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the RFP couldn't be more vague. but the really crazy piece is the requirement (or close to it) that the project meet the living building challenge. if you want to follow this thing, i'd recommend you interview some knowledgeable engineers about what that actually means for a 200,000 sf mixed use downtown building on 3/4 of a block with a streetcar running through it on a budget of $200/sf. i think the PDC, the City, the State, the University System and their partners all have eyes that are bigger than their stomachs.

also, it will be a shame if the same old players get the job. just sayin.


"it will be a shame if the same old players get the job."

I agree!

And Brian, if you are going to plug for firms in every article(I don't think you should be) you need to expand your list beyond your four or five favorites. It is getting really old about 6 months ago.


Here Here -I agree. Stop with the same firms, you are justifying the trend. On one hand, you are always supporting and hoping that the smaller 'up and coming' firms (Works Partnership, PATH, Sum design studio, Seed, divergent architecture and so on) make it in this dog-eat dog world, but when it comes to really looking at the contenders its the same ol' club. The fact that these "boutique" shops are providing the driving force behind contemporary trend is lost - even though they are the one cutting their teeth (let alone their fees) standing behind the design that are creative, original and lets face it just much more appealing. They are even finacing their own projects! Commiteed, creative and taking the risks to carve out a place for themselves.
This isn't anything new, I.M. Pei was a total slut and everyone knew it and used him for it. Why on earth would we buck the trend?!


actually i think this is a job for someone with much more expertise than a boutique firm, and more expertise than any local shops too. think will mcdonough...ken yeang, someone like that. gbd or zgf can't shake things up the same way.


This does seem like a good project for the City and an amazing design opportunity.

I think most involved are doing what they can to make the selection process open although my impression is that the project appears somewhat wired for Gerding Edlen.

Brian Libby

Pat and Robert,

I hear what you're saying regarding mentioning only a small group of firms sometimes.

I'm not trying to 'plug' any particular firms, or to play favorites. The firms I mentioned that might be likely candidates for the job, like SERA, ZGF, GBD or Hacker, I did so because these seem to be the firms with the combination of size, green credentials, and track record working with the city's biggest developers, or the firms with LEED-rated projects. The 'boutique' firms I mentioned here or mention often are ones that have received several design awards and have been acclaimed by plenty other writers and architecture enthusiasts besides myself.

To Pat and Robert and everyone else who believes I am name-dropping the same firms too often, you tell me: what other firms should I be mentioning in this context? Is there a firm that has achieved numerous LEED-rated projects or general AIA design awards that I'm forgetting? If so I'd like to give them the credit and attention they're apparently not getting. It would be upsetting to me if there really are some top architects and firms out there that I've totally missed. I'm sure, Pat and Robert, your intentions are good, so I urge you to bring me up to speed on this and in a positive fashion.


Brian I think I shall play favorites, I would love to see this be a Ken Yeang design. This man kicks the crap out of anything SERA, ZGF, GBD or Hacker are doing.

Plus it would be nice to have some world renowned architecture that pushes sustainability. The big local firms that are doing that dont seem to have the same quality in design as Yeang has...plus we almost got him to design a building over in the Lloyd District area, so I am sure we could easily get his firm to design this for Portland State.


So here's the question. Being the city's economic development agency, PDC (my employer) will be criticized if it does not hire a local firm. You know, keep locals employed, blah, blah, blah. But, it will be criticized if it does not. You know, same old same old, blah blah blah.

Is the right path picking a designer from outside Portland who is paired with a local firm? How well do you think that will work?

Also, Dennis, what Lloyd District project are you speaking of?



It was a project called Jumptown, it was going to be a museum for jazz, or something like that.


What I find confusing is your support of some smaller firms with good design work who often have no experience or qualifications to build some of the projects you believe they could enhance. Seed, Works, and Skylab have all built (or are building) award-winning residential projects and maybe some Interior Design/ TI work as well but so has Brett Crawford and Paul McKean now. Yet they never are mentioned as someone who might bring a "fresh take" on a LEED-exemplary waterfront tower or Museum of Design in PDX.

