New Yorker on Belluschi, NY Times on Alberta Street
Two bits of New York press (arguably the nation's best magazine and easily the best daily newspaper) have turned their sights on two very different pieces of Portland design.
First, New Yorker architecture critic Paul Goldberger looks at the renovated Alice Tully Hall and the Juilliard School it's part of at Lincoln Center. The original design by Pietro Belluschi has been renovated by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, one of the country's best contemporary firms. (The image below is a rendering of DS+R's renovation.)
"Amid the tepid classicism of so much of Lincoln Center," Goldberger writes, "Juilliard stood out as something totally nineteen-sixties, all cantilevers and boxy geometries. Granted, it was covered in travertine, to match its genteel neighbors, but that served only to make the building seem ill at ease, like a wrestler dressed in a Sunday suit."
Goldberger goes on to call Belluschi's building (co-designed with Eduardo Catalano) "a misfit" and decry its "half hidden" entrance, as well as to take issue with a rectangular building on a trapezoidal site.
I agree that Pietro Belluschi's work from the 1960s and 70s is not necessarily his best, particularly the larger institutional work. When the architect traded wood and glass for limestone and travertine, something was lost. What's more, the Juilliard and Alice Tully definitely qualify for the "brutalism" tag that is often given to buildings from this period. At the same time, I still feel Goldberger is too dismissive of Belluschi's work at Lincoln Center and of so-called Brutalist architecture in general. The Diller Scofidio design unquestionably breathes new life into Belluschi's building, making it more humane with added transparency. At the same time, this is hybrid architecture of old and new, so whatever Goldberger praises about the renovation would, for all intents and purposes, not be possible without Belluschi's original. And while Brutalism certainly invites criticism in general, I'd hate to think of Goldberger being too dismissive of the original without really giving it thought.
Meanwhile, the travel section of the Times declares in its headline for a story on Alberta Street that the neighborhood was "saved by design". The story briefly profiles a key developer in this history, Rosalyn Hill. She bought numerous downtrodden properties on Alberta in the early 1990s and "laid down new rules": no metal bars on windows and no locked doors during business hours." (The photo at right, which appeared in the story, is by the excellent Portland photographer Basil Childers. I took the one below.)
This is an extension of the "broken window" theory that helped transform the feel of a lot of central cities in the 1990s, particularly New York (I saw it happen first-hand), by improving the cosmetics of place to not look like environments for crime. Turns out criminals are often looking for those places, if you believe the statistics. "I told my renters, 'You have to interact with the community," Hill told writer Jane Hodges. And sure enough, if you look at places Rosalyn renovated, they are teeming with street-front glass. Urbanity needs transparency. If you look at the blighted, graffiti covered places in any city, they're often the places with the least amount of glass.
I happened to meet Rosalyn Hill about a year ago as we visited some of the properties she renovated, where the Random Order coffee house and the tin Shed Garden Cafe are now located. On the day I visited, Rosalyn was watering the plants around both buildings and seemed to know almost everyone who walked by. And it's also worth noting that, given how Alberta Street has heard cries of gentrification and accusations of the diverse African American and Latino populations driven out by middle class whites, Rosalyn Hill is a black business owner who has stayed and thrived.
This article wasn't really about design, at least not in the sense of paying much attention to the architecture of the properties Hill renovated. But there's definitely reason to celebrate the unique sense of place that exists on Alberta Street, one that has emerged from years of crime and poverty to prosper, yet has also done so without a single Starbucks, Blockbuster Video, Old Navy or McDonald's. The piece also celebrates some local business that we Portlanders would do well to support in these tough economic times: Guardino Gallery, Office PDX, and Helser's restaurant.