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Ken Bauer

Brian, I would like You to ask the architects if it is frustrating for them to always have to downsize their designs in the Portland market. Everytime an interesting design comes along, it seems, the Portland design mafia takes over. Designs such as the Morrison Tower get downgraded to a boring design like ODS. It's surprising the John Ross got through. Stumpy, Square, and bland seem to be recipe of choice for the Portland design mafia. Thanks for your wonderful website.


Ken, thanks for the kind words, but with all due respect: design mafia? I'm guessing you mean the city's design commission. I'm not sure they're the problem when it comes to there being uninspiring architecture in the city. It's true we have to be watchful that the city doesn't impose a sameness on the architectural scene, but I think overall the result of the design commission is a better integrated urban fabric that puts the pedestrian first. I think the larger problem is the econonomics of development and the tendency to shy away from selecting the most talented architects when they come from smaller firms (among other issues).

Anyone else care to comment on this?


I agree with Brian. The design commission is not requesting the new safeway development put in above ground parking, its the developer and the design its created is atrocious. The design commission does get caught up with little things on good projects that slows the process down a bit, but overall I think they are a positive for Portland. Lets hope the "mafia" kill this new safeway project. Its so bad I'm amazed an architectural firm would even put its name on it.


yeah i'd be interested what readers on here think of the new pearl safeway/unico lovejoy block's design...

www.gglo.com/gglo.htm ->"on the boards" -> "lovejoy blocks 1 & 2"

Ken Bauer

Reminds me of the old NW Montgomery Wards building. I guess "mafia" was alittle strong. I just see amazing designs being done all over the world and many in the same cities and I think, "Wow! That would really stand out and look awesome in Portland". Yes the economic climate is the biggest reason. But what if a huge corporation wanted to build a signature tower that didn't block Mt.Hood. I could just here the elitest saying "That blocks my view of NE Portland". It's always something. When Morrison Tower was proposed People were complaining. "It's too tall". Give me a break. To me what makes buildings friendly are Nice setbacks, Landscaping, Places to have or get something to eat, retail, Beautiful glass colors, and spirited night lighting. Building a Squat 200'er that takes up a whole block is not pedestrian friendly. A 600'er with curves and setbacks to allow for sunshine is to me much more pedestrian friendly. But, that's just my opinion. I'm sure the Nimby's are blood red by now.



Kind of like San Francisco in a way, isn't it?

Portland Web Design

If the main culprit is dull developers, what is it about other cities that attracts more risk-taking developers?


A great devil's-advocate question. If I indicated that the problem is as simple as "dull developers", then I was inaccurate. I think most of the developers working in the urban core are good people who, for the most part, want to create good architecture. They especially care about good urban design and sustainability, which is very Portland. I just think that, especially when there are big budgets and large building programs, they tend - like developers in any city - to hire larger firms they've worked with before. And that's completely understandable. I don't even mean to say those larger firms are untalented. Not at all. It's just that as an architecture/design enthusiast, I see some particularly talented architects in the city whose smaller firms miss out on bigger jobs for practical reasons, and I root for them to get in on things. I'd like to see the very best people designing the biggest projects here. That's not always a realistic hope, but I remain optimistic that it can happen.

Portland Web Design

I was only aiming for alliteration. Perhaps "dull developers" should be replaced with "risk averse developers" who would pass over a great design at a small firm for a more conventional design from a large firm. I still wonder, do you think other cities have better architecture than Portland? If so, what's different about developers' decision-making processes elsewhere?


Do you feel that the height restrictions are based on decisions to keep Portland "beautiful" etc... or is it a financial influence from those in the west hills who are afraid to loose their view?

I would rather have a city with a strong downtown area with beautiful taller buildings than a city that becomes a sea of 200 foot square buildings.

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