Plans for the renovated Portland Building revealed – mostly better, but who’s been watching too much Mad Men?


A screen shot from the fly-by, showing the removal of the much-hated garage entry on the park. (Click to view.)

The City of Portland’s Office of Management and Finance has sent out video “fly-bys” of the proposed renovations to the Portland Building.  Gone is the most horrible mistake of the original plan, the garage entry that consumes the park side of the building (likened to an “anus” pointing toward one of the most important public spaces of the city).

On the other hand, it cannot be said that the proposed new design is sympathetic to Michael Graves’ original post-modernist project.  (Which, like many others of its generation,  sought imperfectly to provide an alternative to the widely-perceived failures of modernism.)  In what seems to be a clumsy Mies-take, dull curtain walls with black mullions replace the ground floor exterior walls.  Yes, the building needed more light — but  with such an ill-fitting, fashionably thoughtless design?

The website tries to explain it, showing in the process how laughably anachronistic retro-modernist the architecture profession has gotten.  “Notice how historical elements coexist with the modern,” it gushes.  Historical, as in 1982, and modern as in, what, 1960?

Someone has been watching way too much Mad Men…


2 Replies to “Plans for the renovated Portland Building revealed – mostly better, but who’s been watching too much Mad Men?”

  1. Can we love the Portland Building?
    The biggest complaint about the Portland Building was the too small energy efficient windows. So why are these small windows remaining the same? Yes curtain walls are adding clear glass but that is not where all the offices are. Secondly, the original design showed a loggia on the west side only. Why not make the loggias on the north and south interior porches? For both these issues we know in Portland there is a lot of rain and like to bask in the sun when we can. Third, it is questionable if the exterior panels look as originally intended? Fourth, of course, deliveries should be on the north as do many Portland downtown buildings. Leading to th e fifth inquiryy and most important public gesture, is that a entry on a park blocks to on the east go through to the present entry on the west. Many Portland buildings follow this pattern. In conclusion, Portlandia really belongs on the park blocks, so there is a need for new sculptures on the park blocks to engage and welcome all to her doors. Let us do Portland Proud.

    Mary Frances Czarnecki
    NEW Traditional Architecture

  2. Hi Mary – I admit I know less about the experience for staff inside the building – although on visits I’ve noticed that the windows look bigger from the inside than they do from the outside, where they look tiny. Yes, I’m sure that bigger windows would be more appropriate, but don’t know how feasible that would be given cost etc. More important to me are the edges of the public space, which were so horrible before – as you say, for such an important civic space. And let me add, curtain walls are getting passé and fast – just ask Ken Shuttleworth, architect of the Gherkin. It’s increasingly looking like a conceit of the “oil interval” – see also Peter Buchanan: So why do we neurotically keep trying to resuscitate a dying architecture, imagining that it’s “modern?” Why the unnoticed but rich irony of a ‘post-modernist” building that’s described as “historic,” while an unimaginative retro-mod design is seen as “modern”? Professional cognitive delusions and fashionable herd mentality, fueled further by Dwell and Mad Men. Cheers, m

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