If several Portland city commissioners have their way Michael Graves' alternately loved and hated Portland Building (1982), now facing a $95 million renovation, will be torn down. One of the most famous examples of postmodern architecture in the United States, the 15-story, 31-year-old structure is known for its small square windows, exaggerated historical motifs, playful, varied materials, gaudy colors, and, of course, its cameo on the opening to the show Portlandia (also the name of the larger-than-life statue over the building's front door). While a few elements have been renovated in recent years, most of the building is in bad shape, and residents aren't exactly lining up to save it. Several city officials, writes the Atlantic Cities, have come out against making any more investments in it. And so the question is raised: Can a building be considered too important to tear down even if most people don't like it? Paul Goldberger, in his New York Times review of the building in 1982, called it "The most compelling architectural event of the year...It reminds us that the movement that has come to be known as Postmodernism has become vastly more than a curiosity. Now, at the end of 1982, it is unquestionably something that is having a genuine effect on the cityscape." The final decision will take months, but stay tuned to the fate of a building that everybody has an opinion about.
Posts tagged with "Postmodernism":
After a decade at the helm, Paul Gunther is stepping down as the president of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art (ICAA). Under Gunther's leadership the ICAA expanded to include 15 national chapters, and grew into a 14 person organization. In addition to holding lectures and symposia throughout the year, the Institute publishes the journal The Classicist, and it awards a summer fellowship for landscape painting. Last year the Institute held a provocative symposium reexamining postmodernism's relationship to classicism, which drew a wide audience including senior members of the architectural community who rose to prominence in the pomo heyday of the 1980s as well as young designers drawn to the playful iconography of the period. In a letter to friends and members of the Institute Gunther wrote, "After the 2002 conglomeration of Classical America and the Institute of Classical Architecture, sustaining and applying the classical tradition in architecture, design, and their allied arts is a mission your support and participation has made possible. The results prove...the time is right for new leadership to embark with a strategic imperative comparable to that with which I was entrusted. Change is a vital force for any modern organization competing today in the marketplace of ideas and affirmative civic intent and I herald it knowing that the best days of the ICAA are still to come."
A few years ago Drexel University embarked on an ambitious plan to convert one of Philadelphia’s iconic postmodern landmarks by Venturi Scott Brown Associates (VSBA) into a new home for the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design. Tonight the University will celebrate the official opening of its new building, dubbed the URBN Center, with a series of performances and demonstrations to showcase student work. Minneapolis-based Meyer, Scherer & Rockcastle (MS&R) led the renovation of VSBA’s 3501 Market Street, formally the Institute of Scientific Information, and the adjacent building at 3401 Filbert Street (designed by Bower, Lewis & Thrower). Pritzker-winner Robert Venturi and his wife and partner, Denise Scott Brown, famously called their buildings “decorated sheds,” a phrase intended to reflect a design philosophy that spaces should adapt to a variety of uses—hence, making Drexel's decision to overhaul the interior of 3501 Market in keeping with the architecture duo’s original intent for the building. MS&R re-imagined the vast blank floor plan, but the firm was careful not to meddle with Venturi’s colorful mosaic facade. The firm radically changed the 140,000-square-foot facility—creating a dynamic maze of stairways and beams that spill into a number of different work spaces that house a music recording studio, a video game design lab, a printing studio, and a television broadcast production facility. Richard A. Hayne, a member of the board of trustees and the CEO of the Philadelphia-based brand Urban Outfitters, donated $25 million to Drexel to buy the building. The university raised the remaining $47 million to fund construction costs.
The Thompson Center is an easy target. Most Chicagoans only know it as that Po-Mo Behemoth where we transfer between L lines and occasionally visit the DMV in the basement food court, perhaps the only location in America where you can get a slice of Sbarro and a new driver’s license. It’s a beast of a building—so bad, it’s almost good—and has been plagued with problem after problem, most recently the removal of the granite panels along the plaza. Tackling its so obviously deferred maintenance and adapting it for future use would be no small task. That’s why, according to the Sun-Times, the president of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and a major labor chief have proposed building a casino in the lower level and first floor of the building. When we think of downtown casinos, we think of Detroit. Look, Eavesdrop loves Detroit and is rooting for its revival on a daily basis, but Chicago doesn’t want to be using Detroit as its urban development role model. If this nutty scheme comes to fruition, there would be a casino in a building located across from City Hall, which also houses hundreds of state government employees. They better get ready to beef up their Employee Assistance Program, as the state might have a few more gambling addicts on their payroll.
