BY BRIAN LIBBY
The two projects to take home the top-level Honor Award at this year's Portland Architecture Awards from the local American Institute of Architects chapter could not be more disparate in scale. One, Waechter Architecture's Garden House is a small accessory dwelling unit in the backyard of a larger home. The other, Allied Works' Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Center for Art & Design at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, re-imagines a full-block sized early 20th Century federal building. But the design acumen is first rate in both of these projects, by Allied Works and Waechter Architecture, in the eyes of the jury.
The Garden House is noteworthy for its cantilevered second floor, which adds square footage to a small floor plate while adding a striking sculptural quality. PNCA, while it may lack the razor-sharp precision of some past Allied Projects, is a breathtaking transformation of a formerly dark, oppressive space into a light-filled work centered around a new atrium.
Both of these firms, as well as many of this year's other award winners, are no stranger to the architectural trophy case. Although last year's jury declined to hand out any Honor Awards, Allied Works took the prize in 2013 with its Sokol Blosser Winery tasting room near Dundee, and in 2012 for Denver's Clyfford Still Museum, as well as the 2008 Honor Award for Booker T. Washington High School in Dallas. Weachter won an Honor Award in 2011 for the J-Tea teahouse in Eugene, as well as top honors in this year's AIA Northwest & Pacific Region for the Pavilion House.
The next tier of honors, known as the Merit Award, went to four projects, all by firms that are regulars in the AIA Portland Architecture Awards winners' circle: 3330 Division Street, a mixed-use apartment building on burgeoning SE Division Street by Hacker; Tree House, an octagonal residential building by Lever Architecture at Oregon Health & Science University's Marquam Hill campus; Fire Station 76 in Gresham by Hennebery Eddy Architects, and (in the Unbuilt category) a Memorial Coliseum renovation plan by Skylab Architecture. The Hacker project was also singled out as a 2030 Award winner for its sustainable credentials.
Hacker's 3330 SE Division (photos by Jeremy Bittermann)
Lever Architecture's Tree House (photos by Lara Swimmer)
Hennebery Eddy's Fire Station 76 (photos by Josh Partee)
ZGF Architects, which won the Honor Award in 2013 for its Hatfield-Dowlin Complex at the University of Oregon, in 2011 for the Legacy Emmanuel Medical Center Central Utility Plant and in 2010 for its Jaqua Center (also at UO), won a Citation Award this year for its Stanford University Central Energy Facility. Citation Awards, the AIA's third-tier prize, also went to Ankeny 2/3, a residential project in Southeast Portland by Colab Architecture + Urban Design, and the Sanford Lab Homestake Visitor Center in South Dakota by Dangermond Keane Architecture.
Colab's Ankeny 2/3 (photo by Darius Kuzmickas, KuDa Photography)
This year's Small Project Award went to two projects: the Vomo Island Spa at Vomo Island Resort in Fiji by Architecture Building Culture and the Artisan's Cup project (a Portland Art Museum exhibit of bonsai plants) by Skylab Architecture. ABC firm previously won an Unbuilt Citation Award in 2011 for its Lubavitch Centre in Vancouver, British Columbia, and a Citation Award in 2012 for the Stubbs Residence. Skylab has won several AIA awards, including an Honor Award in 2012 for the Nike Camp Victory pop-up, and an Honor Award in 2008 for 12 + Alder, a mixed-use project downtown.
The Jury Award and the Mayor's Design Award rounded out the night's prizes. The Jury Award, previously known as the People's Choice Award, went to the Pickathon Tree-Line Stage, a temporary work created by a team from Portland State University's School of Architecture. The Mayor's Design Award went to two projects: Allied Works' Schnitzer Center at PNCA, and the Stadium Fred Meyer by Mackenzie. An Honorable Mention for the Mayor's Award also went to Colab for the aforementioned Ankeny 2/3.
Overall the awards seem to confirm that there is a small group of firms that win awards nearly every year they enter, such this year's Honor Award winners Allied Works and Waechter Architecture as well as venerable names like Holst Architecture, Works Partnership Architecture (both frequent winners in years past), Skylab, Hacker, Henneberry Eddy, Lever Architecture, and ZGF. But there are always firms like Architecture Building Culture and Colab quietly racking up honors, and firms like Mackenzie or Dangermond Keane infusing the city and beyond with new designs.
Although the recurrence of these firms attests to their resonance with a variety of juries, who each year come from out of town to evaluate these projects, the awards are, it must be said, a snapshot look at the local design seen by a trio of jurors without much of a deeper sense of Portland and the firms at work. (This year's jury included Kevin Daly of Kevin Daly Architects in Los Angeles, Betsy Williamson of Williamson Chong in Toronto and Sierra Bainbridge of MASS Design Group in Boston.) That's largely a good thing, for it frees up the jury to evaluate the architecture without prejudice. Yet it's also asking these jurors, however talented they may be, to pick winners in just a few short hours, usually doing so based solely on photographs rather than going to each project (which would be prohibitively time-consuming).
It's not to say the jury failed here. I might have chosen PNCA and the Garden House as the Honor Award winners too. But awards, as we all know, are an imperfect endeavor and often fail in the long run to be the best measure of quality. For architectural quality is ultimately the opposite of a split-second decision, instead a reflection of design and construction that endure across eras and stylistic periods.
So if you're an architect reading this who didn't win, keep in mind the Academy Award for Best Picture. It has actually gone to the not-best picture (How Green Was My Valley in 1941, Oliver! in 1968, Rocky in 1976, Dances With Wolves in 1990, Forrest Gump in 1994) far more often than it has gone to the best one of any particular year (Citizen Kane, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Pulp Fiction in those same years). But we all come to know what the best movies are.
That said, congratulations to these deserving firms.