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Sunday, October 11, 2009

World-class moment

Portland has one of the World's Ugliest Buildings, according to Travel & Leisure magazine. Before clicking on the link (here) to see which one it is, can you guess?

Comments (46)

While that building is pretty gross inside, I'd vote for the ban roll-on building.

City Hall was once called 'Nouveau Fascist' by an architectural student I knew...

My guess would be the Portland Building....which I call "Misguided Innovation".

Which one is the Ban Roll-on Building?

Any attention is better than no attention... I like it... It looks like a designer, multi-layered birthday cake... all its missing is the candles...

The building was compromised and Graves let it happen. That's what makes it so unattractive to me. Every time I pass it, I wince because I knew what it could have been. But then, some others would have really hated that!

My choice would be the Wells Fargo Building. Soon after it went up, I was commissioned to do a shot of Down town Portland from the Rose Garden, and it must not include that building! Yikes! But I did find a spot that included the building location, but hidden behind a tree. The pix went on to be used in a numerous times, some not realizing that the then called First National Building was behind that tree.

BTW, I did suspect the Portland building was their choice. It always is.


Oh, and the graphic designer who commissioned the photo doubled the fee I asked when he saw the shot.

If you look at the full array, I think you'll agree that Portland is seriously outclassed by the competition.

Except for the Belluschi buildings. Well, most of them!

There's a lesson in humility here. That building was heralded as one that would "put Portland on the map", architecture-wise; it would be a wondrous example of postmodern expression. there were plenty of critics, but civic leaders and many designers drooled over the idea. They wanted it bad--prestige! Fame! A more "cosmopolitan" city?

Sounds familiar?

But if you want a truly rich collection of eyesores and urban development , see here:

click through ("Previous Eyesore"), see them all. The commentary is often devastatingly incisive.

I like how the Portland building is listed as the 1st and 7th in their list...

I don't think they ranked the buildings among themselves. They didn't say it was the worst, or the 7th worst. It's just on a list with the rest.

to be fair to Mr Graves , he created some elaborate designs for this bldg , and the City
slashed his budget , and this was all he could do with half a budget. Although I have always despised Post Modernism , it is not fair to blame this on the Architect.

You can not build a Ladd's Addition Home for 500 bucks , eh? But if you need a 'skinny home' let me know :]

Bingo, what did I win?

As I have said for many years, all that it needs are ears and a nose.


Lawrence opines, "My choice would be the Wells Fargo Building. Soon after it went up, I was commissioned to do a shot of Down town Portland from the Rose Garden, and it must not include that building! Yikes! But I did find a spot that included the building location, but hidden behind a tree. The pix went on to be used in a numerous times, some not realizing that the then called First National Building was behind that tree."

Congratulations. Of course, when it was built, it was called the First National Bank of Oregon Building. But, soon after, they decided to do a corporated name change and became the First Interstate Bank Building. Well...given the phallic nature of the building,'s even more telling scrotal side was the source of much smirking and tittering and adopted the "First Intercourse Bank" nominclature. Of course, the wags were not content and pointed out that the building was pushed through despite the complaints about how it destroyed the view east to Mt. Hood and thus dubbed it the "Forced Intercourse Bank"....and when Wells Fargo moved in, the nick somehow seemed to live on. That's what I still call that monstrosity, the "Forced Intercourse Building." It still seems to fit.

"The building was compromised and Graves let it happen."

Puh-leeze, Graves went thru this post-modern phase and everyone was crowing about how great it was when it was built.

So now once the novelty wears off (like most of the "daring" ideas CoP does), then people see it for what it is a building with tiny windows and lollipops along the top that looks like a jail instead of an office.

BTW, that piece of wedding cake on State street in Lake O is not much better looking. Another building that LO City Hall messed with and insisted it look that way.

I think one of the requirements for being elected in Oregon is poor taste.

Jack asked, "Which one is the Ban Roll-on Building?"

That would be the 1000 SW Broadway structure, the one with the Broadway Multiplex Theater in the street-level SW corner.

Check the picture, you'll see why.

This is why an architect should never design a building at the Office Christmas party.

Still, I like it. It's one thing to dabble in the weird, but this shows a commitment that is almost inspirational. There's an F-U factor involved here that I greatly admire.

The only thing wrong with it is the statue of Tonya Harding. You can't see her skates under the robe, and what's the deal with the 3-pronged spear?
Just give her a cigarette and a beer and call it good. We can even have a neon tip on the cigarette so Randy will think it has class.

