Dismantling has begun on the facade of the Portland Building, the 1982 Postmodern civic structure by Michael Graves in the Oregon city’s downtown. Architects and engineers DLR Group will replace the nine-by-nine-inch teal-colored tiles that wrap the building’s lower exterior with terra cotta rainscreen tiles and will work with external cladding subcontractor Benson Industries to cover the painted concrete facade with an aluminum curtain wall. DLR Group also plans to replace the dark tinted windows with clear glazing. “There was no way to restore the existing design as it was because it was flawed in its detailing,” says Carla Weinheimer, who leads the project for DLR Group.
“What got built wasn’t the original design intent,” says Patrick Burke, a principal at Michael Graves Architecture & Design who consulted on DLR Group’s project. “It was a cheap version.” In addition to redoing the exterior, DLR Group will also seismically retrofit the building as well as upgrade plumbing and electrical systems.
Preservationists still insist that the building’s exterior remain untouched. While DLR Group has maintained that the new facade will closely mirror the original, critics fear that the upgrades will alter the building. They have instead proposed patching up the facade—a solution that Weinheimer says isn’t cost-effective.
The 15-story skyscraper, which housed municipal offices, received significant attention upon its completion. Often considered a major work of Postmodern architecture, the American Institute of Architects gave it an honor award in 1983, and, in 2011, it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a structure of “exceptional importance.” Yet, the building has not been entirely well received by all; in January of this year, Business Insider surveyed a number of Oregonians, deeming Graves’s work as the state’s ugliest building.
Appearance aside, the Portland Building’s original construction budget resulted in a number of structural and operational issues that led the city to discuss tearing it down. When questioned about its problems at a 2014 panel, Graves, who died in 2015, fiercely opposed a complete demolition and instead blamed the city for not maintaining it properly. “The whole idea of tearing the building down, it’s like killing the child,” the architect said. The city, which will spend approximately $195 million on the current project, hopes to have it completed by the fall of 2020. “We’re doing a progressive design build delivery method,” says Erica Ceder, DLR Group’s project architect for the exterior. “It’s been very helpful in that it’s allowed us to manage the budget as we go.”