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it is really, really bad. i mean how many moves can an architect make on one building? it is so busy, and so odd. not elegant at all unlike some of munch's great winery work. the art cube is a gimmick that misses the mark compared to their current iconic sign. the thing sticking out at the top is just strange, and the jagged storefront is so gratuitous.

ernie is very experienced, just not the right pick for possibly the most important corner in portland. frankly i don't see how this design came out of him.

this corner needs a simple, exquisite icon. if that can't be done right then the existing building should stay. at least it is better than this proposal.

this is just plain awful.


The proportions of the street level are ok, but I agree, the existing facade is fine. This cube thing would give it a cheezy commercial feel that is the antithesis of what the store feels like within. I think something with maybe reclaimed wood and materials local to the pearl would be great. That panelling stuff is atrocious on the top. I say design competition!


Thank you for posting something on this, Brian, because I've been waiting to give this (I admit) unhelpful commentary: YUUUUUUUUUUCK!!!!!!!!!!!

Please Please Please don't build this hideous thing on one of the most important intersections in all of Portland! PLEASE!!!!!


Let me add one more thing for the record. Ernie Munch is a fine architect and has done some nice work in the area...this is just a very unfortunate design.


This design seems to lack an overall concept that explores and exposes the importance of Powells to Portland and its residents. Though my criticism is of the design, I would never suggest that Powells hire a different local "star-chitect"...especially during these times. Being comfortable with a non "star-chitect" shows the un-pretentious character behind Portland's great book store. The concept design needs to show this as well.

Brian Libby

cl, I'm not suggesting the other firms because they're local stars, but instead because based on their past work I'd trust them to do a good design. And as it happens, such a design would probably be more understated. I'm not looking for pretentiousness - just quality.


I question what this design does in the slightest to improve the Powell's corner. Beyond being just completely uninspired, it's managed to blend the building into the ubiquitous, forgettable urban fabric.

If the cube is an attempt at an icon, it's entirely lost on me. Moreover, iconography shouldn't be the end-goal here anyway. A carefully carved space, not a shape, subtle and welcoming, is what this condition calls for. As one of Portland's, our community's proudest and finest institutions, it warrants transparency, accessibility, not cheap, empty gestures.


Pearl-izing Powell's would be a travesty.


I hope everyone isn't judging this design simply on the what can be seen in the two renderings above. Your eyes may be better than mine; from these renderings, it's hard for me to get a very good idea of what this redesign really looks like.

I'd like to see more of a straight on view that includes a view of the building currently holding the coffee shop and above street level parking garage. It seems important that the redesigned portion of the overall building relate well to this portion. The coffee shop/parking building's design is simple and humble, but it appeals to me. I think other people like it too. It's design that is indigenous to the Pearl's origins. Isn't that part of the reason people like Powell's on Burnside?

It has seemed to me that if the parking went away, and the currently dark, wire-screened window openings were replaced with brightly lit windows, books and people browsing them, it would be a vast improvement.

I can understand the interest in an eye-catching sign that's kind of fun, something like the jumbo-tron in Times Square, but I'm not so sure about this cube. Seems kind of like a waste of good usable space.

A good thing, that can be seen in the renderings, seems to be the presence of some foliage on the roof. Would this be part of a 'green' roof? Is there also penthouse office space such as was added to Central Library? That seems like kind of a good idea.

For what it's worth, Powell's in Beaverton (same architect) is nice, not too fancy, works well for customers, has a pleasant coffee shop, separate from but not excluded from the bookstore proper.


I think a little known architect could do just fine with this project. Why does it always have to be an acclaimed star-chitect?

I also think a design that blends into the urban fabric is not a bad idea. "Unpretentious" as a previous post remarked. Part of the charm of the existing complex is that it is so subdued, especially sitting next to the brewery blocks.

This design though... The building itself seems very subtle, but then there's this giant cube rotating around, and just slapped on the facade in a very uneligant way.


That is such a depressing facade. It looks very developer out of the box/ prefab. I really like the throwback icon Powell's has been using I wish they would do something a little more modern retro to match the graphic design concept.
This design is so disappointing.


