A Hollow Icon

The Past and Future of Portland's Most Controversial Building


In all fairness it would be nice if you all posted a pic of the original design by Mr. Graves. It looks nothing like the eventual result.
This is a perfect example of "Design By Committee". Much like the Edsel.
What we have today is a watered down version reworked to please the local politicians and built on the cheapest dime possible. No wonder it's a mess. The engineering issues were brought to the attention of the city as it was being built and ignored by the folks in charge. Many major permits were never taken out until after it was finished.
It should have been built as it was originally designed. At least it was interesting to look at.
Mr. Craghead sounds like he never saw or worked in the building. It is a form of torture.
I've done time in the fetid guts of this building (trust me, "done time" is the proper phrase). It is hell and made of the cheapest materials imaginable.
The argument should not be about Mr. Graves and his abilities or lack thereof. The building is ugly (it is on numerous "World's Ugliest Buildings lists after 30 years), needs millions of dollars of work, and becomes more decrepit each year.
It is one thing to bemoan the tearing down of buildings in, say, the 1940's like the old Oregonian Bldg.; however, these buildings were constructed by master craftsmen of stone, marble, wood, and brass. Not by fly-by-night construction crews working with plastic and sub-standard concrete.
No mention of fundamental design flaws, lawsuits against the contractor, and critical structural repairs made in the 1990s? There is a fascinating bit of history that you have only begun to reveal with this article.

It should come down if only because it doesn't meet modern seismic design standards and no amount of retrofitting is going to remedy that, it's basically a deathtrap for everyone in the building in a moderately strong to major earthquake. To put it in perspective, leaks are more of a minor annoyance compared to seismic instability.
"focusing on Graves as the whole source of the Portland Building's failure is shortsighted and inaccurate."
Thanks for bringing up this point and elaborating further. I heard Michael Graves speak in the 80s some time about his work, and the Portland Building was a big part of his lecture. He spoke of the nightmare in bringing his proposal to reality.
I find the building at least acceptable and take pride in its historic nature. It's a one-of-a-kind. Since postmodern was 'in' when I was deeper in the architecture world, the Portland building has always stood as an ideal. Someday, it will have retro charm. Just wait.
The statue, Portlandia, has a great future, whatever happens to the rest of the project.
As for moving Portlandia.... She will not work at ground level. Her anatomy was altered for best viewing from two stories below. Her heads about 10 percent smaller, her back is greatly elongated and her hand size reduced.
For the record I worked on her for several months during her assembly.
Among the often overlooked issues surrounding the ill-fated Portland Building is the matter of how the relatively low cost of Michael Graves design and the fast-track construction that followed, have impacted the building. While we can argue the academic, cultural and aesthetic merits or demerits of Grave's design, what cannot be ignored is the sloppy construction which was due largely to the low budget and the fact that the building was erected with great haste. By some accounts the structure is more than 1 foot out of plumb from the street level to the top of the roof parapet, making it something of Portland's version of a Leaning Tower of Pisa!

The abysmal interior lighting and dark corridors were design flaws that irked the occupants of the building from the very beginning. The flawed lighting scheme combined with the claustrophobic feel of the interior are precisely what has prompted many of the city's more prominent agencies to relocate to more pleasant environs.

I had the opportunity to spend more than my fair share of time in the building during the late 80's and on into the 1990's when is was home to the Bureau of Development Services; i.e. the "building department" and I can assure that there were very few city workers who did not complain about having to spend their days squirreled away in what was arguably one of the most dreary, unappealing interior environments of any modern office building in the city.

By contrast the current home of the BDS, on the campus of PSU, is the polar opposite of the Portland Building, its dreary interior and its clownish exterior; Michael Graves be damned!

I would tend to agree with Pietro Belluschi's description of the Portland Building as an "enlarged jukebox" and not even a very attractive jukebox at that!

As time passes this so-called "post-modern" atrocity will become even more of an eyesore on the cityscape of Portland's carefully cultivated playground for the affluent class who are being lured back into the core of the city with one shimmering condo tower after another. I fully expect that the remaining life of the building can be counted in years, not decades, as the prime real estate it occupies eventually falls victim the bulldozers and backhoes of yet another over-priced condo development!
according to wikipedia, the portland building was placed on the national registry of historic places in 2011. wha???. so its now a historic piece of crap. i dont know what to say. maybe when michael graves dies they can repurpose it somehow, tears off all the stupid bows or something.