Archive for the ‘nrhp’ Tag

Lawrence Halprin’s Portland and Seattle

I took a look at the landscape work of Lawrence Halprin (1916-2009) in Portland and Seattle. These were mid-century projects in the center cities intended as urban renewal projects, in an era when people had moved to the suburbs and away from the city proper.

The Portland Open Space Sequence (1966) was built to connect a then-new group of high-rise and medium-rise apartment buildings south of Market Street in Portland to the downtown district. It is a sequence of walkways, small plazas, stairways, and Pettygrove Park, mimicking the rolling terrain and greenery of western Oregon. Of course, what is Oregon without a lot of water, so there is a “stream” running through the area, with a small Source fountain, a larger Lovejoy Fountain, and the showpiece Ira Keller Fountain (1977) that is in front of the Civic Auditorium. The latter fountain is now one of Portland’s focal points, although not part of the original plan of the Sequence. Overall, the Sequence now shows its age, as the ample precipitation has given some of the benches and concrete walls a very Oregonian layer of moss. The park was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2013, one of relatively few midcentury landscape designs to be placed on the list.

Benches and stairs, now moss covered

Ira Keller Fountain on a wet spring day in Portland

Heading north, Halprin also designed the Freeway Park in Seattle. This was a radical design in its day. Downtown Seattle is bounded on the western side by the soon-to-be-demolished Alaskan Way Viaduct and the waterfront, and on the eastern side by I-5. Halprin put the park on top of the freeway, with a serpentine path that shields the pedestrian from seeing I-5, and a fountain that cuts out the noise from automobiles. At least I think that was part of the intention when the park opened on July 4, 1976. These days the traffic is so atrocious that it’s impossible to avoid completely.

Fountain and terraces, Freeway Park

Freeway Park, Seattle

Other cities have used this concept to link together neighborhoods once cut off from one another by freeway construction, such as Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, and they have been largely successful projects. The convention center, built in the early-to-mid 1980s, also covers the freeway, and is linked to Freeway Park on its upper levels.

Commonwealth Building, Portland, Oregon

Downtown Portland is full of generic structures sprouting all over, but has a few standouts. Arguably the most innovative building downtown is the Commonwealth Building (formerly the Equitable Building) located on 6th Avenue between Washington and Stark. It’s a shiny smooth skyscraper with limited prominence in the skyline, that yields little information about its age. It could be brand new, but was in fact completed in 1948, a young looking 70 years. Designed by Pietro Belluschi, much of the innovation of the building is unseen, and it remains a rather unknown structure long overshadowed by better known buildings in New York like Lever House. The building was given National Register status in 1976, a rare distinction as it was only 28 years old at the time.

It’s a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark for its technical innovations. Among them are central AC, double pane windows and an aluminum facade. The aluminum facade would later be used in other Midcentury skyscrapers like the Alcoa Building in Pittsburgh while the greenish glass would be a signature element in landmarks such as Lever House in New York and the Inland Steel Building in Chicago.

For the most part, the building has been sensitively modified, mostly to the entrances. Despite the apparent uniformity of the facade, the 6th Avenue and Stark St. elevations are slightly different. The window panes are subdivided into three sections along Stark, two along 6th. Subtle colors keep the facade lively, while the skin of the building is nearly smooth, as no section protrudes out more than 7/8″.


Commonwealth (Equitable) Building, 1948.



Poets Row, Denver, Colorado

I came across this very nifty corner of Denver as I was wandering around the city last weekend, taking advantage of the holiday weekend and balmy 70 F temperatures. Normally I just change planes in the airport, but this time I spent a day exploring downtown and the neighborhoods northeast and southeast.

Poets Row refers to a National Register-listed block of apartment buildings directly south of the State Capitol, on Sherman Street between 10th and 11th. These were mostly built in the 1930s and 1940s and together they form a harmonious group of Art Deco, Moderne, and International Style structures that have seen new life as residents have returned to the central city over the past 20 years. They’re named after famous writers, not really poets. The buildings are nothing fancy or luxurious, but are notable for being an intact row of apartments that gives a glimpse into city living 70 years ago. Aside from the view of the skyscrapers downtown, this is a virtually unchanged streetscape, and a wonder that it survived all these years without being torn down or otherwise defaced.

Downhill, a couple blocks away, are the distinctive buildings of the Denver Art Museum- the Daniel Liebeskind building is the most recognized, but I have to say that the fortress-like Gio Ponti structure (1971) really caught my attention. This is Ponti’s only US design, and I haven’t decided whether I love it or hate it. I don’t think it really fits the location so close to the Capitol and City Hall, and it’s an unavoidable structure that barely resembles a museum. I thought it was a jail, like the one in downtown Chicago.

