The proposed rebuild of the Portland Building has been approved by the Landmarks Commission, with the decision upheld by the City Council at appeal. The almost $200 million reconstruction of the Michael Graves designed building is being led by DLR Group, and is intended to address seismic deficiencies and water intrusions issues that have been present since the building was completed.
The Portland Building is the City of Portland’s primary office, providing space for around 1,300 employees. The 15 story building was completed in 1982, and is well known for being the first large scale built example of postmodern architecture. The building, including furnishings, was completed for a $28.9 million — a figure considered exceptionally low even for the time. Many of the decisions related to the materials used on the exterior of the building were driven by the low budget.
Despite its young age, in 2011 the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in recognition of its importance in the history of architecture. In 2015 the Portland City Council chose to move forward with a reconstruction of the building at a cost of up to $195 million.
On the body of the tower the existing painted concrete facade will be overclad with a new aluminum rainscreen cladding system. Existing dark tinted windows will be replaced with new clear glass windows. Stucco garlands on the side of the building will be re-created in formed aluminum. At the building podium the teal colored tile will be replaced with new terracotta rainscreen tiles, of approximately twice the size of the existing tiles.
On SW Main and Madison the street level loggias will be partially infilled, with new aluminum storefronts added in the existing openings. The parking garage entry on SW 4th Ave will be removed, and the opening reconfigured to form a double height window. The single level of underground vehicular parking will be re-purposed for bicycle parking, fitness rooms, lockers and mechanical equipment.
The copper repoussé statue of Portlandia facing SW 5th Ave—added to the building in 1985—will remain in place.
The renovation of the building was initially approved on July 24th, at the project’s second hearing. In the conclusion to the Final Findings and Decision by the Landmarks Commission it was noted that the replacement of almost all of the visible materials on the building is an “extreme” measure, but which was nonetheless deemed necessary:
The proposed intervention to this historic building is by all accounts and extreme measure. Over the course of the review, the Commission has come to understand the unique challenges facing this building as well as the history of the building which has had a significant impact on how this building has aged over time. The Commission believes the City’s original decision to deliver this building at a reduced budget have directly lead to the issues plaguing this building today, as well as for the past 35 years. Because of the quality of the original construction, the Commission does not believe that traditional methods of preservation or restoration would adequately solve the chronic water infiltration and environmental quality issues affecting this building. The Portland Building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places primarily for its unique and groundbreaking design, articulated with color, symbolism, and decoration. These aspects of the design will be created almost exactingly in the proposed overcladding and the intent of Graves’ design will carry his design forward into the future, now with a more water and air-resistant system. While the proposal will permanently alter the original materials of the design, and some liberties have been taken in the proposed design, the integrity of the overall design intent will remain.
The Landmarks Commission’s approval was subsequently appealed, by both DLR Group (the applicants) and separately by architect Peter Meijer. The applicants appealed a condition of approval added by the Landmarks Commission, which would have required new rooftop air handling units to be significantly reduced in scale from what was proposed. Peter Meijer’s appeal was based on a number factors, including the assertion that the project does not meet the standards for historic preservation found in the city’s zoning code and design guidelines. On August 24th the City Council voted to grant DLR Group’s appeal, and deny Peter Meijer’s appeal, thereby approving the project.
Building permits for the reconstruction of the Portland Building are currently under review.
Full Disclosure: The author of Next Portland is on the board of Docomomo Oregon, which provided testimony during the initial review of the project by the Historic Landmarks Commission.