Friday, May 01, 2009

May 1-2 Portland Architecture and Modernism vs Postmodernism

A minor interest of mine is architecture and industrial design. One of the most known mid-century Portland architects is Peitro Bellushi. Beginning in the 1920's he designed sublime residences, the Art Museum, and the still up to date 1948 Equitable Building at 421 SW 6th.

The Equitable was the first with windows framed in aluminum, the first with double-glazed glass, the first to be completely sealed and is designated as a Mechanical Engineering Landmark for its pioneering use of heat pumps for heating and cooling.

In 1950 Bellushi became dean of architecture and planning at MIT.

Another infamous landmark in Portland is the Portland Building designed by architect and industrial designer Michael Graves, then a young professor at Princeton. The building is the result of a design competition which Graves won, twice. Widely lauded as an icon in postmodernist design, Graves tapped into a design and architecture movement in the 1960-70's breaking away from modernism and minimalism by sampling design elements across periods and mashing them up in often colorful ways. In addition to Graves, Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and several architects well known today, such as Peter Eisenman, Gehry, Pelli, Koolhaas, Calatrava and Foster had postmodernist phases. Industrial designers influenced by the postmodernism include Ettore Sotsass and the Memphis movement. Some designers incorporated ideas from philosophy, including architect and academic Eisenman, who proposed "weak design", sampling obscure references widely in a way similar to the films of David Lynch.

In the case of the Portland Building, Graves design was widely criticized by fellow architects. I heard at the national architects conference at the time, many sported buttons stating "I don't dig Graves". The design competition was reopened, and Graves won again. His ornament disguises the squat proportions of the building and the small windows, allowing Graves to stay within budget, which the other designs could not. It's easy to see this if you take a look at the building in person. In an ironic twist of fate, Bellushi's design for the competition was not selected. Postmodernism triumphed over modernism. It lays the ground for today's evolved modernism which, in turn is evolving into interactive building, sheathed with LED and future technology screens.

Friday there is a talk by Dr Meredith Clausen from the University of Washington titled "Bellushi vs. Graves and the Postmodernist Breakthrough"

Then Saturday, all day, there is seminar - contact the museum for details.

Whitsell Auditorium, Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park 7PM-8 Friday

Free for Museum members or with Museum admission. Students and faculty of PSU, Lewis and Clark College, and Reed College free with ID. Tickets are available on a first-come, first-served basis at the Museum Box Office on the day of the lecture.