Mark Twain Apartments

Thomas Carlyle Apartments

Dorset House, understated International / Moderne style

Denver Art Museum, Gio Ponti (1971)

Christ Church Lutheran, Minneapolis

So everyone is familiar in some way with Eero Saarinen, as his structures are ingrained into the American built environment. His Gateway Arch became the instant symbol of St. Louis upon its completion in the 1960s, and chances are that you have changed planes at Dulles Airport or JFK Airport.

His father, Eliel Saarinen, is less well-known, and has a style all his own which is difficult to pinpoint. Eliel is best known for his “losing” design for the Chicago Tribune skyscraper, which became an oft-imitated model for the tall building and is now seen in 1920s skyscrapers such as the Gulf Building in Houston and the David Stott Building in Detroit. He created a number of seminal structures that manage to fly under the radar, they’re all carefully designed and executed buildings, but understated. They are however recognizable as Saarinen buildings, especially in his use of tan brick. He

designed two religious structures during his US-based career, two similar, radical designs for modern churches. One is in Columbus, Indiana, completed in 1942, and the other is Christ Church Lutheran in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Christ Church Lutheran was Eliel Saarinen’s last structure, completed in 1949, he died in 1950.

The exterior is of a simple geometry, with little in the way of decoration. A few sparse sculptural elements adorn the main facade, with some relief elements such as a cross on the side. The interior is a real treasure, with a narrow vertical window providing the illumination for the altar. Composed of white brick, the altar glows. While the exterior is a simple box, the interior adds a few elements of subtle, but noticeable asymmetry. The roof line is slightly slanted, the wall of the altar curves, and there is extra seating under a low ceiling. The brick walls wave in and out upon close inspection. Light comes in from side windows. In short, there is plenty of visual interest inside, but it requires close inspection to really appreciate the design elements. The overall effect is one of calmness.

Christ Church Lutheran, tower and detail of relief

Saarinen Sr. on the left, with the Saarinen Jr. extension on the right

Eero Saarinen, in one of his last works before his untimely death in 1961, designed the extension, which defers to his father’s design elements, and created a low-key, functional structure. The two buildings are linked through interior hallways and underground passages, creating a courtyard with a fountain in the center. This fountain led to leakage into the basement, necessitating an ongoing restoration effort. Right now, the courtyard is a mess with plenty of construction (as of May 2017), but the finished product ought to be similar to how the structure looked before.

Interior, from second floor balcony

Interior from first floor

Last days of the Sixth Street Bridge, Los Angeles

I visited LA quite a bit in 2015, spending many happy days wandering around the diverse neighborhoods and landscapes of the city. The Sixth Street Viaduct, generally called the Sixth Street Bridge, was the doomed landmark that I spent plenty of time up close and personal. My last visit was New Years weekend, 2016, which was supposed to be the final weekend it would be open to traffic. It turned out that the closure was delayed by a couple weeks longer, but it was essentially¬†the bridge’s last stand, showing all the battering, use, abuse, and love of its 83 years.

There really was no way to save the bridge. The disrepair and decay of the concrete really showed, and it was continuing to deteriorate. Had the concrete not been faulty, perhaps it would have lasted longer. But despite the loss of this landmark, the replacement bridge is a thoughtful nod to the old one, and will be LA’s newest showpiece when it’s completed.

Sixth Street Bridge and the downtown skyline, January 2, 2016. A now-lost view.

Sixth Street Bridge and the downtown skyline, January 2, 2016. A now-lost view.

A bit of calm along the river. The scene was actually pretty busy, with a steady stream of cars, visitors, and photographers.

A bit of calm along the river. The scene was actually pretty busy, with a steady stream of cars, visitors, and photographers.

That bit of elegance among the drabness of the industrial flats.

That bit of elegance among the drabness of the industrial flats.

And a bit of abstraction. . .

Walking back to Santa Fe Avenue, goodbye!

Eads Bridge, St. Louis

Historically one of the major crossroads of America, the city of St. Louis holds a vast number of architectural treasures from the post Civil War period until the 1960s. The Eads Bridge, still one of the major crossings of the Mississippi River, was one of the major engineering feats of 19th century United States, along with other superlatives like the transcontinental railroad, the Erie Canal, and the Brooklyn Bridge.

The bridge is located at a narrow point between downtown and East St. Louis, Illinois, and was built after a protracted battle against steamboat operators, during the aftermath of the disastrous Civil War. Construction began in 1867 and was completed eight years later, in 1874. It was the first major steel bridge built, and pneumatic caissons were used for the first time (at a major human cost). 141 years later, the bridge is still in use, with MetroLink trains on the lower level, and a refurbished deck hosting automobile, bike, and pedestrian traffic.

Aesthetically, the bridge is a balance of the delicate and muscular, with heavy stonework on the ends, and a dense network of steel in the three arches.

Detail of steelwork and west anchorage.

Detail of steelwork and west anchorage.

Eads Bridge, looking east from Laclede's Landing.

Eads Bridge, looking east from Laclede’s Landing.