One of the “Chicago Seven” architects who broke with the city’s modernist aesthetic during the 1970s and 80s, Thomas H. Beeby, will receive the 2013 Richard H. Driehaus Prize. Considered the traditionalist’s Pritzker Prize, the Driehaus comes with a $200,000 purse and denotes a lifetime of contributions to classicism in contemporary built work. Beeby’s rational design is evident in downtown Chicago’s Harold Washington Library. The design pulls core structural elements towards the outside—“an inversion of Mies,” Beeby said, but also a nod to classical construction—exposing structural columns that serve dual purposes as functional elements and ornamental city landmarks. Amid the building’s red brick and granite blocks, ornamental elements display a blended architectural language that is typical of postmodern design: the Board of Trade’s Ceres appears along with corncob spandrels and seed pods representing the bounty of the Midwest, while the form evokes proto-skyscrapers like the nearby Rookery and Monadnock buildings. As a principal at HBRA Architects, Beeby’s portfolio of built work includes many museums, libraries, university buildings, and other institutional projects. His work on churches has made an impact on the discourse of spiritual architecture. Previous Driehaus laureates include Michael Graves, Robert A.M. Stern, and Rafael Manzano Martos. The foundation also gives out the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Awards for Architectural Excellence in Community Design.
Postmodernism, the exuberant, eclectic, and ironic style born out of the death of the modernist dream in the 1960s and 70s, was the subject of the two-day-long "Reconsidering Postmodernism" conference last weekend, presented by the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York. The two marathon days of lectures, panels, and videos was filled with the original rock stars of the postmodernist world, including architects Robert A. M. Stern and Michael Graves, theorists Charles Jencks and Tom Wolfe, urbanists Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, and a small but passionate younger crowd who couldn’t help but revel in the rambunctiousness of their vaunted forebearers. The beginning of postmodernism, an active topic at the conference, was assigned multiple dates. It was either with the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe low-income houses in 1972, which Charles Jencks defines as “the day modernism died,” with the publication of Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture in 1966, perhaps with the opening of Morris Lapidus’ first bodacious beach resort in 1949, or it even could have been at the beginnings of modernism itself, when hairline cracks in the modernist utopian vision had already begun to form. There were even Italian precedents: in the 1950s Torre Velasca, designed by Ernesto Rogers in Milan, and the Venice Architectural Biennale of 1980. Something about the conference compelled people’s interest in the big, chronically under-discussed themes of architecture. Andres Duany championed a broader classical canon, through his 175 (and counting…) orders of classicism. A discussion of stylistic evolution was continually present, causing architectural writer Witold Rybczynski to come to the conclusion at one point that taste is more important than style. “This is something we don’t discuss, but should” was a phrase uttered by many over both days. The conference showed that postmodernism is still controversial, but also that it is extremely alive today, proving to be a resilient and long lasting force in architecture. Reasons for this were debated. Barry Bergdoll, the Phillip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at MoMA, asked if postmodernism was an attitude or a movement, suggesting the possible eternality of the mode, and that PoMo is not only analogous with the Mannerist or Hellenistic phases of architectural history, but actually the same thing. If modernism discarded everything that came before it, and began from “level zero,” as Gropius said it did, then postmodernism is letting everything flood back in, picking up where the world left off, and making a joke of it to lighten the mood. The “joke” of postmodernism was an important conference theme and recurred frequently. Humor mitigates the promotion of dogma, which was seen as a cause of modernism’s failure, and forces postmodernism to embrace its own flaws. Jokes also accept the world for what it is. As one conference-goer said, “The world isn’t as black and white as it used to be.” Humor was fantastically present over those two days. ICAA president Paul Gunther’s opening remarks on the morning of day one called postmodernism “A case of multiple personality disorders” before becoming a bit more serious and stating, correctly, that the purpose of the next two days was to “overcome the denial of postmodernism.” If not completely embraced by all in attendance, the conference at least succeeded in doing that. At the end of day two, with everything having been said, the final panel was oddly mellow and subdued. Perhaps nobody wanted to leave the reunion, or perhaps the gauntlet was being handed to the young people in the room, like Sam Jacob of the U.K. architecture firm F.A.T., architect and writer Jimmy Stamp, or any others of the wacky new generation of postmodernists.