There is nothing wrong with standing up for the "little guy" when there is some logic to back it up rather than simple fawning adulation. Likewise there is no fault in supporting the larger firms in Portland who have a strong and consistent portfolio of modern work such as GBD or ZGF.

Brian Libby


I hear you, and we agree more than we disagree here.

The reason I didn't include mention of Crawford or McKean, who you mentioned, is that they are more or less sole practitioners. I don't see a sole practitioner having a chance at a large institutional project. I see there being a difference in size between the sole practitioners like these guys and the small studio firms like Works Partnership or Holst. I'd be happy to include some other examples of high-quality studio-sized firms that could contend for the Sustainability Center. Or I'd be happy to cite more examples of larger green firms like SERA, GBD or ZGF.

As for not understanding the scope required for, say, a residential architect working on an institutional project, you're probably right that I don't always grasp those nuances. I'm not an architect. At the same time, I don't want to count firms out because merely I think a job is beyond their scope.

Obviously this is not an exact science, and it wouldn't be even if I had a doctorate degree in architecture and tons of buildings I'd designed. I'll keep trying to be democratic and even-handed in the firms I mention. I see no great conspiracy here, nor reason for any major hostility, but I also respect the point being made and will continue to keep in under consideration.


It's ironic that in the grand name of sustainability, there was little or no consideration given to the re-use of an existing downtown building, of which there are many available, including the fantastic U.S. Custom House (which the GSA wants to offload). The mere fact that a building is over a 100 years old, should count considerably toward the "living building" concept, especially since a building like the Custom House has certainly "lived" longer than any of us here in the blogosphere.


Thanks Dennis. As I recall, that project really didn't get very far, so I wasn't aware of the designers involved. One of many proposed for that site over the years.



Your authenticity as a cultural critic is compromised by your unabashed advocacy for your friends and cronies. A relevant architectural critic (i.e. Robert Campbell or Nic Ouroussoff) would be much more judicious with the name dropping. I'd love to see more thoughtful content and less cocktail party banter. I know that you are up to the task.


Just for the record...Works Partnership did the 172,000sf ($12m) Olympic Mills Warehouse renovation as their first project. It could easily be a LEED project on points but the commissioning costs weren't "sustainable". I think we need to redefine the term boutique here.

Brian Libby


I really want to try my best to take your criticism without being defensive or angered. At the same time, I'm frustrated that this is the response you have. As an architecture or cultural critic, I advocate for good design. The firms I've expressed hope for, I do it not because they're my "friends and cronies", but because I'm a fan of the design itself.

If you only knew some of the architects I've praised who have turned around and screamed at me or threatened me when the next story isn't to their liking! I have great admiration for certain firms, it's true. But these generally are very much not people I hang out with. If I do, it's a meeting where I interview them about design. I don't consider it cronyism at all, for the simple fact that I'm always searching for new designers and architects to feature. Your screen name seems to indicate you're a jazz man, but if you're a talented architect, I'd like to show a little so-called bias and cronyism toward your work as well.

To anyone who thinks I mention too often firms like Allied Works, Holst, Works Partnership, THA Architecture, Skylab, Path Architecture or others, please let me know what firms I should be covering or talking about instead.

Also, I know this is a public forum, but if people have criticisms of my work as a journalist and/or blogger, either as it pertains to this blog or to my writing for other clients like The Oregonian, The New York Times, Architectural Record, Metropolis or Dwell, please consider emailing me personally instead of making accusations in public like this.

Regarding the need for more "thoughtful content and less cocktail party banter", I've got to be honest with you. Maybe I'm just not the intellectual you are looking for. This is not an academic look at architecture. It's a wide-ranging discussion of design in Portland that is at various times, depending on the conversation, either rigidly sober and high-minded or willing to crack a joke and engage in speculation. It sounds like you, Bebop, must have a much higher IQ than some ignoramus like myself can hope to aspire to. Me sorry to disappoint you.

