Michael Graves’ Portland Building Could Be In Jeopardy

News, Newsletter, Preservation, West
Monday, January 13, 2014
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Portland Building (Flickr/Camknows)

Portland Building (Flickr/Camknows)

If several Portland city commissioners have their way Michael Graves‘ alternately loved and hated Portland Building (1982), now facing a $95 million renovation, will be torn down. One of the most famous examples of postmodern architecture in the United States, the 15-story, 31-year-old structure is known for its small square windows, exaggerated historical motifs, playful, varied materials, gaudy colors, and, of course, its cameo on the opening to the show Portlandia (also the name of the larger-than-life statue over the building’s front door).

While a few elements have been renovated in recent years, most of the building is in bad shape, and  residents aren’t exactly lining up to save it. Several city officials, writes the Atlantic Cities, have come out against making any more investments in it.

And so the question is raised: Can a building be considered too important to tear down even if most people don’t like it?

Paul Goldberger, in his New York Times review of the building in 1982, called it “The most compelling architectural event of the year…It reminds us that the movement that has come to be known as Postmodernism has become vastly more than a curiosity. Now, at the end of 1982, it is unquestionably something that is having a genuine effect on the cityscape.”

The final decision will take months, but stay tuned to the fate of a building that everybody has an opinion about.

2 Responses to “Michael Graves’ Portland Building Could Be In Jeopardy”

  1. Brian Lighthart says:

    If the Portland Building is an icon, it is emblematic only of the silly obsession of some architects (and, by the way, some of their clients) and architectural critics with style for the sake of style, even when it flies in the face of common sense, quality building design, and basic aesthetics. Just my opinion, of course. It was a mistake from the get-go. $95M seems a high price for perpetuating a mistake.

  2. David Duncan says:

    Yes the facade is significant– of an odd period in architectural history. But this Portlander has heard the voices of the occupants– city employees– who have to endure mold, structural damage, tilted floors, crumbling infrastructure, lack of outdoor light, among other issues. The preservation of the facade should not straightjacket the city, who may have to pay $100 million, likely more in rehabilitating the building. A building is built for its occupants, not some lofty architectural critics. The building should be torn down and a building that works for its occupants should be the city’s priorities. A new building in another location (to avoid the high cost of moving workers twice) that could be a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization. And the new building, built for its occupants, can still have an innovative and creative design.

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