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Brooks Jordan


Thanks for the write-up. I just spent the last twenty minutes looking at some of these buildings on the Web. You sucked me right in.


Well, it's a little hard not to "spew vitriol" after reading ad-infinitum such uneducated praises of clearly worse-than-bad buildings. But "curmudgeon?" I'm not old or crusty! But certainly your aesthetics are, drudged up from the rubbish heap of old Modernist-era reductivism as they have been.

The awards and your praises, no matter how high falutin, do not provide any support for the forbidding boxes. If you identify with slick, cold corporatist retro-Modernist (historicist) architecture, then your eyes are wholly blinded to how incredibly ugly they are: the harsh night-sky polluting glare bombs inside and out, the placement of cheap-ass gimcrack materials right in the line of head-level eyesight, the machinist-factory synthetic materials, the void created by lack of complex patterning, natural textures and materials, and utter lack of ornamentation -- which, I know, of course is a total no-no in retro-mod, hip vocabulary.

The Belmont Lofts?? Have you ever been inside that hovel? Like hanging out in a service station, but smells far worse. Of course, I know that the service station aesthetic is still all the rage, but that completely inharmonious mish-mash on Glisan, which heartlessly annihilated one of the first houses in the NW District can hardly be rightly described as a gem unless you are staring through the distorted lenses of faux-philosophic mumbo-jumbo which would confuse even poor "purist" Corbu.

How you cannot see that the Neal Creek house is a glorified trailer jacked up on concrete blocks, and up and away from the healing landscape, can only be explained by the distorted lenses you wear.

And giving awards to skyscrapers in completely unsustainable, undemocratic, way-over-consumptive, oil and arms-dependent locals like Dubai shows that the new old-school guards place not a wit of importance on appropriateness of use and place or on economic equity, and that "green" or "sustainable" is merely another method of gaining brownie points for fashion and contracts, not for drawing humans more into harmony with the environment upon which they depend.


I suspect that John prefers his living in a Victorian hovel with windows so small that he has to turn on a light in his dark den merely to look outside. He no doubt wallows in the intricate patterns of neo-historicist ornamentation either stamped out of plastic in a factory or intricately carved with slave wages in a distant country. I suspect he loves the maze-like floor plan that properly separates all the functions of the house...placing women in their role in the kitchen away from the dinner guests. Maybe it's the loss of inefficient light fixtures and heating systems that has John so upset with the "modern" world.

John, have you considered getting therapy for your condition? Perhaps you should spend a little more time in a sun-lit modern home with it's view to a garden and it's spacioius floor plan so you can open your eyes to the fact that the world is moving very quickly in new directions (and apparently without you). Thank the good lord for modern architecture and it's optimistic view of the future. And thank you to all the architects who do work with a sense of warmth and scale that makes our city a better place to live.


So John - please share with us which recent local projects you would offer awards for. Which do you feel are the best, and why? You obviously have strong opinions about what you do not like, so let's hear your nominations. Is there something else we should consider?

Brian Libby

My impulse is to rhetorically fight back against John - and believe me, I'm salivating at the thought. But this shouldn't be about two of us exchanging insults. I think the best reply I can make here is to say I agree with Sacagawea's comment and open-ended question just before this one.


Aneeda, you suspect and assume wrong on all counts. But first, perhaps it would be instructive for you to go for a walk in the alphabet district and take a good look at some of the Victorian houses still standing, and it might surprise you to find that their windows are quite a bit larger than you have been taught to believe.

I do, however, live in a 1909 Foursquare that I bought and restored, and it is flooded with sunlight, sunrise 'til sunset, thanks. And it is no hovel, but quite comfy and airy and open from room to room as it was originally designed, as were many of the Victorian houses, as well.

Speaking of factory-stamped plastic material (I realize that you read, or have had read to you, some snippets from Wright on the matter), take another walk through downtown Portland and tell me if you don't see any in the new boxes slapped up there. You have heard of vinyl windows, surely?

