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Mike Thelin

I agree with you completely Brian. Unfortunately, this attitude toward modernism is hardly limited to conservative thought. There are plenty of "progressive" Portlanders who believe buildings today ought to look like they were designed in the 19th Century--that frivolous ornamentation is somehow superior to modern technology, materials, and technique. People often forget that even if you could build a replica of the Dekum Building, you would have a hell of a time finding the artisans and the materials to pull it off.


I agree Brian and Mike. In addition to the lack of materials and artisans, the builing codes, wages, and thin profit margins further make 19th century building difficult-not that I'm supporting a revival.

Even if he dislikes modern buildings, he must admit they are superior to anything built between the 60-90s.

Lastly, in the 19th and early 20th centuries it seems that architects had more sway in projects than they do today.
Has this writer offered any solutions?

Bob R.

Before completely dissing Disney, note that their parks (especially Epcot) feature some astonishingly modern structures as well. How about a complete geodesic sphere 165' in diameter, or the Contemporary hotel which explored modular construction and mass transit running right through the middle?

Disney was also highly concerned with how architecture facilitated the overall experience of park visitors. The diminishing scale and false perspective of upper floors on replica buildings was meant not only to cram more buildings into a small amount of real estate, but to make the primary beneficiary of park services (children) feel larger-than-life while in the park.

Disney parks, at least internally, could also be considered an epitome of master-planned, transit-accessible, walkable design.

Even Celebration, Florida (a syrupy-sweet planned neo-new-urbanist community originally designed by the Disney company) has a sprinkling of contemporary structures.

- Bob R.

Bob R.

One other comment, offered as a point of discussion:

In most creative endeavors, from live theatre to cinema, from poetry to novels, there is a range of works being produced, and many are in the form of classic styles. There will always be the avant-garde and contemporary, but some artists will pay homage to past styles while others will try to master those styles.

Is no more life to be gained from the style of classic Film Noir? Will the Broadway Musical be forever destroyed by Rock Concerts or DVDs? Of course not. Each style has its intended purpose and effect.

But it seems that in architectural circles, attempts at ornamentation or homages to past styles are frequently derided as "faux-historic". Is this pejorative reserved just for attempts which are unsuccessful, or are such endeavors considered not worth trying?

Perhaps it is because architecture is fused to engineering, and our available methods dictate final style to a greater degree than we recognize? But if this were so, how could build-any-shape-because-we-can architects like Frank O. Gehry accomplish what they do? (And to tie it all together, Disney Hall, anyone?)

Just as we have painters who work in a particular style or genre, it would be nice to see architects who find ways to really honor (and perhaps update) past styles, and benefactors for those architects so that the works find a place in our actual civic environment.

- Bob R.


Writer LaMountain seems far from being a crack architectural critic. After all, in lamenting the loss of inspiration and creativity in contemporary architecture that he feels was present in earlier styles, while citing amongst others, the Ambassador Condominiums as an example of good earlier stuff, he fails to remind us all of the impending loss of the similarly styled Rosefriend Apartment Building, located nearby on Broadway. Any last gasp plea that might help to rescue that building from its undue and unjust fate would be welcome.

Beyond that, I believe his criticism of the use of the Bauhaus and other related contemporary styles is well placed. My feeling is that developers coldly prefer contemporary over designs that would feature expression and decorative detail of any kind let alone on a level with earlier era designs for one reason: contemporary is probably cheaper to build.

We have too many local architectural efforts that do not even try to make an effort to rise to the kind of inspiration inherent in designs by van der Rohe or Phillip Johnson. We shouldn't want a regurgitation of styles from a century or more previous, but we certainly shouldn't be faulted for wanting in today's buildings, the same energy, imaginative creation, and soul that fired the realization of styles from those periods.

John Sykes

I agree that most modern architecture in Portland is 'forgettable', but I think this is true for any generation of buildings. Not every building can be a showstopper--our cities would be a visual jumble.

Some buildings need to be background.

I recently relocated to Charlotte, NC, where neo-traditionalism is alive and well. Columns, keystones, palladian windows and cupolas abound. Somehow this does seem to reflect the city's conservative politics, a throwback to the fictional 'better time' many conservatives pine for. Strangely, there seem to be very few genuinely old and dignified buildings. All of them are new impressions.

