Thomas "Gunny" Harboe Keynote Speaker at 2012 McMath Symposium

The Rookery | Image Harboe Architects, PC

Chicago architect and award-winning preservationist, Thomas “Gunny” Harboe, FAIA , was the inaugural keynote speaker for the George McMath Symposium on May 30, 2012 at the University of Oregon in Portland at the White Stag Block.  The lecture was held in conjunction with the presentation of the George McMath Historic Preservation Award.  This year’s 2012 award was presented to Portland architect, Hal Ayotte.

Harboe works with the firm of Harboe Architects in Chicago.  Harboe’s lecture, “Restoring Chicago’s Icons:  A Public/Private Partnership,” focused on describing Harboe’s fascination with the past, respect and passion for historic objects, and his work with some of Chicago’s most historically and architecturally relevant restoration projects. For over 20 years Harboe has played key roles in working to restore iconic structures of the Chicago cityscape, including the Rookery, the Mies van der Rohe apartments on Lake Shore Drive, and the Reliance and Marquette buildings.  “Preserving our collective cultural heritage is important to society,” commented Harboe, “we need to give it a life that will extend it beyond us.”

With a lifelong interest in conservation and preservation, Harboe credits his childhood experience of living in a New Jersey Revolutionary War-era home as fostering an early affection for history and objects.  It was in this historically relevant family residence that the young Harboe discovered an interest in found objects and gained an appreciation for antiques.  Harboe soon turned to an education steeped in historical study, spending a year in Denmark at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen; and later earning a bachelor’s degree in history from Brown University and a master’s degree in historic preservation from Columbia.  His hands-on and practical skills were cultivated further with his work as a carpenter eventually leading to a job on the team that would restore the Frank Lloyd Wright Room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  Harboe has credited that MoMa experience as being “where the epiphany happened.  I realized that the key decisions about what got done had already been made by somebody else: the architect.”  Hence, he turned his focus to pursue a master’s in architecture from MIT.

The Rookery | Image

Harboe, equipped with load-bearing quantities of academic, visionary and practical experience was soon working with the Preservation Group at McClier, the architects who would be commissioned by the Baldwin Development Company to restore The Rookery.  Considered the jewel in the crown of Chicago’s  architectural and commercial built environment, The Rookery is a 1888 Burnham & Root building that included a lobby by FLW.   As luck would have it, Harboe was the intern-architect-in-training at the firm, and he amusingly recalls “I was the guy who knew something about preservation.”  The rest, as they say, is history.  And so, began Harboe’s presentation to the UO audience.

Harboe initially presented his work with the Rookery, completed in 1992.  Revealing intriguing details such as how each window had to be removed, all original sashes put back in place, and having to cope with  4000 corners of fenestration where water had ample opportunity to leak in (and it had), Harboe walked us through the trials and tribulations of  careful, accurate and painstakingly detailed historic restoration and preservation.    Removing approximately 20 layers of black paint from the oriel staircase (removed and cleaned by crushed walnut shells under pressure), and having to rely on a creative interpretation of replicating single piece teardrop elements as two pieces glued together, the architect-preservationist confided aspects of the process to reconstruct the original LaSalle Street and Adams Street lobbies to the original [circa 1910] appearance.  Harboe spoke of the importance of finding sources to help recreate or restore elements to an historically appropriate form.  This might include the use of historic photographs, finding a small but original fragment of wall or flooring, or simply cleaning a surface down to a semblance of its historic original.  Graciously offering credit to the workers and craftspeople who joined him on the project, Harboe firmly advocated for the importance of hiring “the right people for the job,” saying “craftsman make a difference.”

The Reliance Building | Image Harboe Architects, PC

Harboe’s preservation, restoration and rehabilitation of  The Rookery was praised by both the architectural and historical preservation professional fields as well as the city of Chicago.  Having completed this very successful project, Harboe moved on to his involvement with the Reliance Building, also by Burnham and Company  (1891) and completed by Charles Atwood (DH Burnham and Company, 1896).  The Reliance Building is one of the most important early skyscrapers in America.  At this point, Harboe paused to address the importance of the Federal Tax Credit to his historic preservation work.  Harboe explained the effectiveness of the Federal Historic Preservation Tax incentive program as contributing to positive and cost effective public/private revitalization programs and, hence, directly influencing his projects.

The Reliance Building (renamed and converted to the Hotel Burnham in 1999) has been termed “proto-modern” by architectural historians. Its expansive and elegant fenestration and strip-like sections of white glazed terra cotta are distinctive and highly relevant to its design. Like all of Harboe’s projects he addressed during his lecture, the building is listed both as a National Historic Landmark and a City of Chicago Landmark.  Harboe noted the remarkable steel curtain wall that is made up of an internal steel two story-high column and provides all structural support for the building.  He also spoke of the importance of being creative and flexible when needing to find substitute materials. For instance, the windows in this building were beyond repair, they were replaced.  The original cornice that had been removed in 1948 was reconstructed in cast aluminum.  Even with these alterations, Harboe stayed persistently true to the original patterns. Harboe further emphasized his use of historic photographs, drawings and remaining fragments in the detective-like job to authentically replicate a structure.  Harboe also brought up another important issue in his historic preservation projects, that of the importance of place and infusing a place with renewed vitality.  The primary focus of this historic preservation project, he commented was to “give life to [the street] and that [was] the intention of the project, to revitalize.”