But, no, I don't love plastic fake ornament any more than I love plastic faux Modernism. And if most of Portland's buildings' materials were made by and for the people, rather than synthetically by slave labor in less-destroyed countries, they'd be far more affordable and beautiful. But surely you don't suffer under the illusion that the materials that comprise the "modern" (i.e. Modernist) boxes you also apparently adore have been produced in a more equitable manner?

I realize that you believe that you are writing from a place of independent thought, but nothing you have stated in criticism of me and my state of mind is in the slightest bit original. Like a Rush Dittohead, you seem to have pulled all your talking points either from bootstraps Ayn Rand herself or from slick mag authors or hoary profs who pulled them from her and/or Corbu wanna-be's for you.

That the world is moving quickly is true, but in case you haven't been keeping up with the news beyond Fox, it's not moving in a very pretty direction, with the exception of an undertow of people who have discovered visions of the alternative to "progress for the sake of progress," which is really just lemming mentality in action.

You may have psyched yourself into believing that massive concrete, vinyl, extruded aluminum, and thirty stories dependent on elevator lifts is exciting and new, but really, we've had a century of that already, haven't we? And what has it provided us with beyond destruction of the landscape and the very source of our existence?

Can you really not see that the reductivist mode of building in an ever-densifying sprawl of the human footprint is the face of the world moving very quickly in a direction that spells death, not life?


Oh my God, elevator lifts? I have been taking the stairs all this time (hence my lithe and trim figure) but someone should have alerted me to these evil comforts. I tried one of those elevator lifts the other day, it works great with groceries! I will miss my wholesome Victorian lifestyle! My lift is totally ugly and plain though (the cool recessed lighting is totally disconcerting), I am adding sconces and velvet uphostery (secretly of course, our building HOA is hardcore modernists as it turns out, not a single gargoyle, can you believe?)


Unfortunately, Sacagewea, there is nothing of monumental nature, and very little of fabric nature, that has been built in Portland in recent years that I could award.

But there are numerous buildings that have been torn down or mutilated in order to make way for award-winning boxes or stack-on additions that I would have awarded. The Rosefriend Apartments is one such example of a treasure that I would have awarded but instead had to fight tears seeing it go down.

I would have loved to have seen the old Portland Hotel, to which the PM Pioneer Courthouse Square will never hold a candle. So, so many solid buildings in Portland that filled the downtown and neighborhood landscapes with wondrous sights, complexity, variety, harmony were mercilessly torn down and replaced with things that are little more than dirty smudges in our collective vision, things that don't excite the soul, that people don't really care about. Ask the kids why they scrawl graffiti, and they'll tell you it's because they're rebelling agains the deadly dull built environment that they've been forced to grow up within.

You all are having an impossibly hard time seeing that your glorification of "contemporary" structure is about replacing thousands of years of solid precedent with a historicism based on less than a hundred years worth of very shaky, temporary enclosures that have engendered no feelings of belonging, of being a part of something wonderful and wholesome.

You also don't see that you are in the minority, that the vast majority of the public agree completely with the sentiments I raise here, that you among today's other architectural critics and practitioners are completely out of touch.



You haven't heard of peak oil?


There is good modernist architecture around here, like that fire station...12?..brian's mentioned it before.

There's probably just not as much of it around the Portland Metro area as some of us would like, because it takes a certain brilliance to use modernisms basic components well. It's far more conspicuous that architecture locally succumbs to the temptation of modernisms basic components as a comparatively cheap and easy way to pencil out. And that's what many people creating new buildings do, slap-dabbing these designs together with results that lack a lot.

The Neal Creek isn't bad, but the thing that's really special about it, is that it doesn't resemble one of those revolting mini-mansions that breed like genetically cursed monsters. That alone makes it worthy of some kind of recognition. Otherwise, it's not much more extraordinary than some farmer's utility barn; nice cattle loafing area where the carport is located...hay up top in the living quarters.

I love modern architecture that reflects that it know where it is; that relates to it's surroundings in a conscious and co-operative way. Architecture should be able to actually improve the setting it finds itself in rather than obliterate any virtue of what existed before its arrival. There's too much of that 'I want to hear my song' mentality going on around here.

The Maven

Wow. Someone needs a nap....and a zoloft...and some therapy.