Portland, of course, has a more representative collection of buildings from genuinely old through the new; It shows the progression of architectural and political thought throughout time. Charlotte seems to be mired in its fictional past.


Why does it have to be one or the other (traditional vs Modernism) Isn't that a copout? Is there not an alternative to modernism or traditionalism? Why don't local architects come up with a pure PNW style built around the buildings functioning in the uniqueness of the PNW environment. Let the detailing grow out of our regional uniqueness. Use local materials to shape the architecture. To much of modern architecture seems driven by architecture books rather then the place


I think La Mountain's article has much to disagree with.

That said, I agree that many of our large new buildings, if not most, are "unforgettable". Using the measure Vitruvius suggested...."firmness, comodity and delight", I think we do pretty well at providing comodity..functional buildings that work and that create profit. Most of our large new buildings seem uninspired and do little to create any sense of delight or experiential wonder..places where we might have sublime experiences of uncommon beauty.


Every condo tower downtown looks essentially like every other condo tower downtown. If these designers see themselves in a league with van der Rohe or Belluschi they need medication. But just because some right-wing kook wants to say these towers are ugly because they're Marxist doesn't mean they're not still ugly. Nothing more than money is being made by filling downtown with one hastily-built, balcony-festooned stackup after another. To take these buildings seriously as architecture requires quite the opposite of marxist/bauhaus theoretical chops, in my opinion; rather, it usually rests on the phenomenon of of purely capitalistic, pro-development, ownership-society fervor being coded into questions of architecture or esthetics.


I definitely agree that a lot of the larger condo towers are pretty forgettable, and that there should be no imperative saying they have to occupy a certain design style. What I'd try to say in my original post was that you can call something "modern" and still have lots of wiggle room in terms of the quality and character of the architecture. My guess is LaMountain was thinking of stuff in the Pearl and maybe South Waterfront more than he was thinking about projects like the Belmont Lofts or 2281 Glisan. At the same time, villifying projects in the Pearl or South Waterfront is not the answer either, for those are very progressive projects from an urban design and sustainability standpoint in many cases.


Thomas Kinkaide sucks!!!!


I saw this article yesterday and made the following comments to my wife about Mr. LaMountain's narrow view ... "What a sad editorial ... by a man stuck in his preconceptions. I bet he has never even set foot in the Eliot. Anyone that only upholds buildings based on styles from centuries past can not be taken seriously. Also, by saying that glass buildings are solely built on a functional premise clearly shows that he knows nothing about what is being built today."
appreciate this forum,


I think any building that can survive well and age gracefully (not fall apart or become covered with mold) after 50 years becomes embedded into the public's psyche and becomes a landmark, part of the urban fabric, and thus "beautiful."

From my experience there is a big difference in subjective beauty for things like art, cool cars, and nice landscapes vs. buildings.


LaMountain wants to build another Michael Graves building in town! Or the paramount hotel, made out of foam and tiles to create instant history.. Portland is doing better than most cities..still a little conservative.. at least we are not seeing new 25 story building capped with hip roofs made out of spanish red tiles.

There will always be a great debate between the hyper modernist and the historicist..I for one favor the elemental, experiential, tactile approach to architecture. Scandinivian modern..clean lines, modern but still provide the warmth that the historicist always accused the 'modernism' does not possessed. And again, this discussion is too generalized..Architecture is bigger than style..

Disney as a company is amazing..designing cities to look like it's been there 100 years..it's too Thomas Kinkade..



You are right on!


LaMountain touched on a topic I’ve been thinking about recently and I think is an important issue to bring up because most of the new buildings in Portland are all quite similar in my opinion.

I'd like to see the architecture community be a little more open to another type of architecture today that’s not just Modernism. Why must a building have exposed concrete, curtain wall glass or a repetitive "skin," no ornament, a flat roof or be unlike anything that came before to be acceptable and appropriate for "today" in the vast majority of the architectural profession's eyes? What’s so "old" about red brick, strong concern for symmetry, peaked roofs and windows with several mullions? Many people do not care for Modernism or its latest reincarnation including the Eliot, BSL and 2281 Glisan (at the same time, a good number of people do like these). But why can't these personal tastes be recognized without a condescending "They don't know anything about Good architecture like I do" or immediately jump to the conclusion that the alternative to Modernism that they have in mind is a fake Las Vegas Caesars Forum with a comment like "They're living in the past and trying to recreate history?" In my opinion, there is definitely a place for a non-nostalgic traditional architecture, that’s NOT cheaply built with foam, NOT postmodern with irony and lacking the fundamentals of traditional design and that DOES recognize technology and the last 80 years of architecture. This is what in my opinion the author of this commentary is suggesting. And it’s what I’d like to see in addition to today’s dominant Modernism/Contemporary architectural language.

