BY LUKE AREHART
Since forming in 1992, Portland firm Hennebery Eddy Architects has amassed an impressive portfolio fusing sustainable principles with a reverence for craftsmanship and simple, beautiful forms. The firm has won a slough of design awards, most recently earning a spot in 2012 on the prestigious national AIA Committee on the Environment Top Ten Green Projects list, one of only three local architecture firms to do so. Be it libraries, university buildings, eccleasiastical centers, golf courses, bus stations, even landscape and interior design, Hennebery Eddy has been honored for a wide spectrum of work. If there is a connecting thread, it's not a stylistic one so much as the presence of light and natural materials.
Celebrating the firm's 20th anniversary last year, Hennebery Eddy is a testament not only to longevity but overcoming obstacles. In 1998, co-founder Stephen Hennebery died suddenly. But the firm has gone on to prosper, keeping Hennebery's name on the door. Hennebery's partner, Tim Eddy, has now guided the company for more than two decades, not only as an architect but a community leader, serving eight years as on the city's Design Commission. Recently Eddy sat down to discuss his career as an architect in Portland.
Portland Architecture: When did you first become interested in architecture as a possible career?
Timothy Eddy: I started to think about becoming an architect when I was in high school. I was looking for something where I could work at an artistic endeavor with real world implications. I grew up on a family ranch in Montana and I enjoyed and loved the character of the spaces, the landscape, and the history. I didn't experience urbanity until I was in college, aside from an occasional trip to San Diego or Seattle when I was a kid. The place I lived in Montana gave me a rural, small-town upbringing. My interest in urban places is a result of the place I grew up; you often gravitate toward what you are deprived of. I enjoyed painting and drawing and making things. I also have an affinity for math and science, so architecture seemed like a reasonable thing to do. I trotted off to architecture school and I don’t think I met a real practicing architect other than a college professor until I was in my second or third year of college.
Where did you study architecture and how would you rate the experience?
Since I grew up in Montana, there is one architectural school in the state—Montana State University in Bozeman. For me, it was a lucky thing that I went there. I suppose if the internet had been around then I would’ve searched around and might have ended up somewhere else. Montana State is a terrific school. The school is interesting because it is out in the middle of nowhere, and pre-internet it was very isolated. There was a real sense of the need to reach out; I think that sense is still there. There was a lot of faculty from other places, which made it a good and diverse program. I did an exchange to the School of Design at North Carolina State in Raleigh, which was a different kind of architectural education experience and a different environment. It gave me the opportunity to spend time seeing cities on the East Coast. Subsequently when I graduated school, I went to work on the East Coast.
I’m still involved with Montana State today. I’m on their advisory council, along with a couple of other architects here in town. One of the most exciting things for me personally over the past year or so has been designing the College of Business for MSU. My firm started working on that project about a year ago, and it has been fun for me to go back and revisit the school.
What is your favorite building project that you’ve worked on?
I don’t think I have one favorite: I have dozens of favorites. Every project has incredible moments along with frustrating moments. For me, my favorite is the next one. There is something about each and every one of them that makes a story. Being part of that story, helping to write it, and carrying the story forward into the next thing you do is hugely important.
A recent project that I'm very personally invested in is the Portland Community College Newberg Center—our client was very engaged in both the design and technical aspects of the project, which enabled us to create a building that is conceptually quite clear. The recent work we did on the Spalding Building, a historic building in downtown Portland, is a favorite too—it was a pleasure to be able to resolve the design and materials so completely.
Who has been an important mentor among your colleagues?
This is something else that is really difficult for me to pin down. There are the guys I worked with years ago on the East Coast at RTKL and at Ayers Saint Gross. I learned from them and they gave me a great deal of opportunity and autonomy to both learn about the profession and design work. I learned about being an architect, and there were people at both firms who pushed and supported and helped. My most important mentors are the other principals and the folks here in this office. It’s the people I work with all of the time; there is always something new.
I learned a lot during the 8 years I spent on the Design Commission, and I’d have to say that I learned an enormous amount from every person that I sat on the Design Commission with and from some of the applicants too.
What part of the job do you like best?
The thing I like best is working with the people that we’ve put together here at Hennebery Eddy. I like working with other architects and designers to analyze issues and develop concepts while testing, refining and working with our clients. It is great to see our younger staff grow and learn. I look back and see the opportunities that I was given as a young architect that helped me to grow, learn, get established and try to figure it out as much as I could; I want to make sure that we do that for the staff here.