Brian Libby

John, I honestly feel sorry for you.

Clearly you've got a lot of passion for pre-modern architecture, and that's great. We can certainly agree on the tragedy of old buildings like the Rosefriend Apartments being torn down.

The reason I feel sorry for you, though, is that you're able to look at a half-century or more of architecture and not find anything to like. If these were cars we were talking about, it seems like you'd be clamoring for us to all embrace the horse and buggy again.

Of course there is a lot of bad modern architecture out there. The simplicity of the form gives the architects less room to hide, so bad modernism is definitely worse than any 'bad' or not great historic building.

But what we've all been trying to say in different ways is that there are numerous buildings here in Portland of a contemporary nature that an overwhelming majority of the readers in this online community find very handsome. This site is also read by and supported by architects, so it's pretty crass and outright disrespectful for you to tell an entire profession that everything their generation has created is crap. What most of us see in your comments, though, is that you seem to be very close-minded, and thus ignorant. Winston Churchill once said, "A fanatic is someone who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." That's how your spew against all modern architecture seems.

It's one thing for you to be critical of modern architecture and to prefer historic buildings. A lot of people would agree with you on that front. But to scoff at even the most highly acclaimed contemporary buildings of our time is to employ a kind of bull-headedness that attracts pity as much as argument.


Well said, Brian. What a thoughtful summary of what has transpired here

John - still interested in hearing how you woud like to see Portland's future architecture take shape. Put aside the notion of new development having to replace the older buildings you prefer. There will be new construction, and some of it will not displace lovely older buildings or homes. So what should Portland's new structures look like, and what materials should be used? Should we only emulate the past, or is there something new to be said aesthetically?


i am an urbanist and a preservationist at my more core, but i also love good modern architecture. i, as well as brian, feel bad for john because there are some truly amazing works of modern architecture which have enriched my life just for the opportunity of experiencing them. i feel his dogma has blinded him to truly being open to allow such possibilities. the same could be said for the other side. sadly, john's comments reflect negatively on preservationists and lovers of all (good) things old. i only have one question for john - you say you would have loved to have seen the old Portland Hotel, but how many times would you have visited? As a privately owned space, you would have had limited access compared to the access granted to you by Pioneer Courthouse Square. In addition, it wouldn't serve as a gathering space for all walks of life like the Square does now. While it was a great loss to lose such a monumental building in the center of downtown, what we have gained (with what is internationally recognized as one of the great public spaces) far outweighs this loss. This is especially true when you think of the buildings that once occupied the spaces of all of our cherished surface parking lots in downtown.


In between the loss of the Portland Hotel and the creation of Pioneer Courthouse Square, there was a parking garage. John's "glorious" memories of a world long gone and never to be repeated are poignant at best, and he's entitled to live there as long as he can.


Brian, the current architectural profession, as a whole, doesn't deserve much respect, in the same way that the duopoly of Democrats and Republicans don't deserve the respect of voters. They control the scene, but we don't get much say.

It is, after all, more than symbolic that the creation of the AIA coincided with the first time that a bank ever used a Neoclassic temple form for its facade. And that was also the same year that the patterns, proportions and scales of buildings began taking second seat to the picture image of buildings. Hence today's obsessions that ignore the total impacts and contexts.

The function of architecture in history has, of course, not been to serve ordinary people or users as a whole. But whether we're considering rural vernacular or Empiristic monuments, until the machine-era, the "more is less" concept wasn't there to bamboozle practitioners into letting the profit incentive, and then along with that grand egotism in the vein of Howard Roark, overtake the effort to express true beauty in their buildings. Kings and conquerers may have been consumed by the same mad resolve as today's arms-manufacturing CEO, and they were certainly usually pretty cruel in the execution of the structures they commissioned, but they still had the capacity to recognize and make allegiance with the manifestation of beauty in them.

What you cannot seem to accept, Brian, is that Modernism is a historic style, and one that was discredited decades ago before the current generation came into adulthood -- apparently in large measure who were put under the tutelage of adherents of the Modernist creed and thus not given the benefit of studying the city or the built environment in history, and so therefore now lack a broad enough perspective on the incredible diversity of structures around the world and their equally diverse applications that existed for thousands of years before them.