I like it as well, except like I said, for the compromise. Steve's "Puh-leeze": Did you see the original? Did you attend all the hearings when the changes were made? What you are seeing is a committee compromise, and Graves let it happen.

Howard Roark he ain't.

godfry: that's a stitch because the one I was referring to is in the Lloyd Center area (and, no, I don't know its name). So there are 2!!!!!!!

If the name is changed slightly adding a "t" to Fargo, it would be aptly named. In my opinion, of course.

OK, I went and looked at the building identified by godfry as the ban roll-on building. Yup, that's uglier than the Portland Building, too.

Thankfully arch-conservative Mayor Frank Ivancie was able to push for the selection of Michael Graves, since his proposal came in at the lowest per square foot cost.

How did they miss the Akron Art Museum?

I'm with Lawrence - The Wells Fargo is a travesty, designed, I believe, by the same adman-turned-architect who inflicted Madison Square Garden on NYC, over the grave of Penn Station. And speaking of Graves, despite the famous quote to the effect that the Portland Building was a cynical exercise put over on a naive but ambitious community by a sophisticated academic slicker (I can't find the actual language now, but it's worth a look), the building is now at the bottom of its 'appreciation curve,' and in 10-15 years will be looked on fondly in the middle of a Post-Modern revival - unless the City Hall crooks tear it down to make more work & profit for the development mob. At least the municipal big bugs (AdamsLeonard et al) should be moved in, to accustom them to the jail-like windows in case we ever get some prosecutors with cojones.

The building was compromised and Graves let it happen. That's what makes it so unattractive to me. Every time I pass it, I wince because I knew what it could have been.

I think you're misinformed. That design in the linked photo is Graves' design, right down to the colors. I'm not sure what you mean by "what it could have been", because Graves got the basic visual design he wanted. Were there construction problems? sure. But blaming the design of that building on local politics is disingenuous. What local politics did was the opposite--it allowed the building to happen in the first place.

Did you see the original? Did you attend all the hearings when the changes were made?

I have, in fact, seen the original. It was widely published--Graves has always been a tireless self-promoter. And others have seen it too--oneexample:

Look familiar? The three-dimensional garlands that Graves threw a fit over are the only essential street-view item missing. Later mayors attempted to assuage that by adding 2-d ones. both, in my opinion, are hubristic and masturbatory attempts at design. The statue is decoration.

What you are seeing is a committee compromise, and Graves let it happen.

See above. Not even close. the essential elements, down to color scheme, are there.

Here's the juicy quote I mentioned above - critic Carter Wiseman called Graves's Portland Building "a rather condescending exercise performed by a sophisticated academic on a culturally overeager community." As locsl author Bart King wrote after the quote, "Ouch!" But I'll still wager the building will be a beloved local quirk in a generation, which will never happen to the Wells Fargo excrescence.

Talea...Are you referring to the State Building...the one with the 'Post-bomb Hiroshima Dome'?

It doesn't light up at night like Mr. Movie's does, does it?

As for the Portland Building, I suspect that the crappy construction will bring it down before it can become 'beloved'. It's a piece of crap structure, through and through.

The best part of the Portland Building was when they discovered, years after it opened, that the contractor had conveniently left out a bunch of steel supports on the top floor or two. This is on a city-owned building, right across a narrow street from City Hall, supposedly inspected on a regular basis... and they got away with it. No one was ever identified as being at fault, much less prosecuted by the good old boy in the DA's office. That was when I realized how rotten government is in this city.

Lawrence, I did attend the hearings on Grave's design, I don't exactly remember if I attended everyone, but I do remember attending one of the last if not the last. After a few changes Graves remarked in the hearing that he was pleased with the outcome. He recognized that he was somewhat new to the "civic design" of buildings and the input an architect receives from everywhere in a civic effort, but he was still pleased.

At this point in his career he was mostly an academic without much experience and built works and very new to actually executing a building. It shows-for me in the details and construction. The design is up for interpretation.

The best part of the Portland Building was when they discovered, years after it opened, that the contractor had conveniently left out a bunch of steel supports on the top floor or two."

Actually it was discovered during the building process:

Note the part in the article about the HVAC system. While the energy efficiency of the building is good, the rate of turnover of the air in the building is very slow. After the building was in use for a decade or so, employee complaints about allergens, etc. led to an air quality study. Because of the slow air turnover, it was discovered that there were elevated CO2 levels. I recall the report noting that elevated CO2 was not a health hazard, but might lead to lethargy or sleepiness for building users.

