Michael Graves' Portland Building
faces threat of demolition

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Michael Graves' Portland Building faces threat of demolition

News: Michael Graves' seminal postmodern work the Portland Public Services Building is under threat of demolition, following news that the 32-year-old building needs more than $95 million worth of repairs.

Also known as the Portland Building, the 15-storey municipal office block in Portland, Oregon, was completed by American firm Michael Graves & Associates in 1982 and is credited with being one of the first major buildings of postmodernism, yet its demolition is one of several options under consideration by city officials following a recent analysis of the building's condition.

According to the assessment, a complete overhaul of the building would require $95 million (£58 million), while replacing it or relocating could cost anything between $110 million and $400 million (£67 million and £243 million).

Michael Graves' Portland Building faces threat of demolition

The Portland Building has been plagued with major structural problems and defects ever since its completion, many of which are attributed to the tight $25 million budget of the original construction.

The recommendation of the report was to renovate the structure, which would take two years and require finding a temporary home for 1300 employees that currently work in the building. However, city commissioners have branded it a "white elephant" and are considering pulling down both this building and a neighbouring courthouse to make way for an all-new public services complex.

"My reaction is we should basically tear it down and build something new," long-standing commissioner Dan Saltzman told local newspaper The Oregonian, describing the building as "a nightmare for people who work there".

"There's got to be a better option than putting another $100 million into a white elephant," added Nick Fish, who oversees the city's water and environmental services bureaus.

Responding to the news, architect Michael Graves described the Portland Building as "a seminal project", as recognised by its addition to the USA's National Register of Historic Places in 2011. "Of course my preference would be to repair the existing structure," he said.

Michael Graves' Portland Building faces threat of demolition

Architectural historian Charles Jencks underlined the importance of the building in his influential book The Language of Post-Modern Architecture, where the author wrote: "The Portland still is the first major monument of Post-Modernism, just as the Bauhaus was of Modernism, because with all its faults it still is the first to show that one can build with art, ornament, and symbolism on a grand scale, and in a language the inhabitants understand."

The news emerges in the same month that the Williams and Tsien-designed former American Folk Art Museum in New York is lined up for demolition to allow an extension to the neighbouring Museum of Modern Art, just 13 years after the building's completion.

  • Luke Petty

    Well it is a bit of a basket case

    • Wilbert

      Might be to you (as it is to me) but maybe not for others. If it’s private land owned by a private person or institution, then they should be free to do what they want to it. That principle should go for all buildings on private property. You’re the owner you decide. It is America after all, what’s little left if it.

  • Simon Gerssen

    I tried, you tried, we tried
    All of the times that we had together
    We should’ve known nothing lasts forever

  • Stewie

    A building only architects could love.

  • bill

    Not a moment to soon for this mistake from the 80’s

  • olut

    It’s a horrible building, let’s face it.

  • Techno_22

    So will Michael Graves be footing the bill for these structural problems and defects?
    It’s great to describe it as ‘a seminal project’ but why would you consider that scale of repairs when the most feasible solution is to build something more suitable.
    Architects do not live in the real world.

  • ScottW315

    I say tear it down, this monstrosity’s only value is that it gives architects a perfect example of what not to do.

  • Evan Jones

    Portlander. Architecture student. Happy to see it go. The building is famous in town, but principally as an embarrassment, a (literally!) textbook case of architectural styles mashed together to ill effect. If the building is a priceless historical record of large boxes softened by kitschy ornamentation, that’s a chapter of history I’m happy to let go of.

    • bb

      It was presented to me too as a great example of what NOT to do. lol

  • http://www.libertydisciple.com/ The Liberty Disciple

    Another government building that will be coming down to make way for a complex of government buildings. Maybe if the citizens are lucky, they’ll have a long expensive debate about saving it first.

    Let’s be honest, developers and local politicians run a corrupt empire that goes unnoticed by many. It’ll be far more lucrative to rebuild with $400 million, and likely to inflate to $1 billion, than to tear down.

    What structural problems could a Graves building be having? Aren’t all his designs an average column grid?

  • Scott

    I am sure this “all new public services complex” will exhibit the very best in architectural thinking. Leave it up, at least the building has courage.

  • boooo!

    The cost of a building that size, plus demolition costs, plus renting all that office space for the duration of the project, will cost way more than 100 mil easy. A lot of buildings are getting this sort of investment on a regular basis (every 30 or 40 years), so I’m not sure what the fuss is about.

