BY LUKE AREHART
In the February issue of Architect magazine as part of its Next Progressives series, writer Karrie Jacobs profiles Carrie Strickland, a partner and co-founder at Portland’s Works Partnership Architecture. Strickland and partner Bill Neburka were first introduced 10 years ago, when over drinks at Aalto Lounge “they’d discovered a shared enthusiasm for doing great design on limited budgets,” Jacobs writes, “and had agreed to quit their respective jobs.” Over the ensuing decade, Works Partnership has established itself as one of Portland’s acclaimed firms, winning a slew of design awards for not only renovations like the Olympic Mills Commerce Center (whose developer, Brad Malsin, introduced the partners) but also eye-catching new construction like the bSide6 building on East Burnside.
Yet from the very beginning of WPA’s founding in 2005, the firm has pursued not just architectural excellence but also an ambitious exploration of ideas through its nonprofit arm, Project Cityscope, whose mantra is that it “brings the design community and general public together for the open exchange of ideas, information and experiences via collaborations that result in events, urban interventions and public installations. Cityscope provides a forum for the inquiry, participation and awareness of new and underused ideas and opportunities towards a thoughtful urban evolution in Portland, Oregon, and beyond.”
Since 2005, Cityscope has hosted events like Pecha Kucha Portland (a kind of creative-industry slideshow night), artist installations in the bSide6 Gallery, and several events in conjunction with local collaborators. Project Cityscope holds their events in vacant spaces that WPA is currently or about to develop.
A few months ago I attended my first Project Cityscope event: Detour/Dérive, which featured presentations from six participants who engaged in separate walks by choosing a bus line to ride and getting off at a stop or stops they find intriguing. The aim of this project is to explore, project, and/or (mis)interpret narratives of the city in one 24-hour period that do not occur to us as critical to the urban landscape.
One presenter, Stacey Tran of WPA, shared a quote from Guy Debord’s 1956 paper Theory of the Dérive:“The dérive grants a rare instance of pure chance, an opportunity for an utterly new and authentic experience of the different atmospheres and feelings generated by the urban landscape.” Tran continued to give a description of the term, saying, “In psychogeography, a dérive is an unplanned journey through a landscape, usually urban, on which the subtle aesthetic contours of the surrounding architecture and geography subconsciously direct the travelers, with the ultimate goal of encountering an entirely new and authentic experience.” She also summoned Victor Shklovsky on the process of defamiliarization, that it “disentangles things from cultural conventions and symbolic systems, and restores their perceptual immediacy, a vivid sense of their materiality.” The group was then asked to turn to a someone they didn’t know and share a description of a recent route that was taken that veered from a familiar path in terms of what was seen, heard and experienced.
After the group participation, Tran built on the previously shared quotes about dérive to set the premise of the evening by screening a video clip of a haunting dream sequence from Ingmar Bergman’s film Wild Strawberries. The clip showed the protagonist sauntering across a desolate urban landscape while the narration spelled out at the bottom on the screen: “I dreamt that during my morning walk I lost my way among empty streets with ruined houses.” The nearly 5 minute sequence continued to feature a driverless horse drawn hearse clunking its way through the empty streets losing a wagon wheel that rolls toward the dreamer. The presenters then began to show their findings and experiences on their own derive explorations. Each individual used many variations of visuals and audios to represent complex layers of hidden information from the urban landscape. One presenter shared a thought-provoking poem about their experiences with the line “in all directions at window level streets of shops where tattoos are drawn trains crammed with the humidity water feeds the city chimneys.” Neatly designed booklets were available at the event that contained images and text mementos from each of the presenter’s explorations.
Cityscope has numerous events planned for this year, such as The New Structure, “a series of presentations that explore architectures of the community, the urban fabric, environments, the poetic, the body, space, and the imagination. What are the ways of examining and exploring place? This is a series of investigation, discussion, experimentation, performance, and storytelling. It is a platform promoting the creation of new forms and definitions of placemaking and experiencing space.”
The inaugural event for The New Structure, on Monday, February 24 at 7:00pm, features author Coleman Stevenson and artist Nora Wendl presenting "Paper Houses." At the time of this post, this event is sold out. Another New Structure event is slated for Saturday, March 15, 2014 from 2:00-7:00pm and features 26 Portland poets who will read from poet Lisa Robertson's “Occasional Work” and “Seven Walks.”