It's just never over, is it?
Mayor Sam Adams
Dear Mayor Adams:
On behalf of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, we are writing to express our support for the preservation of Portland’s Memorial Coliseum. We were alarmed to learn of your proposal to demolish this architecturally-significant modernist building and brazen pledge to seek City Council approval for demolition within a month. As detailed below, the unique qualities of this structure and its importance to the community require a careful evaluation of alternatives before demolition is considered. We are also highly skeptical of claims that the demolition of this Portland landmark is a “sustainable” solution. In fact, demolition followed by new construction would be a dramatic step backward in Portland’s goal of becoming the world’s most sustainable city.
The Memorial Coliseum is an historic building that contributes significantly to the community of Portland and the State of Oregon. Designed 1958-1960 by the firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (established in 1936 in Chicago), the Coliseum is architecturally notable for its cantilevered steel-truss roof floating over a free-standing concrete arena bowl, the whole enclosed by a glass curtain wall. An all-glass exterior façade is an uncommon treatment for arenas of this era. The rarity of this style contributes to structure’s historic significance.
With the successful reuse of this building, Portland can demonstrate its leadership in the preservation of historic architecture and work cooperatively towards developing a practical model for communities that are debating new uses for their aging arenas. In 2002, William P. Macht, an adjunct professor of urban planning and development in the College of Urban & Public Affairs at Portland State University, put forward four alternative plans for the preserved coliseum, created as part of a three-month development planning workshop. These particular options -- a headquarters hotel, an arts complex, a sustainable technology center and an urban home center –prove that alternatives do exist and should be more fully explored by the City before any further decisions are made.
Finally, we are concerned that the Mayor has supported demolition of the Coliseum under the mantra of “sustainability.” We question the accuracy of this assumption. Choosing new construction over reuse is rarely the most sustainable choice. New construction requires a massive expenditure of energy to manufacture or extract building materials, transport them to the construction site, and assemble them into a new building. A substantial amount of energy is already embodied in the Coliseum’s sizable steel and glass frames. The replacement of existing structural components with newly manufactured and newly extracted materials must be factored into the environmental cost if the City is to tout sustainability as an objective of this plan.
In light of community support and significant historic evidence, the National Trust asks that the reuse and renovation of Memorial Coliseum be the City’s first priority regarding the future of Rose Quarter area. The Trust also asks that the City consider the historic importance of the building relative to the rapidly diminishing number of significant modern works of architecture in the State and nationwide.