AKA: Portland Public Services Building, Portland, OR

Structure Type: built works - commercial buildings - office buildings; built works - social and civic buildings

Designers: Graves, Michael, Architect (firm); Michael Edward Graves (architect); Raymond Kaskey (sculptor)

Dates: constructed 1980-1982

12 stories

1120 SW 5th Avenue
Downtown, Portland, OR 97204-1912

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The City of Portland put on a public competition for the design of its new administrative center during 12/1979-01/1980, which the New Jersey architect, Michael Graves, (collaborating with the New York firm of Emery Roth), won with a flamboyant and controversial design. According to a Portland City Council report of 02/29/1980, Graves won, in large part, because he produced a low-cost design, one more economical than those produced by the two other finalists, Arthur Erickson of Vancouver, BC, and Mitchell/Giurgola of Philadelphia, PA. (The jury for the competition was also "stacked" with two East Coast insiders, the architectural kingmaker, Philip Johnson and his partner, John Burgee, who knew and liked Graves.) Graves drew on a very diverse menu of influences to create his design, delighting critics who searched for an architecture of more "complexity and contradiction." He made reference to Art Deco, Neo-Classical, Rationalist and Modern precedents in the design for the 12-story tower. Its cubic mass set on a stepped base relied on the work of the Italian Rationalists and contemporary designs by Aldo Rossi. The flat ornamentation ironically appended to the exterior owed much to the theories of the American Robert Venturi, another Princeton graduate. The serial repetition of windows suggested Modern roots, but their small size contradicted the usual imposition of ribbon windows or glass curtain walls. (In a contradictory manner, however, portions of the facade are covered by curtain walls.) One facade of the tower had the pronounced verticals of Art Deco precedents, such as the New York Daily News Building (1929) by Hood and Howells. Many of Graves's original decorative details and design elements were dropped over time due to the protestation of prominent local architects and for cost reasons. The building opened to tremendous, global fanfare in 1982, at a final cost of approximately $29 million, a very tight budget. Many prominent writers of the East Coast architectural establishment lauded the building, writing about it rapturously, and it was rapidly incorporated into the canon of architectural history as a preeminent example of Post Modern design. Featured on countless covers and magazine pages, the Portland Building, and the controversy it touched off between Modernists and Post Modernists, became globally discussed, making it one of the most influential buildings of the early 1980s.

The Portland Building was erected between 09/1980 and 10/1982. Its palette of chalky browns, deep slate blues and green-greys became a trademark of Gravesian design. His color choices became common among imitators who generally lacked Graves's bold color sense. For many Portland city office workers, the Portland Public Services Building has proven to be a claustrophobic and poorly lit, ventilated and constructed workplace. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) awarded the Graves building an Honor Award in 05/1983, although 16 members of the Portland Chapter of the AIA--most notably the city's eminence grise, Pietro Belluschi, (writing, ironically, from his Boston office), publicly voiced their displeasure with it.

Renovations have been made to correct flaws in Graves's design. Alterations were undertaken to the restaurant court and lobby in 1990.

PCAD id: 15383