The understanding that I have been attempting to get across is not that "historicist" is better than "contemporary." I'm trying to say that the entire original purpose of building has been corrupted. "You don't invent a new architecture every Monday morning," said Mies. But nevertheless the body of practitioners now believe themselves charged with the mission to do just that.

Structures modeled after the function of the machine, the factory or computer or with materials and components devoid of any visual interest in themselves other than the geometric or change in paint color are hardly more relevant to basic human needs today than they would have been in Mesopotamia. But if we assume that basic human needs shift as a result of the motives for power and wealth by an elite minority and that the function of the architect is to serve those motives, then, yes, fashion and the bottom line become the governors of what get appraised as good architecture.

But if we think more about what it feels like to dwell in places, then what grows most important are details that stir the imagination, that soothe the soul, open the consciousness, and reconnect us to the power that manifests itself in nature and in the human body.

The world is full of buildings that are neither historicist or Modernist but that are timeless, not necessarily ornamented, but that do bear the qualities that make beautiful architecture.

"Modern" or "contemporary" have just become catch-all terms for anything that lacks in these qualities and that are thus considered passable. Even "Form follows function" has gotten the toss, and designers, under enormous pressure from clients to keep prices down but to make major "statements" nonetheless, don't even recognize all the corners that they cut.

The imperative to keep on building regardless remains because quantity over quality has become the purveyance of the elite in its imperative to keep growing the economy as it increasingly concentrates wealth away from the majority -- and as the planet continues to suffer as a result.

Structure that does not fit into this imperative is not regarded as significant or useful or even seen at all by the cheerleaders of the corporate world, although a growing number of people are turning from the corporatist paradigm and creating structures that reflect the appreciation and love of nature above all else.

To simply characterize me as a fanatic, closed minded, and pitiable because you haven't understood what I have been trying to convey is itself fanatical and closed-minded. If you can't show me what is false about what I have stated, is it really constructive to call into question my psychological stability? You seem more intelligent and capable of depth than that.

Brian Libby

John, although I still disagree about, or at least can't completely go along with, your point of view, I never would have called you close minded or curmugeonly if what you wrote in this most recent comment had been your opening salvo. I'm completely comfortable with people coming into the discussion with a unique point of view. In fact, the site's unquestionably better for it. But all I heard was a lot of nastiness the first couple times around with this.

Modern architecture is tricky to pin down. I agree that in part it's a historic style like any other. But it's also a contemporary style. Any style is in part driven by materials and function. Again, the only way that I or we could go along with your broad notion of the need for a major paradigm shift in approaching architecture is to be able to articulate better what we should be doing instead.

Some of the underlying themes you mention about corporate tyranny are ones I'm strongly inclined to go along with. But it sounds to me like you're saying that merely building at all, or the perceived need for it, is some kind of wool that's been pulled over our eyes. Every civilization has continually rebuilt itself. What's more, we have a more urgent need than ever to so so today because of the imperative created by global warming. The world needs to use energy much, much more cleanly and efficiently, and much of that will come from more sustainable architecture.

What I like about a lot of the modern or contemporary architecture is the simple unadorned palette contrasted with rich materials. Mediocrity abounds, and few would argue that. But I'm not so sure there exists in the past a magic formula for today, either in forms and materials or in abstaining from building itself. Or maybe I and most of the readers here are just too dumb to get it.


Its nice to hear John's take on this (particulaly when he's making good arguments like in his last post). I think he's right when he says architects and developers have seperated themselves from folks not in their profession when it comes to design.

Part of the problem, though, is that much of the beautiful victorian and craftsman architecture was built in a time when skilled craftsman (usually immigrants) were available for comparitively very low wages. To try and put the level of detail into a new house or building that went into a late 19th century building would make it unaffordable for any but the wealthiest buyer.

I agree that modernism needs to relate to people better, but some of the best new buildings, that are really pushing a new paradigm as far as efficiency and sustainability go, are being done in the modernist style. Its simply much easier to adapt modern design to green building techniques.