I do not like Historicist design but I do like Traditional design that is fresh looking and timeless, and I might add I also like a good amount of Modern design. Traditional Architecture (as a language) has always taken on a distinctive style for its time period - Victorian took on a style that captured the spirit of the late 19th century, Art Deco captured the look of the 1920s/1930s. Just as Brutalism as a style of the Modernist language captured the spirit of the 1960s/1970s.

m conroy



VERY well said, ps. Thank you.


I think it's entirely justified for today's buildings to include traditional and historical elements when done sincerely and expertly. But I don't think the term 'modern' necessarily always means a sleek minimalist style. There are plenty of buildings I love that are classified as modern or modernist, but also have a lot of detail and historical nods. I think we're also seeing today's buidings re-embracing warm natural materials like wood. I think we can agree that a city is hurt by too many glossy minimalist boxes of glass and metal, and that on the other end of the spectrum we don't want cheeky, ironic historical references like the Portland Building and other postmodern works have. But contemporary architecture offen accomplishes precisely the balance we're looking for. It's just that for every really inspiring work of architecture, there are plenty others that seem very mediocre. In the latter cases, I think it's a pragmatic conservatism stemming from clients looking to maximize profits and minimize costs that's as much to blame as the tyranny of a particular style.


Well said ... this discussion reminds me a bit of the dichotomy that often comes about when comparing the republicans and the democrats! Personally, I love good form and function and it doesn't matter if it comes by way of styles from the past or in newer modernistic designs.


Thanks Lyle. But as I read what I just wrote, it seems like I'm implicitly indichting the larger developers, and that wasn't necessarily my intention either. Some of these boxy modernist towers I actually like quite a bit. I guess there are certain general trends and tendencies but exceptions within each of them.


PS said, "I do like Traditional design that is fresh looking and timeless, and I might add I also like a good amount of Modern design. Traditional Architecture (as a language) has always taken on a distinctive style for its time period" I'm not quite sure what your definition of traditional and timeless??contradictory? It's probably easier to understand if you can give a specific building that is recenlty built with these elements you are describing.

and by the way, modern architecture language is not the dominant language but rather the minority. Most buildings (specially smaller scale) that are being built today are traditional or historicist...

Brian mentioned that historical and traditional elements is ok as long as they are done sincerely and expertly,..again, economy and labor skills are the main issue. Red brick is is a good material,but it is also used differently now a days..technology..


Not to mention the environmental issues: is it really a good idea to clad a skyscraper with a brick facade? It is all but impossible - and not very advantageous - to build a load-bearing brick high rise.

However, brick is also a particularly environmentally damaging technology, as it needs to be baked at very high temperatures - which create tons of CO2 emissions - and then transported, which incurs even more CO2 emissions.

It was estimated that in China, with its exploding population and huge migration of people into the cities, to build everything out of brick in a traditional fashion would consume over 100% of the world's coal resources just in firing the brick.

In the modern world, there are many, many new factors that architects must take into consideration when building. Modernism isn't about "style" but a huge list of pragmatic considerations that must be blended together to create a coherent, (hopefully) beautiful space for people, in the most economimcal fashion.

Only in large government "pork-barrels" do we get to design with money as no object.


The timeless question is “To be classic or not to be classic”,
In my opinion classical, traditional architecture has been impressing people for the last four Millennia. It stood the passage of time very well.
A great architect once said to a group of his students “Architecture is the art, which everybody sees. Regardless of how beautiful or ugly the building is it will stay in-place for a long time. Beware of what you design!”
Very rarely ugly can turn into beautiful – the Eiffel Tower.
Ageless, classic design confirmed by the centuries past always has had and will have influence on generations of architects.
In my search for classic, practical and functional artworks (gates, furniture, lamps, etc) I came across a great WEB site www.mansionmasters.com. They custom make all wrought iron, bronze and glass architectural objects of art. It is truly the highest-end, hand made artwork. Must visit.

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