    This “out with the old, in with the new” mentality tore down a lot of landmarks that were considered “passé” and out of fashion. Build something trendy now, in 30 years we’ll be having the same discussion.

  • Aaron

    It’s hard to argue against it being ‘an ugly building’. But, take a look around at the buildings nearby. Against this background the Portland Building almost looks, well if not good, at least ‘trying’. It’s interesting that these kinds of buildings galvanise public and professional opinion so much, when the cynical, money driven mediocrity of 95% of architecture passes uncommented upon.

  • dick_c

    “Do it right, or don’t do it at all.” The bigger the project, the more important that becomes. Calatrava also comes to mind.

  • James P

    Like it or not this is a historically significant piece of Postmodernism that needs to be protected for the future. This style will most likely gain popularity again and how many new isms are being created in architecture these days? I would gladly chain myself to this building to stop the demolition.

    • Gaucho

      Go ahead.

  • amsam

    But it’s not private property, it’s public property, right? Anyway, nobody’s disputing USA’s robust property rights, believe me they’re in no danger. We’re talking about design.

  • amsam

    OK, it’s waaay out of fashion now, but it’s certainly a vivid example of what it is. If we tore down everything when it became “ugly” we wouldn’t have any historic architecture to look at.

  • Davide R.

    Give it a face-lift. It’s very important to cancel horrible facades from the planet!

  • Omikey

    Let’s replace it with stacks of shipping containers. Cheap and they don’t leak.

  • Damian

    And the result of this thinking is an ugly, cluttered, unstructured boxy cheap looking city. But hey, at least the principles were held high, right?

  • rock

    Grave mistakes can be corrected. Wipe it out.

  • neko

    I say burn it first, then tear it down and make Michael Graves haul it away.

  • Dylan

    So, all these people that say tear it down, kill it, remove it – It’s different when its an animal or say a dinosaur or a pteranodon. That is what these buildings are nowadays, often old architecture that was so of its time and so cutting edge it is just left to die so something new can be put there and pulled down in the next 30 years.

    By pulling this down and despising it we are taking down part of ourselves and erasing the memory of our history. In 2044 this building will be considered a classic and we’ll wonder why we destroyed it whilst we tear down what we put there in 2014.

    People never notice.

    • rock

      Let it go Dylan. Keep what’s good, learn from the bad, flush it, move on.

  • Concerned Citizen

    Most architects are very much in the real world. Those like Graves and Ghery and Piano are not.

    • Gaucho

      Leave Renzo Piano out of this!

  • Concerned Citizen

    I never liked the thing, with its pastel palette and punched, isolated windows and oppressive mass.

  • bb

    You would consider that scale of repairs when the building is of cultural significance. Like when a building gets on the National Register of Historic Places.

  • generalpopulation

    He should stick to kettles.

  • Debora Meltz

    Albert Spear would have been proud. Sometimes, even a “seminal” building needs to go. And this once appears to be a disaster on many levels.

  • studio

    Seminal, my @ss.

  • Neil Sheehan

    It’s interesting to see the inherent flaw in the essential idea of post modern design coming home to roost so soon. Post modernism looked back at historic architectural details and attempted to apply them, usually with a twist. They called it irony? The post modern generation failed to acknowledge that they were attempting to do this in a modern world where labor costs wouldn’t even begin to allow for the effective implementation of their designs and they wilfully applied modern construction details which were completely unsuited to the materials used.

    Nonetheless Graves, Stirling, Beeby, Jahn and others were commissioned to design important public buildings they couldn’t begin to afford to deliver and didn’t want to know how to properly construct. In my opinion this is the very worst disservice and architect can do to their client. And so now we have a 30 year old Portland building that is falling apart. Just walk around it – it is one of the most cheaply constructed poorest quality buildings I have ever seen. It was evident it was going to fall apart from the day it was completed. The Portland building shares these flaws with State of Illinois Building, and Main Public Library Building in Chicago. The fragmented stone panels that used to ring the State of Illinois Building were removed because they were falling apart and the State couldn’t afford to repair them. The Chicago Public Library does have a high quality exterior but at the expense of a dry wall palace interior that now needs complete replacement.

    The idea that these building have been landmarked is preposterous. They are falling apart of their own accord and their design are an intellectual dead end that has had no subsequent influence.

  • g

    Good, I like to see ugly buildings destroyed.

  • Buttfucker1999

    Yeah, but you’re ignoring the fact that what we consider good or bad is temporary. Don’t let the inflated opinions modernity creates destroy something so unique. I think it’s pretty rad.