A few months ago Portland Architecture began a new, occasional series called "The Architect's Questionnaire", in which a local architect answers a prepared set of simple questions about his or her profession and experiences. So far architects Nathan Cooprider and David Hyman have been profiled, and the latest is architect Brett Laurila.
Portland Architecture: When did you first become interested in architecture as a possible career?
Laurila: My grandfather was a master carpenter, and my father was an engineer. As a youngster, I was able to visit job-sites in various states of construction with my grandfather in addition to my Dad's office. Dad had a few architects on staff. The architects’ desks were, in contrast to the neat and orderly engineers, messy, had kneaded eraser figurines and taped up sketches of various concepts. It appeared to me that the architects enjoyed their jobs. Every Christmas, one the architects would sketch a cartoon Christmas card. Those images left an indelible imprint in my mind. My father passed away after my 13th birthday, but my grandfather’s influence continued until he passed at 82 years young.
Where did you study architecture and how would you rate the experience?
My education was less than traditional. I entered the School of Architecture and Allied Arts at Oregon in the late 70's as a sculpture major when I didn't get accepted to the school of architecture. After completing my freshman year, I took off a year and attended a technical school to learn to draft, so that I could get a job in an architect’s office in order to support my tuition requirements. The economy in 1980 was much like it is now. There was very little work here and I needed to work to pay for school. This led me to attend SCI-Arc in January 1981 where I was able to work for an architect and attend school. SCI-Arc was a great educational experience for a me.
What is your favorite building project that you’ve worked on?
I am not going to pick a favorite. Honestly, every project has its positives and negatives. More recent projects seem to be fresh in mind, but the 2001 Cascadian Court Condominiums would have to be the most challenging effort in my career to date. You could write an entire book on the issues and complexities; personalities and conflicts that project garnered to complete. I took over a project in complete disarray, revised the design, completed the permits and worked with great general contractor to complete a difficult and contentious project, that still resembled the intent of the original designer.
Who has been an important mentor among your colleagues?
I have two that profoundly affected my career. Ted Tokio Tanaka and Gerald Lomax. While attending SCI-ARC in the early '80s, a classmate and long time friend worked for Gerry and his partner John Rock. Gerry became my mentor, by default, when I would stop by to see my friend. We would end up in long and fruitful discussions with Gerry related to the practice of Architecture. When I was looking for work, Gerry referred me to Mr. Tanaka. Working for Mr. Tanaka was an extraordinary experience. Every project there was an event to be designed and experienced.
What part of the job do you like best, and as an architect what do you think you most excel at?
I love the challenges that architecture provides daily. Unfortunately, I have become known as someone to take on difficult projects and bring them to fruition.
What are some Portland buildings (either new or historic) that you most like?
Portland Art Museum, Weiden+Kennedy adaptive reuse, and the recent remodel completed by Brett & Dana Crawford [the 1310 Condominiums].
What is your favorite building outside of Portland and besides any you’ve worked on?
I can't really pick one. Every day sees a new project somewhere in the world that evokes wonder and a little jealousy in me.
Is there a local architect or firm you think is unheralded or deserves more credit?
There are a number of Architects, who do good work, that operate in relative obscurity. Portland seems to be a place that, if you want publicity, you can find it relatively easy. However, it may not be the kind of publicity that you were hoping for....
What would you like to see change about Portland’s built environment in the long term?
A less complex civic process where the different bureaus actually communicate and work together.
Would you rather live in a South Waterfront condo, a craftsman bungalow in Laurelhurst, a warehouse loft in the North Mississippi district or a mid-century ranch in the West Hills?
I love the house we are currently in - a mid century atomic modern in Milwaukie. Original with tastefully updated details, but needing a significant landscape update. I do miss, however, the vibrancy of the inner southeast neighborhood we left.
Who is a famous architect you’d like to see design a building in Portland?
Renzo Piano - something grandiose like a building spanning the freeway along the east-side waterfront addressing the river. That would be something!
Which would you rather be responsible for: an ugly LEED platinum building or a beautiful modernist energy hog?
Neither, I would hope! How 'bout a modernist LEED platinum building that is self-sufficient?
Name something besides architecture (sneakers, furniture, umbrellas) you love the design of.
This is not a politically correct answer, but... it is the automobile. Other than architecture, no single design effects us more on a daily basis. Form, function, engineering and art - beautiful and obscene at the same time.
What are three of your all-time favorite movies?
If I have to pick three - the ones that stick with me most are: Blade Runner, Fargo, Memento.