I think perhaps the conversation we should be having here is more about how we can incorporate the many new building materials and techniques into architecture that people can relate to. Its going to be pretty impossible to go back to classical architecture styles but how can we make the modern style something that a lot of people, both architecturally educated and not, can look at and say "That's beautiful"?


Sometimes tyrades are necessary to getting a message through. People get complacent with their assumptions of the status quo. Anger is not necessarily a bad thing. It can wake people up. Because I love Oregon and Portland, I am extremely angry at Vera for what she has done, but she's not alone. Bud Clark wasn't as great of a populist as everyone thinks, and a lot of bad decisions were made during his tenure. And it is very angering when the media and the people who get most attention fail to recognize the devastation to the environment around here as a direct result of the construction projects that have occurred both inside and outside of Portland.

Someone commented that planning the Pearl District as a car-free zone would have been totally unrealistic. Yet countless car-free zones of such proportion do exist quite successfully -- Miami's Lincoln Mall is one example. And yet in the early 90s, Portland lifted its parking cap, flooding the streets with tens of thousands of more cars, and underground parking lots continue to get built beneath thirty story towers. How realistic or beneficial is that?

A major problem that the architectural community has is a great, and I believe uneducated, disdain for the inherent aesthetic needs of most people. Over and over again, visual surveys play out that people prefer non-Modernist structures over Modernist. It is not because they don't know better. I can walk into a large hall, for instance, that is built with "contemporary" materials, and for a moment feel bouyed by the scale of the place but, unconsciously or consciously, as my eye takes in the details, the dull and machinated quality of the materials will drop the spirit. The eye needs interest, and today's buildings, regardless of the "sculptural" effects they may give out from a distance, lack that because of the bottom line.

To get to the heart of what is needed, then, we must transcend the concept of "contemporary" verses "dated." Next, we need to move out of the Big Developer, Big Client model. The creation of structure should follow true need, not speculative capital. Before we tear down any more structures, we should look at how they can be reused -- regardless of which era or style they represent -- and how they can be improved. I doubt that the majority of buildings made since the 50s will be considered treasures to preserve in 50 years like the buildings before then have now been. Again, it is not because of the style or "historicist" qualities of the older buildings but because of the solidity, durability and interest they possess, and well as the harmony they express among themselves, regardless of style.

Asking me what buildings should look like if not Modernistic is like asking someone who doesn't eat fish, chicken or beef "what DO you eat?", since in addition to those three foods there are an almost infinite number of plant-based foods to choose from.

As a result of global warming, peak oil, and water shortages, we aren't really going to have the option of pursuing a net increase of buildings. Rather we will be needing to actually decrease the stretch of our built environment, including roads. The actual green, not the conceptual, needs to be reopened close to our pesonal and commercial dwellings. People will need to be brought closer to the ground, closer to sunshine and fresh air, closer to what we eat, and where we wander for recreation and restoration, not further away.

Jim Kunstler's The Long Emergency may just be painting a grim and untrue future, but I think he is still right that the vast dependency that we have on oil for our entire current system will not allow any miracle new energy cures, and that we thus may well be forced back into the 19th Century and may not pull out of it until our total population has shrunk to a fraction of its current size.

So what is sustainable architecture is first and foremost fewer buildings, and then closer-in buildings, a quantity and spread that rest within the carrying capacity of our region.

No one skirts the past in building. To believe they do is absurd. It's just a matter of which past they wish to choose or learn from. Only a very fraction of the past, or the possibility of the entire past?

If we understand how much industrialism has had to play in the stylisms of the most recent past, and how that has come about in tandem with our coming to the 11th hour environmentally speaking, then we can have a broader perspective of what the alternatives are. If you don't want to limit your palette, then don't limit what your buildings can learn from.

I'm not speaking of "anything goes," like Johnson in his later career, picking and choosing from patternbooks. I've yet to see a Post-Modernist building that I like, and the reason for that is that they never let go of the Modernist underpinnings. They are Modernist buildings with tacked on Historicist features, but features that were merely bad imitations of the originals. Again, the picture image of building, not the qualities that make them live.