Please, please let Powell's know what you think:
[email protected]


Powell's is just a business , not a church. This intersection is not that important. The Design has good basic urban form , and I gotta say
The Cube is great!

But in these tough times a competition , official or otherwise , would be great for the community. How about a
'Portland Architecture Competition' Brian ?

Brian Libby

Bill, I spend a lot more time in Powells than any church. Don't want to be struck by lightning, but I think many Portlanders would agree it's more important than you suggest.


"What might other talented architects with bigger, more acclaimed portfolios like Brad Cloepfil, Works Partnership, Skylab, Holst, or Thomas Hacker done here?"


Please don't forget Opsis, BOORA, TVA, ZGF, YGH, HEA, Emmons, Path, PSE, Group Mac, SRG, Serra, Sienna, Soderstrom, DOWA, Mahlum, GBD, Deca, Carleton Hart, Bolighus, Scott Edwards, Seed and numerous others that I haven't listed. What would FLW do? What would Mayne do? What would Eisenman do? What would Jesus do?

Doesn't matter, because they don't have the commission.

Sorry...I guess I'm just a little tired of the frequency of variations on that particular question.

Brian Libby

convolooted, you're absolutely right. I like most all of those firms you mentioned. I should have avoided specific names altogether or added a phrase like "...and many other firms" to the sentence in question.


billb, this corner if far more important than any church location in portland to most people that live in the city. think of iconic portland locations downtown and what do you have? pioneer square, saturday market, park blocks...powell's has got to be in the top five...and for me is #1.

convolooted, commissions can change hands quite easily (especially in the private sector), and i think brian is right to suggest this would be an appropriate instance for such a transaction. maybe michael powell will actually listen.

otherwise this is going to be such a missed opportunity.


ben, you're correct. if an architect doesn't seem to get things quite right the first time then the owner should just fire him/her and hire another architect...makes sense to me. Architects never rivise/improve/modify/refine anything...you only get one shot.


this is beyond "doesn't seem to get things quite right the first time".

this is extremely awful.

but hell i don't care who designs it, as long as it is good.


I say "slap a historic designation on the existing facade" so we can look back on what the Pearl was all about! Or, wait for the current upheaval to subside, see what the results are of the Burnside Couplet (I assume it's still coming) and revisit the new intersection which could truly be a landmark connection between the West End and the Pearl.

Brian Libby

That's a great point. Powells might want to wait until the couplet shakes down one way or the other.


Part of the reason that I like the existing Powell's building so much is that it has in spades what realtors euphemistically refer to as 'charm'. Unlike Borders or many of their competitors, you can get a good deal on a used book, and do it in a 'used' space that bears the traces of time. It is a palimpsest of its former uses - the layout is an ADA nightmare that would make absolutely no sense if one were to propose something like it from scratch, but that adds a feeling of spatial discovery that goes hand in hand with the literary discovery customers are pursuing in the store. So what are the implications of this for a new building? I think most would agree that, sentiment aside, a Yankee Stadium style replication seems like a poor idea. I think a more metaphorical approach is the way to go, but this is a difficult thing for an architect to accomplish. One must first distill the essence of Powells conceptually, then translate that into form - neither of which is an easy thing to do. I certainly don't see it in the above renderings, and hiring a 'starchitect' doesn't guarantee that they will be able to do it either - though some of the above names have a better track record of thinking on that level than others. I think a competition is a good way to get a sense of who's in tune with the Powells vibe.


Only Renzo Piano should be allowed to touch Powell's (Among other things he redesigned the Morgan Library in New York, and Powell's is our Morgan Library...) or perhaps Tadao Ando.
Back to reality, though, the renderings look like a LED skin might look good in that corner(the vertical elements seem to be covered with some kind of pictorial element... Besides, what kind of "art" is going to be displayed on the cube, the available pics have no detail.


Personally I feel the new design in very good. Although I do argee the building may seem chunky and gimmicky, I would also like to point out that none of the four small buildings that make up Powells are alike. Plus the new design calls for a green roof and would act more like an entrance to the Pearl - its also much better than the current entrance. Another issue is that the ultra-modern design of the building may not fit the context perfectly now, but like the old Zell Brothers Building it could be a benchmark of things to come for Burnside Street - which in my time has gentrifed quite a bit! Ultimately, I'll take the design for what it is, but to me personally the store will never be just another novelity.