Oops, sorry. To start at the first page of the article cited, use this link:

The oddness of the Portland building makes it easy to find, at least. I am not hip enough to understand the Portland building design has gone the way of green-colored stoves and fire red shag carpets in the downstairs alcohol refreshment bars. Those 70s kind of things. I never did like the bell bottom pants thing, though.

As for the Graves building, I seem to recall that the rather flamboyant garlands were minimalized (i.e., made flat) in an effort to allow window washers to descend from the roof. Mr. Graves' original concept would have made descending the sides impossible.

I do remember when Portlandia (NOT by Graves) made her way up the Willamette on a barge and then was trucked through the streets of downtown to the Pdx. Bldg. balcony. The streets were packed with onlookers.

It would be nice if Portlandia was lower to the ground and more accessible, but I read somewhere that the sculpture was designed to be viewed from below and at an angle from streetlevel (perspective, etc.). Besides, if Portlandia was at groundlevel, she'd be a magnet for squatters, graffiti, and God knows what else! But hey---maybe she could be on a Streetcar route (argh).

___Ora et labora___


ecohuman, if you cannot see the difference, then you need glasses. The original building is a statement. maybe you don't like the statement and that's ok. The final is a watered down version, by committee. Yes, Graves did a bit of backpedaling. He was, after all, after commissions that make this one a sidebar. And that's a sellout, imo.

Jeez there were so many to pick from that I almost forgot the Portland Building. I had the convention center, with the twin goalposts, at the top of my list. Also the 1st Interstate/Wells Fargo building. Never been that big a fan of Big Pink, either.

Someone mentioned the Belluschi buildings in a positive manner. Jeez, is there anything more boring than the Commonwealth Building?

The original building is a statement. maybe you don't like the statement and that's ok.

I'll let the images speak for themselves.

Yes, Graves did a bit of backpedaling. He was, after all, after commissions that make this one a sidebar.

No, he wanted to build a postmodern building. He said so. in writing. "the first of its kind". the entire project was an exercise in arrogance. Then again, so is most architecture today.

But something tells me you're a fan of postmodernism.

Godfry, I don't know. The building I'm referring to is mostly white (or off-white) and is very visible when traveling I-84 toward downtown once the highway starts heading down toward the river. It's off to the right, if you're heading west.

Ecohuman, I once did an interview with a former New Yorker who decided he wanted to move to Portland when he saw a picture of the Portland building. "The minute I saw that I figured I wanted to be in a city that had the guts to build that." Or something like that. I don't have those notes anymore.

Gil Johnson, the AIA Journal certainly doesn't agree with you about the Commonwealth Building. He got a 25 year award for that building. It had many firsts, including the window washing method which Belluschi invented. It was the first curtain wall building to go up in the US. He consulted with Boeing about the attachment of window to aluminum as used in the bombers of WWII.

He is the architect of the Portland Art Museum, the wonderful Zion Lutheran Church across from the Mac Club, the even more stunning First Presbyterian Church in Cottage Grove, of course St. Marys in S.F, on and on.

Well, I don't like every thing he did either. My favorite not to like is the Oregonian building.

Seems like all of this is misplaced. Show me an attractive big-box store or strip mall in the burbs that looks better than the Portland building. Yes, the Portland building is ugly but most of the stuff in the burbs is far worse.

Does anyone remember how the original grout between the restroom-style tiles on the outside ran down the walls in the rain?
I like the building but that was a sorry look.

There are a couple of really out of place and poorly designed buildings in the city. One on Division that Jack has posted about a couple of times and one over on Hawthorne that is a sore thumb in the neighborhood. Not to mention that two tone green thing on Division near 205.

I've always considered The Portland Building a public embarrassment.

I guess I must be the oddball here. I like the building, although I don’t work in it. I like it on many levels because it is not the Skidmore Owens and Merrill cookie cutter building you find in every city. I remember the day they barged Portlandia down the Willamette River. Bud Clark was there standing in his canoe. It was quite a festival. There really was lots of civic pride and everyone then enjoyed themselves during the event. I even purchased a collector tin at Meier & Frank which was a model of the building. I still have it.

There is something to be said for seeing only the final product.

Bill McDonald, that grout streaking is all too common. If I have to photograph a new brick building, I point out the earlier the better, or I get to charge beau-coup bucks to clean it up in Photoshop.

The UO arena now under construction here in Eugene is going to be some tough competition for that Portland eyesore.


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Road Work

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