A painting isn't good because it has tossed into it any conceivable image, color, technique or style. There is always a judgicial look that brings forth a balance and rigor between varient components. But certain principles remain true, and those are proportion, scale, clarity of their use, consistency of patterning, and a clearly perceived connection to where the materials came from in the first place.


John just sounds very nostalgic (and not very succinct).
Every era strives for it's own definitive style that is "of its time". One style evolves out of the previous, or reacts against it. Modernism will become a deeper part of that stream of styles and history over time wether John thinks it's good or not.
Gothic architects were the ones that originally strived for a "less is more aesthetic".
In reality many of the reasons modern buildings lack the "solidity" that John finds in older buildings is to be more efficient with resources. So yes, we are not building out of huge old growth timbers, monumental stone, structural brick, or even balloon framing.
If John really wanted us to be strictly populist, than we would be praising cookie cutter homes in far flung subdivisions.


The modernist movement sprung from Socialism over your “Kings and conquerors”; so enough drivel about the "Corporations, Howard Roark, Fox News, Elite Minorities, CEO, blah, blah, blah" that no one thinks contributes to the discussion except in Eugene.
You spout Kunslter with the same fervor as the Rush Ditto Heads, and Ayn Rand fans you think you are out witting.
History will prove you wrong.


it's ironic that one of the "people's choice" awards went to the building that represents everything John hates so darn much, isn't it?


"Big Developer, Big Client model" John

Yeah, that rings bells. And everybody else stands back, 'Oh, can't touch that'. They surrender to the overwhelming force of money and power with mediocrity being the result.

Every once in awhile some extraordinary mind comes up with a new concept that catches the big duo eventually sees potential in and proceeds to exploit. Thereafter, as runners up to the big duo borrow from the newly discovered lode, the concept devolves into appalling creations, like for example, the cookie cutter subs, the Weston Benson, the Ladd Tower, etc.

I'm not sure what the problem is. Maybe there's just not enough dreamers around anymore. Like for example, the people in local government, well...those on the design review commission, that could be indulging their dream vision to affect better architecture don't do it. Not really. They just penny ante little concessions from the big duo that ultimately result in a huge hit on Portland's cityscape.

I'm not sure I'll ever be able to forgive the city for permitting the siting of Tom Moyer's, in the words of one person; 'vertical work of art', Park Ave Tower on Park Block 4, forever destroying the Park Block sky corridor at that point. Work of art? Sure, yeah, whatever. It's that kind of aesthetic oblivion that makes me lose hope that this city's big duo can ever be the entity that achieves truly inspired architectural distinction.


Sorry, looks like I flubbed the following line up:

"Every once in awhile some extraordinary mind comes up with a new concept that catches the big duo eventually sees potential in and proceeds to exploit."

Something like the following makes more sense:

Every once in awhile some extraordinary mind comes up with a new concept that catches the big duo's attention, which they eventually sees potential in and proceed to exploit.


Wow, It has been a few days since I have visited this site, and low and behold a debate rages! Real heart felt opinions expressed! Facts stated and challenged!

Time to join in!

I think that John is making some very valid points...though I found it hard to distill them from the rhetoric. That goes for some of the other comments as well.

Most of what we see emanating from architecture offices today is of little value from a design standpoint, and even less value from the point of view of resource use, and sustainability. And these buildings ability to support an urban culture and community?

I don't really think the issue to debate is stylistic. The most critical issues today are centered on urban design and the nature of our built environment in terms of public space, green space, natural systems and environments, transportation, density, integration of functions and activities and so on.

The buildings, spaces and infrastructure we design are critical as these determine whether we can create viable healthy communities, capable of living in harmony with the environment and able to support and foster a culture connected to place.
Most important is the need for our buildings to create spaces and places that support real public life, real community identity and activity.

Understanding architecture on these terms does not lead one to either nostalgic or modernist points of views.

For example, I cite the South Waterfront development.

