Archive for the ‘oregon’ 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.



California 2009, Part 0, Portland

Pardon the very generic title. I went for my annual trip to California, which is inevitably post-Labor Day, and I circle the lower half of the state, and am decidedly not so adventurous. Normally I try to see new stuff in my travels, but once a year, I visit the same places, visit friends and family, and do the same things. But it’s a healthy, happy routine, and I manage to feel a bit more vigorous, and feel like my old self again.

This is Part 0, because the trip started with a very brief prelude in Portland, Oregon. That’s right, I made a quickie stop in Portland for beer and lunch, it was raining (OMG), and the 10.5 hour flight ran just a bit too long in Lufthansa’s very cramped economy cabin. LH468 was packed to the brim, so why has Lufthansa canceled this flight?

This flight's taking too long.

This flight's taking too long.

As usual, gray Northwest skies and rain.

As usual, gray Northwest skies and rain.

PDX feels downright like a ghost town compared to the mega-airports that I normally fly out of, making for a rather unusual way of entering the United States. I took the MAX into town, which was remarkably convenient, I wish that other cities in the U.S. would make it this easy to get downtown.

So this is one of the trendiest cities in the U.S., it’s been lauded for its restaurant scene, being bike-friendly, year-round skiing and snowboarding, the Blazers, great beer, etc. etc. etc. I headed straight for the Bridgeport Brewery in the Pearl District. The district is unrecognizable from the industrial wasteland it used to be, now it’s all expensive condos and trendy shops and restaurants. I kind of preferred the run-down state of NW Portland, complete with the quintessential Pacific Northwest Skid Row (downtown Eastside Vancouver, Pioneer Square Seattle, and NW Portland, add some rain).

Pioneer Courthouse Square

Pioneer Courthouse Square

Steel Bridge, Big Pink, go Blazers!

Steel Bridge, Big Pink, go Blazers!

The city’s grown up a bit, but it still has that feel of a small town. Despite all this recent development, it’s not Seattle or Vancouver, which have international reputations, but it’s stubbornly provincial, and unhappy with being in the public glare. I had my beer and lunch, chatted for a couple hours with my former English teacher I had not seen in many years, and headed back to the airport for the flight down to California.

So there you go, five hours in Portland.