When it was completed in 1998, the renovated Goodman Building didn't just provide an expanded home and presence for the Pacific Northwest College of Art. It also epitomized the Pearl District's DNA: creative conversions of warehouses. Holst Architecture's design provided a mix of art-exhibit space and classrooms surrounding a wide-open multistory central space that acted as a crossroads for teachers, students and visitors. Whether lectures, art shows or the occasional music performances, the Goodman felt like the creative heart of the Pearl even as the boxy old building with its concrete floors kept the neighborhood's past partially alive.
And that's to say nothing of the building's incredible exterior paint job, created by Randy Higgins (and which I wrote about in 2005 for Metropolis magazine), which translates a Rimbaud poem into an invented visual language of multi-colored squares and rectangles.
This week brought confirmation that the Goodman is slated for demolition. As reported by the Daily Journal of Commerce's Lee Fehrenbacher, Seattle-based developer Security Properties, which purchased the block last fall for $11.75 million, has submitted conceptual plans to the Bureau of Development Services for mixed-use development that would replace the Goodman with two buildings at 15 and 5 stories, totaling 220 units of housing above ground-floor retail. The $72 million project is to be designed by Seattle firm Mithun, which is known for its exemplary sustainable design credentials. "The net equity PNCA will realize from the $11.75 million sale," the school says on its website, "is part of the financing structure for the $32 million new campus construction project."
There's no doubt that PNCA's move to the historic 511 Broadway building is an exciting game changer for the school, particularly that the renovation was designed by Portland's most acclaimed firm, Allied Works. The Brad Cloepfil-led design will both help make PNCA a more serious and ambitious art and design school as it coalesces around the North Park Blocks while allowing Allied something it has done far too little of over the past decade: design a major building in its home city. It's easy to see in renderings of the 511 some of the beauty and kinetics of Allied's signature Portland design, which was also a Pearl District renovation: the Wieden + Kennedy headquarters.
Even so, it's a shame that PNCA, which has grown substantially since branching out from its origins as the Portland Art Museum's in-house school, has had to stretch its resources to the degree where keeping a presence in the 511 and the Goodman is not possible.
Even if retaining the Goodman did not make financial or programmatic sense for PNCA, one could easily have imagined it taking on a role like that of warehouses and other historic buildings across the river converted into creative-industry office space, such as the Olympic Mills Commerce Center, the Leftbank Building, the Eastbank Commerce Center and the new Eastside Exchange. Or better yet, it would have been nice to see the Goodman become some kind of arts venue. How many performance spaces, for example, are there in the Pearl? Not far from here in Slabtown, the dance company Bodyvox turned an old building into a Boora-designed headquarters and performance venue. But there aren't a lot of other examples.
Instead of attracting a redevelopment-minded owner or developer, someone with more ambitious, tower-sized ambitions stepped in. And thus the Goodman had to go. It says something about how the real estate economy has emerged from its years of recession and started booming again. It also reminds us how popular the Portland area has become as a place of migration, and given how the Pearl is zoned to allow such highrises, it's perhaps not surprising that Seattle's Security Properties would swoop in. If they hadn't, some other developer probably would have. Yet unlike the example of projects like the Brewery Blocks, which retained portions of the site's former Weinhard beer brewery in building offices and condos, I'm guessing Security is not going to retain any semblance of the Goodman.
The Goldman wasn't an irreplaceable work of architecture per se. But the existing fabric of old buildings in Old Town/Chinatown and the Pearl, or what's left of them, together have a less easily quantifiable yet nevertheless substantial economic value of their own. They're what give these areas north of downtown and west of the Willamette their character, both aesthetically in their patina'd look and in their relatively small two to three-story scale. Thankfully there are individual success stories, like the one that seems to be happening with Centennial Mills; as The Oregonian's Elliot Njus reports, it may be on track for Jordan Schnitzer-led renovation.
"On the one hand I hate to see those neat old buildings disappear because they do bring a lot of character to the city," the DJC's Fehrenbacher told me by email. "But on the other hand, I feel like it’s a necessary evil if we want to prevent urban sprawl. I grew up in Sacramento, which outside of the downtown core is kind of like the land of never-ending suburbia. It’s disgusting. I wish that city would get on board with half the strategies Portland adopted long ago."
Indeed, the intent here is not to question density and the zoning that allows tall buildings in the Pearl. It's precisely what has made this area so vibrant, whether it's the collection of restaurants and shops or the blend of architecture and greenspace. At the same time, cities like San Francisco and New York have shown a potential downside to unbridled development in coveted neighborhoods. When real estate prices rise enough, there's an irresistible financial incentive to tear down buildings of even modest density in order to maximize the allowable density and achieve more profit. The architecture may be attractive or admirably sustainable, or both. The density may provide a positive contribution to the cultural vibrancy of the neighborhood. Yet if we lose the variation, in scale and in the mix of new and old structures, suddenly we risk becoming a forest of nearly identical tall buildings like we see pictures of in the latest pop-up metropolises of China.
Perhaps, in other words, life will go on if Portland loses the Goldman building after PNCA moves out in 2015. The school will be better off than ever and the new buildings will put more people in the neighborhood on the street, enabling a broader tax base and supporting local businesses. Yet if all the Goldman buildings go, we'll increase the likelihood that the priceless sense of place that defines us.