I think anyone of us would consider the buildings there ambitious modernist designs, expressing the technologies and materials that define our age. I
think for the most part they are ugly, however, upon examination, the composition of elements, in particular in the lower sections of the Hacker and TVA buildings are quite elegant, and thoughtfully detailed. (though the craftsmanship and materials are just ok).
Unfortunately, the street scape these buildings create is dreadful. While the skyline they produce is equally bad, it is the nature of the place, or lack thereof, that disturbs me.
On an open site such as this, rather than rote replication of Portland's grid of small blocks and wide streets, a more dynamic urban plan should have been devised. If one started from the idea that the public realm is the most important, and that the buildings framing that realm have a very critical ability to give that realm life, then I think one would design streets that offer intimacy,variety, intrigue, and invoke a sense of exploration and discovery. Parks, plazas and incidental spaces would be framed at their edges by building faces rather than parked cars and street infrastructure. Streets themselves might be rethought...do we need the standard organization of sidewalk, parking strip, tree and lamp, lane width, striping, and so on?
Same for the buildings...do we really need such tall towers sitting on such mundane rowhouse bases? Does this even make sense?
Where is the diversity in scale, or in housing type? Where is the connection to green space...is it just something to look at?
Consider the block bounded by W. Burnside, St. Clair, Vista, and Park Place...google it or look at Portland maps. On this block there exists a variety of buildings including 3 towers of 10 to 20+ stories, two San Francisco style apartment buildings, a courtyard complex, a garden court complex, a historic mansion, a gas station and a commercial building. There are about 474 living units on the block providing diverse living options from studios, 1 and 2 br. apts, townhomes and penthouses. There are numerous trees including 4 major sequoias. There are delightful gardens, lawns and fountains. If my calculations are correct, the block is developed at a density of 94 units per acre. If the fences separating the properties were removed the interior spaces could be joined in an exciting way. The street scapes could be improved for sure, but in general the street is respected.
My point here is that the nature of these buildings, their arrangement, their diversity, their integration of greenspace, their ability to make beautiful spaces, is superior to that of the South Waterfront. With the exception of Beluschi's garden court apartments, none of the buildings would win a beauty contest.
Architects must understand the nature of the city, the nature of the form and space we make and the importance of the public realm and the places that define it.
Design must start here.
As for the design of buildings themselves...
It is obvious that architects today do not understand or appreciate basic principles of composition or proportion. The same goes for material or color. In the absence of order and balance, we have gimmicks and ornaments. We have tortured sculptural form, awkward elements, heavy handed, yet simplistic gestures. Because we lack agreement, and because everyone of these buildings strives for monument status, we have a collection of buildings so discordant that it is unbearable to view.
The Pearl District in particular is a cacophonous assemblage of bombastic buildings. Faux warehouse, art deco, streamliner, moderismo, and every other approach has been perpetrated...most wrappers on the same basic proforma.
Since the buildings are so similar in form, and in function, and since most are designed by a handful of firms, there existed an opportunity to really explore an appropriate way to design these. Would it have been so terrible to have them be a clear and elegant, if similar, expression of the program, expressed with great windows and balconies to animate the facades? I think of the integrity of Boston's Beacon Hill, the beauty of the uniform housing that forms the towns of the Italian Riviera, the solidity and sobriety of NYC's upper west side. And of course, the elegance of Paris's grand apartment blocks. Each of these examples, very different in form and style from each other, clearly address the commonality of their respective program, climate, material, and technology. The desire for individuality and differentiation becomes an opportunity for artistic expression. The flat stucco facades of the Riviera are ornamented with incredible frescos; the repetitious limestone facades of Parisian apartment blocks showcase elaborate and endlessly inventive iron work. The row houses of Boston are graced by a myriad of elegant front stoops, with columns, pediments and distinctive doors.

I think that we as architects have a very serious obligation to design buildings that express ideas and necessities, not egos. We need to learn history, composition, proportion and color theory. We need to calm down, quit competing, and start collaborating. We need to listen to the Johns out there.

All for now.

Internet Ronin

Links to further details of the projects, if available, would have been appreciated.

[name removed - spam]

The project is humble in its concept, very tight in plan and beautifully executed.

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