Originally known as JKS Architecture before a 1990s name change that accompanied a new focus on urban infill, Sienna has operated in Portland for almost 58 years. As recently as last summer, the firm employed 45 people in its local office and 9 more in Seattle. But unfortunately, an October cut in staff couldn't stem the tide.
Sienna could be a controversial firm. Reddick, who took over ownership in the mid-90s and then brought on architect Lee Wynn as a partner in 1999, was a savvy marketer. If that means he was more marketer than designer himself, I'm sure Reddick would be fine with that. However, he always has demonstrated a tremendous passion for design and for city building. Profiles of Reddick in Architecture Magazine and the Harvard Design Review spoke glowingly of him as a kind of urban pied piper, seeking out surface parking lots to transform into high density mixed use buildings. Which more or less happened with Sienna projects like the Northrup Commons and Cascadian Court.
Even more controversial than Reddick is Jeff Lamb, a key designer at Sienna who came to the firm several years ago, left to go out on his own for much of the last decade, and then returned the firm's prominent offices on the ground floor of Pietro Belluschi's landmark Commonwealth Building. Lamb has provided design work for recent Sienna projects like Allegro, the 21-story mixed-use condo intended for Goose Hollow along the MAX line, as well as condos in Southeast like H44 and D48 (pictured at left). During his time away from Sienna, Lamb collaborated with BOORA Architects on what I think is one of the best Portland condo buildings: The Metropolitan. I also wrote about Lamb's interior design work on two incredible projects for art collector and tech-industry veteran Michael Del Castello, a Pearl District loft and a Vancouver penthouse.
Frequently when I've written on this blog about Reddick and Lamb, there have been some very spiteful comments from a minority of voices in the comments section. Sienna had some legal trouble over some of the firm's 1990s work: mixed use spaces built on very small budgets, where risks were probably taken to stretch the design. However one might fault a developer or contractor just is much in those cases. "I wouldn’t say we’ve picked a lot of fights, but we’ve tried to do the
right thing in places where zoning didn’t allow the right thing to be built," Reddick told me. "Jeff and I have gone through our share of asbestos suits." Reporting on Sienna's closing, I found good will. Maybe Reddick and Lee Wynn Winn were designers first and business people second, people told me, but they are good people.
Is Sienna's closing a bellwether bell weather moment for Portland architecture? Are other well known firms coming next? Many seem to have laid off employees, although few firms will go on record as saying so. The marketing director at one medium-sized firm I talked to said they had not laid anyone off but have had some projects canceled that were pretty far along towards breaking ground.
Reddick and Winn both told me that Sienna was talking about breaking up into two or more firms as long as a year ago. The studio Winn headed within the firm was focused on hospitality design, while Lamb and Reddick were more involved with ventures in Asia and elsewhere in the United States - they're currently meeting with clients in Tulsa, for example, still carrying out design work orders for a client in Beijing, and have a condo project in Salem called Rivers (pictured at right) that's more than halfway constructed. But the economy very much hastened that process.
If you're a building industry company that partnered with Sienna, or a former employee, and still looking for payment, Reddick told me, "We're owed more than we owe," and he intends for Sienna to honor all those obligations.
As I mentioned in the article, Reddick and Lamb's new company will be called V3 Design. It's Version 3 for Reddick after JKS and Sienna. The 'V' stands for a plethora of words the pair came up with over glasses of wine one night: vision, velocity, vitality. It's also a Roman numeral for 5, which represents the architecture, interiors, product design, development and planning they will offer.
I also would like to give a shout-out to Ridiculous Design, the new studio begun by two laid off Sienna employees, husband and wife designers Giorgio and Claudine Lostao. These are a couple of impressive talents whom I'm hoping will stay in Portland. The Lostaos came here a couple years ago from Miami, where they worked for one of the nation's most acclaimed architecture firms, Arquitectonica. I wrote about their own home (pictured at left), a West Hills renovation of a small cottage into a dazzling modern residence, for the December 2008 issue of Metropolitan Home magazine. The Lostaos and Ridiculous Design specialize in hospitality, and they are retaining McCormick & Schmick's restaurants, a former Sienna client, as their own. These are precisely the type of intelligent, talented creative minds that have come to Portland in recent years, and the very people the city risks losing if the economy slides too far.
Meanwhile, it's still a sad day to see one of the city's most venerable architecture firms close its doors. I've always loved walking past the Commonwealth Building and seeing Sienna's architecture models in the ground-floor window, an ideal occupant for Portland's most significant work of architecture. Whether it's Reddick and Lamb, the Lostaos, Lee Wynn or other talents disbursing from Sienna, though, hopefully we haven't seen the last of these designers.