I was very excited to read that Michael Graves was scheduled to speak at the Portland Art Museum during Design Week Portland. I’ve admired Michael Graves’ work for years—he is a University of Cincinnati alumni, as I am, and he has worked in multiple design disciplines which I admire and find very interesting. Finally, he has often taken a very bold path with his architectural endeavors, specifically his postmodern work.
Mr. Graves’ talk was divided into two parts: a showing of his architectural design portfolio over the years, which included a mix of styles and imagery of plans, buildings ,and the designer’s commentary, and an intense session that focused solely on the Portland Building, one of the greatest examples of postmodern architecture.
I learned a lot about the Portland Building that Thursday night. For example, the city held a design competition for its design, and chose Michael Graves’ proposal. The building had an extraordinarily small budget. And finally, something that most people are aware of, the building has received a lot of criticism over the years, both for its design and its function.
Knowing this criticism going into the event, it was fascinating to hear Mr. Graves talk about his initial concepts for the building, the background that influenced his design, the constraints and design alterations due to budget, and the outside requests made during the design and construction phases that truly altered Mr. Graves’ vision for the building. Now that I have a more informed understanding of the building, I have a different perspective on the criticisms and discussions around it.
The Portland Building is facing an estimated $95 million renovation or demolition. It is currently amidst great discussion; it’s interesting to me that so many people are engaged and passionate about this building. If nothing else, the design of the Portland Building, good or bad, has created an interest and discussion about architecture like very few buildings have in the past.
Here is some information about the Portland building—we should all be informed about this piece of design history that resides in our city.