Bebop, I'm going to assume that your intentions are good and positive. I recently announced that the blog welcomes contributors. If there's an avenue of discourse you believe this blog is not taking but should, I encourage you to contact me at [email protected] with ideas. If Portland Architecture is failing you, come make it better!



My intentions are good. You can alienate a lot of people when they hear the same firms getting plugged, especially people in the Architectural community who may feel snubbed.

I do not make money writing (or researching) articles about architecture, so I am not the person to ask about who the qualified or up and coming firms are. I also think you might not be the person to be judging either.

As an example of a little research that could have happened; Your article about Vestas not only mentioned Ankrom (of course), but also ZGF and GBD. Fletcher Farr Ayotte and Gruop MacKenzie also were in the mix, but they were not mentioned. Are they not up to your standards or just didn't come up in your research?

Like I posted, I do not think you should be dropping names nor passing judgement on a firms standing in the local Architectural heirarchy. I think it would improve your blog.

Take it as constructively as you feel.


robert - you are mistaken about your Vestas reference. They only interviewed Ankrom, GBD and ZGF - in that order. i think no matter who is referenced on this blog, someone is going to have issue with it. I have seen Brian become the whipping post many times no matter what side he is on. Just an observation. First it is the case when only mentioning the little guys that are trying to make a name for themselves, or the superstars (Cloepfil/Potestio/Emmons etc.) and all sorts of folks come unglued b/c they are not qualified, on and on. Then the qualified (i.e. built/occupied) portfolio and the authors are mentioned, and all sorts of folks come unglued for not considering the little guys. figure it out - you can't make everyone happy. and when observations are taken completely out of context it becomes subjective. Vestas was looking for a local architect with a track record, so who are they? With a Living Building the experience has yet to be proven because no one in the world has done what they are asking for. So come one and come all, but you better have a compelling story to tell of how you are going to pull it off. just my opinion.


Just for the record, Ankrom Moisan was hired to design the Vestas project in part because of our significant track record in sustainable design. We have 6 certified and 13 registered LEED Projects in the office, including 2 LEED Platinum projects under construction, one of which, Independence Station, is tracking to be the highest LEED rated building in the country.


At the pre-proposal meeting, PDC and all of the other players were talking about this building becoming an "icon", "sustainable statement", "only one of its kind", etc. I do not doubt that there are plenty of firms (big and small) in town up to the task. The requirements of this being a "living" building will certainly synthesize a design unlike anything in Portland. Ken Yeang quality? Probably not, but hopefully in the same realm.
My problem is the selected site of the project. There is an awful two-story "no tell, motel" directly North of this property on a 50'x200' lot. A person asked about that motel at the pre-proposal meeting and PDC essentially said the owner is not cooperative and they have no resources or intent on updating, acquiring, condemning, etc. that site. There have been whispers of St. Michael's, directly North of that hotel on the remaining portion of that block, creating a large mixed use development on their site. It appears St. Michael's supplies lunches to thousands of people a month. So essentially, an iconic living building and a new mixed development (probably expanding their responsible social component) separated by a poorly maintained hotel with sketchy clientele?!? It seems like both parties are missing an incredible opportunity to somehow start a "living" district with a conscience.


I may have a bad source, but the two other firms I mentioned were part of developer teams related to specific properties that Vestas was looking at.
Anyways, I agree with your second point 'ka', Brian is going to draw heat when he drops the names of certain firms over and over again and overlooks others. So why do it so often and unnecessarily at times?


maybe brian should report the fact that another local firm with extremely qualified sustainable skills was already doing all the vestas work in town but apparently wasn't considered for the job.

he'd be name dropping again, though.


he would be name dropping, but that firm did only interior work? not sure why they (vestas) did not interview that other firm, or maybe they are involved with one of the teams and we don't know it yet?

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