With architectural discourse today so focused on the impact of digital design, it is hard to remember that 20 years ago all architects talked about was postmodernism. The discussion began with the publication of Robert Venturi’s Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and Aldo Rossi’s The Architecture of the City but became more focused and intense with the opening of an exhibition devoted to the theme. That exhibit, The Presence of the Past, was at the 1980 Venice Biennale and featured a stunning display in the newly renovated “Corderie” of the Venetian Arsenale. That display, Strada Novissima, was a temporary plywood and plaster street, fabricated in Rome’s Cinecitta film studio and featuring facades and back room exhibits by architects including Frank O. Gehry, Rem Koolhaas, Arata Isozaki, Robert Venturi, and an grand entrance by Aldo Rossi. This truly epic show was organized and curated by Paolo Portoghesi, who also curated the 1982 Biennale, which he devoted to the architecture of Islamic countries. Portoghesi will be making his first trip to the United Sates in decades and will be in conversation with myself and Aaron Levy at the University of Pennsylvania School of Architecture on Wednesday, April 20th at Meyerson Hall from 6:00 to 8:00. It may not be time dust off your dog-eared copies of Venturi and Rossi, but it is a rare event to have a figure like Portoghesi lecturing on this side of the Atlantic. This event is free and open to the public. To register, click here.
purchase tickets online through MCNY. Tickets: $12 for non-members, $8 for seniors & students, $6 for museum members.Join Julie Iovine, executive editor at The Architect's Newspaper, tomorrow (Tuesday) evening for a compelling discussion with architect Rafael Viñoly at the Museum of the City of New York at 6:30pm. The topic for the night, "What Comes After Postmodern Architecture?", will tackle the state of New York City architecture. The recent building boom in New York City has radically altered the look and feel of the city and added considerably to the list of starchitects currently reshaping New York’s iconic skyline. It has also helped redefine boundaries of the eclectic pluralism of postmodern architecture. How do we label the current architectural style of the last decade? Is there a post-postmodern? Reservations required. Call 917-492-3395 or
Yesterday, John Hill, arguably the city's most prolific architecture critic, finished up one of his latest projects, entitled "31 in 31." In addition to his usual flood of posts, Hill is chronicling one building every day in August, in preparation for a new guide book. The buildings are scattershot, ranging from the new Crocs super store in the West Village to One Bryant Park, but most of them are new and, in a way Hill always seems to manage, representative of precisely what has been going on in the city recently—not comprehensive, but authoritative. It's a rundown worth running down, but one building in particular caught our eye: the rather unassuming Wilf Hall at NYU. The project is not yet complete, but it caused quite a stir when it was proposed. Local preservationists objected to the project because it would destroy the Provincetown Playhouse, where Arthur Miller got his start, as well as the home of a number of other old, long-gone bohemian haunts. (Granted prerservationists object when NYU sneezes.) Even though the project is not located in a historic district, master faker Morris Adjmi was brought in, an architect known for his historically sensitive work, including the Scholastic Building in Soho and the High Line Building across from the Standard. Here, Adjmi appears to have pulled off a very nice set of four modern rowhouses, rather prettier ones than the building it replaced. The retained and restored facade of the Provincetown Playhouse is particularly notable for how draws attention to the historic structure, highlighting it instead of hiding it. It is a refreshing building after so much massive development by the university, from Philip Johnson's unusual Bobst Library to the downright awful Kimmel Center. It would seem this is the first project from NYU to make good on its promise to respect the scale and architecture of the Village—a promise that may not hold if its bombshell of an expansion plan is approved in the coming months and years. So what does Andrew Berman, head of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and leading NYU antagonist think of Adjmi's building? He is not impressed, to say the least. In response to a query from the Observer, he sent over the following email:
The Provincetown Playhouse and Apartments was one of the most historically and culturally significant buildings in New York City, and should never have been demolished. It was the home not only of the world-famous theater, but of a collection of institutions which were called by historians "the cornerstone of bohemia" and "the locus of cultural activity and the gathering places of all the figures associated with the Greenwich Village Renaissance that began the era of Modernism in the U.S." The entire building had been determined eligible for the State and National Register of Historic Places, and for a mere increase of 17,000 sq. ft.of space NYU chose to demolish rather than renovate or reuse the building, though only five years earlier they had demolished several other historic edifices including the Poe House and Judson Houses just across the street to make way for yet another mammoth Law School building. To add insult to injury, NYU's promise to preserve in perpetuity about 5% of the original building was secretly compromised when, behind construction walls, they actually demolished part of the tiny theater space and kept that fact hidden, which was only revealed by vigilant neighbors and GVSHP. Is the new building less overwhelming and oppressive than many other recent NYU projects? Of course, but it would be a shame if that were the sliding scale by which we judged the university. Wilf Hall will sadly always be a monument to the university's broken promises and greed, and to the loss of yet another irreplaceable piece of New York's proud history.So much for community outreach.