BY BRIAN LIBBY
Although recently in a post we looked back on the projects and plans that defined 2016, I'd like to try this now from a different but overlapping perspective: the Portland Architecture posts that attracted the most readers last year.
Without further ado, here, in oder of hits, are the top 2016 posts.
The irony of this story being the most-read of the year is that it's already moot: the renovation that Nike hired Portland firm Skylab Architecture to design, with an estimated cost of about $120 million, was abandoned after then-mayor Charlie Hales failed to attract the athletics-apparel giant as a private partner. The whole effort was tied to the idea of Portland's hosting the 2016 IAAF World Indoor Championships of track and field, but because the deal could not be completed, it was held at the Oregon Convention Center instead, meaning thousands fewer were able to witness this display of the world's best.
That said, a Coliseum renovation is not only very possible today, but it's arguably more likely than ever. Restoring the building, even at a much less ambitious level than the Nike plan, will still require a public-private partnership, and luckily the Portland Winterhawks have stated they're still on board. But the real key has been getting City Council to approve the approximately $20 million in funds that have long been earmarked for the building. Now that Coliseum opponent Steve Novick has been defeated in last November's election by Coliseum proponent Chloe Eudaly, joining pledged yes votes from Council members Nick Fish and Amanda Fritz, the three votes necessary to win would seem to be very possible. Mayor Ted Wheeler's support would still be crucial, but the city's own study, completed in 2015, also indicates that the restored Coliseum (like the un-restored Coliseum) would be operationally profitable and that the building's size gives it a size niche in the venue market that doesn't exist elsewhere.
A future Willamette Falls Riverwalk (Snøhetta)
#2: Snohetta's Michelle Delk discusses the Willamette Falls Riverwalk (April 8, 2016)
#3: James Beard Public Market abandons Morrison Bridge site (October 27, 2016)
I coupled the second and third-most popular stories of the year because they both involve the Norwegian-American firm Snøhetta coming to the Portland area. Certainly in both cases the projects themselves are at least as significant as the firm. Having the nation's second-largest-in-volume waterfall made available for public access for the first time in generations is a gigantic opportunity, as is the chance to re-imagine the industrial ruins there. And the James Beard Public Market is a chance to create a major destination on the waterfront: a chance to celebrate food and come together in a massive indoor open space. Certainly there are already plenty of farmer's markets and small food outlets in the city, as critics of the Beard project like to point out. But I think there's room for both, and that the Beard would become a local private-sector landmark akin to Powell's Books. The fact that the market is no longer planning to locate downtown is disappointing, even though leaving the Morrison Bridge site is understandable given its constraints: the bridge's circular ramps, the pedestrian-unfriendly barrier that Naito Parkway represents. But if the Beard is able to create a home on OMSI's property just across the river from downtown in Southeast, their declared intent, then it could be transformative for the Central Eastside. All that said, I was excited that one of the world's top firms could be the designer for both. Although officially Snøhetta is no longer the Beard's architect, the firm is master-planning OMSI's site, so a remarriage seems more than plausible.
#4: Allied Works' renovated Oregonian Building will be a showstopper (July 25, 2016)
Three words: Cloepfil renovates Belluschi. The largest building in Portland by Pietro Belluschi, Portland's top mid-century architect, is being renovated by Allied Works, the city's most acclaimed firm of the last 20 years. As an Architecture Foundation of Oregon fundraiser demonstrated last summer, the lobby by itself is stunning: a composition in wood and mirrored glass with double-height volume that had been hidden away with a drop ceiling for decades. Perhaps paralleling the paper itself, the Oregonian building was great but went into serious decline. Its new life as creative office space, home to companies like Amazon, gives the new owners the opportunity to re-beautify this Belluschi gem. And the lobby is just one of the grand, wide-open spaces being uncovered.
#5: Randy Gragg discusses UO's Green Loop design competition (January 8, 2016)
The idea of transforming the inner East Side is exciting: not only is there a massive freeway blocking our access to the river, the Martin Luther King Boulevard-Grand Avenue couplet is a busy highway that's not very pleasant to walk along, and there is very little green space. Of course we're stuck with the freeway overpass, and we can only traffic-calm MLK & Grand so much. But as this design competition showed, there are opportunities to perform a series of micro-surgeries on this stretch of cityscape: pocket parks, bioswales, protected bike lanes.
What's truly surprising and sad is that since this post, Gragg has been laid off by the University of Oregon as director of the John Yeon Center. Yeon's landmark Watzek House may have been bequeathed to the UO, but clearly Gragg is the true caretaker of Yeon's legacy in Portland, not the university. Thus to me at least the move is a head-scratcher. When you pair this move with UO's closing of the White Box gallery, it is a major step backward and a severing of the university's civic infrastructure. Since opening the White Stag block a few years ago, the University of Oregon seemed to be establishing a major presence in Portland's arts and design communities. For the first time, I find myself wondering if that will continue for the long haul.