Does the cube rotate?


How about designing the new building to literally look like a giant stack of books?..ala the binoculars on Frank Gehry's Chiat/Day building in Venice.

seriously though....


the powell addition from the past recalled a past architecture in a mediocre way. This new addition tries to break from that, but the scale, the gravity of the form and whimsical seem missed. why not build a big simple box and treat the corner more like times square - put up a big reader board that wraps the corner, maybe big adds, or book covers - and the burnside couplet - God willing if that happen will certainly need to influence the design solution and all the comments - this will make the building have two very important corners not realized today from a more urban scale. seems a good synthesized gesture of pedestrian, and urban with that of the use within (discovery as in a novel) would be a good parti for this design - it is far from there! i think the architect should be given the chance to revisit - no need to call in the star-architect cavalry to save every bad design - a little more outcry from the design profession will hopefully have some impact with Mike Powell and his subordinates.


Congratulate me for my very first post! I have read each post carefully and agree with aneeda that this is most important intersection in portland! I was there yesterday talking to singing elvis and we both agreed that we like this intersection. I like to push the big metal swing ding and waiting for people to push the art to its new location soon. I shop at the Red Light clothing store next door and love to eat at Roccos pizza place across from the bookstore. I cannot afford it, but i wish i could buy some big speakers at the audio store right next door. This place has the best architektur in town! I am also not sure about the design but remember what my grandma always told me not to judge a book by its cover-


There is a sense of whimsy about the design that I would not expect on a building in the Pearl. It is inviting and exciting. The cube is really cool - it's iconic and will be memorable, unlike the current building and most buildings in the vicinity. It's a kooky book store - keep Portland weird!

Mike Thelin

The Powell's design is absolutely terrible. I can't in fact imagine, based on these renderings, how it could possibly be worse. Powells is a temple, one of Portland's only landmarks. It deserves much better.


'What might other talented architects with bigger, more acclaimed portfolios like Brad Cloepfil, Works Partnership, Skylab, Holst, or Thomas Hacker done here? And is it too late for Powell's to consider bringing one of them on to work with Munch?'
I like these firms, but this made my stomach tighten... thanks for reconsidering. Every talent needs an opportunity.



You question one's portfolio for working on such a prominent building. What are your credentials for being and architectural critic? Does it matter? The point is, Munch is working on the project and it appears to be very schematic and well received in the community and by the client. Hell - the Pearl Neighborhood Assoc. likes the design so let's roll with it and let TVA design big ugly glass buildings and let this one be a funky Portland building designed by a small business owner.


It doesn't seem bad at all to me. The most important thing is that it engages the people on the street, which it will do much better (by the look of the renderings) than it is currently.

Why don't we bring in Frank Gehry (sarc)... Come on people give me a break. It's a bookstore.

Any sustainable features???

Brian Libby

Bn, you have a fair point. I have few qualifications for being an architecture critic/writer. Who am I to question Munch's credentials? But the thing is, I'm not working on some huge multi-million-dollar project that means a great deal to the city. If I were, I wouldn't blame people for looking at my resume a little bit too.

By no means do I mean to say that Ernie Munch is unqualified. He's even designed Powell's stores before. However, I think it's reasonable to infer from his portfolio, and from my reporting on local architecture for the last decade, that he's not among the most prominent or acclaimed architects here. The guy keeps a smaller profile, which is just fine. But part of my job, as a reporter or blogger, is to raise questions I think are worthwhile and significant. If Munch passes my "Is he qualified?" question, more power to him.


It reminds me of Fred Meyer on SE Hawthorne and 39th.


I'm not bothered by the cube or what we see of the design, so far. It needs development/refinement but that should come.

The distended facade above the cube irks me. Is that a window bay, implying that the facade marches on into the urban fabric, infinitely? (big eye-roll) Hopefully it's just a hoo-ha thrown in for 'interest'. (yawn) I'm sure Mr. Munch has enough self respect to erase that thing...soon.

Facade Design

It definitely sounds like a good idea to me. Let me know how it turns out, if you would.

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