonian about whether Portland suffered from a design malaise.
It's not that we have much of any individual great buildings today, but I sure don't hear any talk of malaise. In the article I tried to make the point that a combination of factors has made Portland much more of a design city: the rise of sustainability, the economic boom bringing condos and lots of other work, the influx of young creatives to the city, etc.
What do the rest of you think, by the way: Is Portland a better place for creating and building quality architecture than it was a decade ago? Who should have been on the list who wasn't, or who is on the list who shouldn't be?