#6: Bora's Brad Denby discusses The Cosmopolitan, now Portland's tallest residential building (September 7, 2016)
Writing about architecture in Portland over the last 16 years or so, I've often thought back to a favorite moment from childhood: when, as our family drove into the city from McMinnville, northbound on Interstate 5, suddenly the tallest downtown buildings such as the Wells Fargo Center (then known as the First National Bank Tower) would become visible. I remember thinking to myself, "When are they going to build some even taller ones?" I didn't realize, of course, that the First National building had prompted the city to initiate height restrictions.
As a result, I think Portland has traditionally lacked many slender, tallish towers. But The Cosmopolitan is just that: an elegant work of architecture that, while it would be dwarfed by towers in larger cities, at 28 stories it, well...towers above its neighbors. I now think of the Cosmopolitan as a kind of sibling to the US Bancorp Tower ("Big Pink"), in that its design is relatively simple and without anything to make it truly arresting, but nevertheless possessing a kind of enduring elegance and a height that, in relative terms given their fairly low-slung surrounding contexts, makes them stand out. I think our skyline is better for having the Cosmopolitan, and it's a striking return to form in this neighborhood for Bora after the disappointing Encore building nearby.
#7: Ironworks to food hub: an early glimpse inside The Redd (August 24, 2016)
If the James Beard Public Market is poised to become a retail food hub where we can buy produce and prepared offerings, The Redd is in part forming the infrastructure that will serve this and a host of restaurant and food industry purveyors. It's also a renovation of a massive former iron works warehouse in the Central Eastside that will, in addition to the cold-storage facilities next door, include a large atrium-like space where the public can gather for a bite. Over the past decade Portland has become one of the most celebrated cities in America for food and drink, and these new buildings and institutions are part of that evolution. That's exciting to imagine.
#8: Rem Koolhaas, SRG Partnership, and the new Multnomah County Courthouse (March 29, 2016)
The good news is that Portland is getting a new riverfront courthouse and it's a handsome building designed by a local firm, SRG Partnership. The bad news is that Multnomah County, the client, went through a selection process that seems questionable at best. Among those applying for the courthouse commission were two of the world's top firms—the Pritzker Prize-winning Rem Koolhaas's Office for Metropolitan Architecture and Skidmore, Owings and Merrill—were not even shortlisted for the commission. Based on my discussions with people from the county and some of the competing firms, it seems that the leading criteria were being local and having designed exactly this kind of courthouse before. Both Koolhaas and SOM have of course designed vastly more complex and large-scale buildings than this courthouse, but that wasn't enough to convince the client. Again, it's not necessarily a tragedy, because the firm chosen, SRG Partnership, has done a good job, I think. Yet as I've thought about this project over the ensuing months, I just can't escape a feeling of disappointment. Portland has a terrific array of local firms, but the best cities are also infused with contributions from great firms beyond their local borders, and for many years that is a contribution we have lacked. Certainly the recent contributions of Snohetta and Kengo Kuma at the Portland Japanese Garden are changing that, but I still think Multnomah County's process was flawed.
#9: National Trust names Coliseum a National Treasure — and Walton approves (June 10, 2016)
#10: Notes from a Centennial Mills forum (January 28, 2016)
I'll couple these posts because I've already touched upon the Coliseum, but also because they are both historic landmarks sitting near the Broadway Bridge on opposite sides of the river.
When the Coliseum was named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in June, it didn't give the building any added protections. But there are only about 65 National Treasure-listed buildings in the United States, so one hopes this can send a message to City Council that the Coliseum is too important a landmark to be demolished. What's more, the designation makes the National Trust an ongoing partner in the preservation campaign.
As I write this, a lot of Centennial Mills is, sadly, already gone. By the time the demolition crews have completed their work, only one building will be left: the Flour Mill building topped by the water tower. Given the huge historical significance of this site (which practically built Portland's economy starting in the 19th century as a nexus in Oregon's nation-leading wheat trade), one can only hope that the next time the Portland Development Commission endeavors to redevelop the site it will be more successful. To make Centennial Mills a thriving place we need to restore the Flour Mill building and find ways to connect it with the rest of the Pearl District, perhaps with a pedestrian bridge as called for in Peter Walker's original master plan. But even without the bridge, we need to save this industrial landmark. It's virtually the only old structure of any kind in the northern Pearl.
What, if anything, do these ten most popular posts tell us, or me? The largest connecting thread I see is that most all of these projects are public in some way. The Willamette Falls Riverwalk, Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the James Beard Public Market, the Multnomah County Courthouse, a Green Loop, The Redd, Centennial Mills: they're all places where we can come together as a community and celebrate the best of ourselves: our food culture, the sports and entertainment that keep us going, the historic architecture that connects to the past, and the justice we aspire to. Even the private sector projects, the Cosmopolitan tower and the Oregonian building, are ones that the public feels some sense of ownership of, either as a landmark designed by a seminal architect in the O's case or a new and very visible addition to the skyline in the Cosmo's case.
Maybe it's just my fear of a dystopian Trumpian future, but it feels encouraging that the readership statistics of this blog point to a sense of community and shared fate: a desire to come together now more than ever, and to look to history for a sense of continuity in tumultuous times. Architecture's first responsibility is to give us shelter. But after that, the buildings we design and the ones we preserve truly shape us and define us.