BY BRIAN LIBBY
Our continuing series on local architects' influences and favorites continues with Risa Boyer Leritz, whose firm, Risa Boyer Architecture, celebrates a decade in Portland this year after being founded in Los Angeles in 2006. A 1998 graduate of the California College of the Arts, she began her career at Tanner Leddy Maytum Stacy (now Leddy Maytum Stacy) in San Francisco before spending four years with Los Angeles firm OJMR Architects and then opening her own firm. Recent projects include a midcentury-modern renovation in the Mt. Tabor area and the all-new Riverwood residence in Dunthorpe.
Portland Architecture: When did you become interested in architecture as a possible career?
Risa Boyer Leritz: I was around the age of seven, or at least that’s how I remember it. It may have been more like 10 when I committed to becoming an architect. I was really into playing with Barbies and looking at my mother’s Metropolitan Home and Sunset magazines. While that may sound random, I spent a great deal of time sprawling all of my Barbie furniture out in the living room and creating dream homes based on the inspiration I found in the home design magazines. I recall asking my mom, while blissfully playing, what I could do to for the rest of my life that would be like this. She responded with architecture. My mother jumped at my new-found career interest and proceeded to fill my youth with architecture books, trips to Frank Lloyd Wright exhibits, and visits to interesting architecture sites. And thus, my career path was paved.
Where did you study architecture and how would you rate the experience?
Because I knew that I wanted to study architecture at a young age I had already mapped out all of the programs across the country that offered a bachelor of architecture, which is a five-year professional degree. Having grown up around artists and my own personal interest in drawing, I found myself at the California College of Arts and Crafts (now California College of the Arts). I loved being in the Bay Area at a small college surrounded by creative people.
What is your favorite building project that you’ve worked on?
I recently completed a mixed-use project that I developed with my husband in Northeast Portland that may be my current favorite because it was such a huge accomplishment. So much of the project was challenging. The site was tricky. Navigating the commercial building code was tedious (I typically work on residential projects). Developing our first project, which included finding partners to invest and convincing a bank to give inexperienced developers $3.5 million, seemed impossible at times. After three and a half years of hard work I can finally look at the building and not be filled with anxiety.
Who has been an important mentor among your colleagues?
I have been sharing my office space with three other sole-practitioner architects for the past four years, Webster Wilson, Zach Gillum and Eric McDaniel. While I don’t know if mentor is exactly the correct term, we provide a really nice support network that we can tap into daily.
What part of the job do you like best and as an architect what do you think you most excel at?
For me these two things are mutually inclusive. I find great joy in the relationships I form with my clients and I think that the relationship formed with my clients is was I most excel at. Forming a strong, trusting relationship creates a platform for collaboration and fluid communication that results in well-designed functional projects and, most importantly, happy clients.
What are some Portland buildings (either new or historic) that you most admire?
The new Cultural Crossing at the Portland Japanese Garden by Kengo Kuma is really beautiful, and it's a wonderful example of how architecture can be harmonious with nature. I was excited about the One North building at Northeast Fremont and Williams by Holst Architecture because it is such a unique design for Portland. For older buildings I really enjoy the façade of the Lovejoy Medical Building and the overall design and detailing at the Central Lutheran Church by Pietro Belluschi.
What is your favorite building outside of Portland and besides any that you’ve worked on?
I don’t know if I have one favorite building. I am a huge fan of work by both Oscar Niemeyer and John Lautner.
Is there a local architect or firm that you think is unheralded or deserves more attention?
Webster Wilson is an extremely talented architect and has remained somewhat under the radar.
What would you like to see change about Portland’s built environment in the long term?
I would really love to see more of the new homes and developments be designed and built with the long term in mind. So much of what’s going up in this city is being built by developers who are not thinking about context, design, sustainability or quality construction which is going to result in a lot of worn-out looking buildings in 10 years. I wish there was more consideration for design and building materials that are going to age well.
How would you rate the performance of the local government like the Portland Development Commission (now Prosper Portland) or the development and planning bureaus?
This is tricky. I think they have handled the outbreak of home demos and horribly out of scale developer homes really poorly. At the onset of this epidemic the planning department should have introduced new zoning ordinances that limited the size of these homes so that they kept in scale with the neighborhoods. Instead they focused on trying to slow down demolition which, in the end, did nothing to curb these homes from being built.
Is there a famous architect you would like to see do work here in Portland?
I would have loved to see Hadid do a project here.
Name something besides architecture (sneakers, furniture, umbrellas) you love the design of.
A few of my favorite designs outside of architecture are the Womb Chair by Eero Saarinen, the 1962 Jaguar E-Type roadster, and Iittala’s Ultima Thule drinkware.
Name three of your all-time favorite movies.
"La Notte" by Michelangelo Antonioni, David Lynch's "Blue Velvet," and "Harold and Maude" by Hal Ashby.