It's also really fun to do projects that lots of people recognize, like Fire Station 28 where we had a really successful collaboration with the public artist, James Harrison.
What are some Portland buildings (either new or historic) that you most admire?
I think the Equitable/Commonwealth Building is one of the most important buildings in Portland from a range of perspectives, especially considering when that building was built and the ideas that were pioneered on it along with its impact on the rest of the world.
There are other buildings that I admire as well. The sanctuary at the First Presbyterian Church is fantastic. When you walk in you step into a different era in Portland, the craftsmanship, woodwork and the whole space is absolutely gorgeous.
This is one that you probably don’t hear from many architects in Portland, but one of my favorite buildings is the Union Bank of California Building. It’s abysmal from an urban design standpoint and flies in the face of everything that we try to do in terms of creating great streets, but it’s really an unabashedly sculptural building. I know it has a sister building or two elsewhere. It’s an interesting building in terms of what it does and its gutsy sculptural quality.
Union Bank of California and Big Pink (photo by Brian Libby)
What is your favorite building outside of Portland and besides any you’ve worked on?
One is the East Wing in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. It demonstrates how contemporary architecture can merge into a very formal historic context. It was a place of respite for me when I was working hard as a young architect. I would go spend time there after we would finish a project. For me it’s a personal thing, but it is an interesting and beautiful building.
Another favorite is the reconstruction of the Barcelona Pavilion, which is just a fantastic experience to see now.
Is there a local architect or firm you think is unheralded or deserves more credit?
We have such an amazing architectural community in Portland. I think the folks that deserve credit are generally getting it; both in terms of peer recognition and their work. With the downturn of the economy in 2007-2009 many young and entering mid-career architects are working on their own or starting new small firms. I think we are going to see a range of new talent and new ideas emerge from this movement.
There is robust competition in Portland among architects. There is also a sense of collegiality that really makes it very satisfying to work here. For all of the competiveness while we are all working hard to keep our noses above water, that level of collegiality has become increasingly more important to me the longer I live in Portland.
What would you like to see change about Portland’s built environment in the long term?
I’d like to see them put the Columbia River Crossing in a tunnel and keep the existing bridges for light rail, pedestrians, bikes and local traffic to Hayden Island and Delta Park. It feels like the horse is out of the barn and that’s done, and it’s too bad because I think the Columbia River Crossing has every opportunity to be one of the most disappointing public works projects that we’ve seen. Second to that, I would say we need to work to resolve the East Bank freeway problem.
Connect all of the bike lanes so that they are uninterrupted.
How would you rate the performance of local government like the Portland Development Commission, or the development and planning bureaus?
It is easy for some to point to the shortcomings of BDS or the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability, but there are some enormously talented folks working there. With all of the things that we get frustrated with as practicing architects or developers, we have to realize that Portland didn’t get to where it is today without a few bumps in the road. We have active community participation and a strong set of rules that we all have to play by. The Design Commission helps foster opportunities, and I think the design review process enables coloring outside of the lines when there is a great architect who has a great project. Sometimes things are administered in a tough way and there are always new rules that throw you asunder. While you could never say that you’d ever agree with everything that a bureaucracy does or the processes that we have to go through, generally, Portland's way of doing it is one of the best in the country.
Who is a famous architect you’d like to see design a building in Portland?
I’d love to see Renzo Piano design a building in Portland.
Name something besides architecture (sneakers, furniture, umbrellas) you love the design of.
Any make or model in particular?
It’s very interesting to watch and see what happens across the whole scope of the industry. How they deal with technical and practical considerations as well as fashion, design and accommodating people, it’s fascinating to me.
What are three of your all-time favorite movies?
This is probably the hardest question on here. There are so many, but if I have to say what I would watch, it’s probably movies I have already watched a hundred times before:
Clint Eastwood’s early westerns; they are so interesting in the way simple stories are put together along with some of the symbolism. They are fun to watch. Hang ‘Em High, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and the High Plains Drifter where they paint the town red.
Another movie that always flashes back to me is the film version of Sometimes a Great Notion “Never Give an Inch.” I enjoy that movie - it’s an Oregon movie.
This is probably an obscure one, Repo Man with Harry Dean Stanton. There are parts of it I still can’t get out of my head.