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Zef Wagner

While I appreciate the history lesson, this is the kind of thing that drives us non-architects crazy. Should we really be nostalgic for an entire era of incredibly ugly buildings? This seems to be based on an idea that all architecture is worth preserving, when I think most people would agree that some architecture is worth saving and some should be demolished as soon as possible. This building is in the latter category for sure.

Brian Libby


Thanks for your comments and thanks for reading the post.

It's completely understandable if you dislike the aesthetics of the Francis and Hopkins building. However, I like it very much. More importantly, I want to make clear that I am NOT arguing that we should preserve entire eras of architecture. Of course not all architecture is worth preserving. I'm sure that over 90 percent of the architecture built in the 1940s and 1950s is now gone, and that is okay. But just as we should not try preserve entire eras, as you say, we also should not rush to make sweeping generalizations about whole eras or dismiss them altogether. As it happens, the late 1940s was an exceptional time in the history of modern architecture, when architects trained in traditional Beaux Artes style were applying their skills to a new modern era with new materials. Maybe the Francis and Hopkins building is not a masterpiece, but I would argue that it is a modestly exceptional work of local modern style from the 1940s. Whether one likes this particular building or not doesn't matter very much. The important thing is that we agree on mid-20th century modernism's validity and importance, like any historic style. The world will go on if this building is demolished. It's not a black and white issue regarding whether this is a great work, a good one or a bad one. But great cities are collections of architecture from every era, and I believe exceptional 1940s modernism has just as much validity and beauty as any other style. Maybe Richard Sundeleaf wasn't Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe, but Mies Van Der Rohe is just as great as Christopher Wren, or Palladio, or any architect in any time.

Alexander Craghead

I *do* agree that Modernism and International Style is worthy of preservation, but I'm not sure I would go so far as to preserve this. I may merely be prejudiced by its present form, but when I see this structure, all I see is the mediocrity of lowered expectations that Modernism so often took on. There were far too many clients who saw Modernism as a way of lowering their investments and doing away with materials and craftsmanship that cost money but benefitted only the public, not the prospectus.

Again, maybe I am just prejudiced against this one because of how it looks now.

There are a number of Modernist/International structures I find ugly that are worth preserving -- the Wells Fargo Tower for example with its hideous low annex and it's terrible street-level anti-urbanism on three sides. So I'm not immune to the argument of something being both ugly and significant.

Where I think we get to is similar to the present arguments about Brutalism. What is truly worth saving, and why? It also leads to a different place that is an unspoken argument only now surfacing, forced by our growth management policies: if we must accommodate growth through redevelopment, then where does that growth go, and *what must be torn down* to make room for it? Four story apartments in foursquare neighborhoods is but one recent example of this friction. Yet the debate over infill, redevelopment, and height limits remains one that we have not addressed adequately in Portland, and one that ties directly into a question related to structures such as this: what are we okay with tearing down?


As much as I love mid-century, I wouldn't be so quick to tear down the current brick "fortress." St. Mary's opened in the same year Oregon became a state and has quite a bit of history worth preserving, even if its brick exterior doesn't mesh with the surrounding architecture. This selective view of preservation troubles me and I've been seeing it more and more. We need to acknowledge and preserve (within reason) all of our history and not just the parts that lend themselves to a mid-century and/or modern look. That being said, there's a lot they can do to make their current building more inviting, but I wouldn't go so far as to blot it out completely in favor of some other aesthetic.

It's also a school, not a showroom. As we all know, form follows function. The function of St. Mary's is to educate young women, not to provide visual interest to pedestrians. Transparency goes both ways and even in a brick fortress, the hustle of downtown Portland can be distracting. As an alumna, I've experienced this firsthand. Perhaps some kind of balance can be achieved, but I'm certain St. Mary's will make architectural choices that support an ideal and safe learning environment first and foremost. Having a glassy new "face" is probably farther down on their wishlist, as they've been part of downtown Portland for 154 years.

Brian Libby

Laladyblog, I'm afraid we have a huge misunderstanding. I am not in any way, shape or form advocating that the existing St. Mary's be torn down. I only felt that restoring the Francis & Hopkins building would give St. Mary's a wonderful midcentury-modern building to occupy along with their existing structure. What's more, I'm not at all advocating that only midcentury modern architecture be preserved. Of course not! Boy, I really must not have done a proper job of expressing myself in this post. None of what you're picking up is a point that I made. Sorry for the confusion.

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