Sullivan Center | Image Harboe Architects, PC

Harboe’s work on the Sullivan Center (built 1898-1904) involved all exterior restoration, Federal Tax Credit Program consulting, and City of Chicago façade examinations.  A building best known for the elaborate cast iron storefronts and a curved rotunda, the project truly relied on the Tax Credit incentive; Harboe briefly discussed how his focus had to fixedly remain “not doing anything that would jeopardize the Tax Credit.”  In order to create the necessary elements for this building, Harboe turned to a sculptor to recreate the details characteristic of the original designer, Louis Sullivan.  Working with a craftsperson familiar with the techniques available to create ornamental work was of great importance.   With exceptional workers, Harboe maintained his team was able to place remarkable attention to exact detail and towards the investigation of existing parts to restore this building.  Speaking of the reconstruction of the ribbon windows, the matching of the colors for the glass elements, and the color matching for the terra cotta (working from found fragments buried deep within the walls), Harboe stressed the challenging aspects of his work.  Turning to an amusing anecdote of good fortune on-site, Harboe recounted the team finding a large fragment of paint that had been trapped under a canopy.  The fragment would consequently be used to attain a correct color match and be the most formative piece leading to an accurate hue.  Using and having a knowledge of forensic investigative-like techniques is very helpful in the restoration field, commented Harboe, noting that he relies on such investigative strategies for each project.

Much of the cast iron work for the Sullivan Center was done off-site. Harboe recalled how this turned the project into a gargantuan job with disassembly of parts that “in many cases were held in place by the friction of the corrosion.”    Harboe added that this campaign of difficult structural situations made each stage arduous especially with the added logistical difficulty of having to remove each piece to an off-site location.

Chicago Board of Trade | Image Harboe Architects PC

Harboe’s work on the Chicago Board of Trade Building (1929, Holabird and Root), one of the finest Art Deco style buildings in Chicago, began in 2004 with renovation efforts to restore the Art Deco aesthetic of the lobbies, improve elevator operations for 24 elevators, and modernize building systems.  The building was of particular importance to Chicago as it is viewed as a symbol of the city.  Harboe began this project by cleaning the exterior limestone surface of the structure simply with water.  He advocated for using “environmentally friendly substances whenever possible.”  Important features of this project included the interior lobbies with six varieties of marble, nickel silver metal trim and ornamental plaster as well as a luminous ceiling featuring a panel of light.  All of the lobbies were illuminated by stylized fixtures using nickel silver frames and glass, the challenge here was to recreate missing fixtures, and nickel silver features.  On this project, Harboe related finding some original treated elements that became key pieces to the restoration.  Harboe’s keen attention to detail and his willingness to really look, explore, observe and delve into the hidden pockets of a structure and find minute details of ornamentation, color, and materials has lead to many of his discoveries that end up being the pieces that put the puzzle of historic restoration together.  The necessity of being able to look and investigate, research and uncover is one of the most important aspects to any restoration project and cannot be underestimated.

Commenting on his experience with all these projects, Harboe again emphasized the importance of the workers who help realize the projects.  “The tradesman make the difference,” he asserted.  Concluding his lecture with this advice, Harboe took questions from the audience.



University of Oregon Collaborates with Tokyo’s Meiji University | Architecture Studios Focus on Regeneration and Redevelopment

By Sabina Samiee

In the fall of 2010, Professor Hajo Neis of the Department of Architecture in Portland began a sabbatical stay in Tokyo.  Neis initiated a collaborative relationship with Toyko’s Meiji University and faculty member, Professor Masami Kobayashi from Meiji University’s Department of Architecture in the School of Science and Technology.  Kobayashi was Neis’ coordinating professor for his visit.  The exchange proved to be a fruitful one with both professors discussing forms of possible collaboration that would incorporate student and faculty cooperation, as well as design, research and creative professional projects that would involve a close collaborative relationship between UO Department of Architecture program in Portland and Meiji University.   After his visit to Tokyo, Professor Neis invited Professor Kobayashi to come to Portland and deliver a lecture to Oregon audiences on the urban development of Tokyo from the Edo-Period.

Only a few weeks before his planned visit to Portland, Japan experienced the devastating March 2011 Tohoku Region earthquake.  The disaster was threefold—earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear fallout.  Despite these challenges, Kobayashi, travelled to Portland and instead of giving one lecture on urban development, incorporated a second lecture explaining the massive destruction of the earthquake.  Hajo Neis, recalls this lecture as “one of the most memorable lectures [he has] ever heard.”  Kobayashi had visited the disaster area and wanted to bring a complete report to his Portland audience.  While he was speaking, despite tears streaming down his cheeks, Kobayashi described the devastation, the people, and the catastrophe with an emotionally restrained calm.  The audience remained completely silent captivated by Kobayashi’s detailed  account of Japan’s situation.

It was Kobayashi’s lecture on the earthquake ravaged landscape of Tohoku that prompted Neis to begin his thesis studio, Regenerative Design.  Regenerative Design gave architecture students an opportunity to work to craft rebuilding concepts for both the Tohoku disaster area in Japan and other disaster areas in the world.

Now, a year later, Kobayashi has returned to Portland to give a third lecture on the “Reconstruction Efforts for Japan’s Earthquake Disaster.”  He delivered “Reconstruction Efforts” on March 9, 2012 at Mercy Corps world headquarters in Portland.   His visit also coincided with his review and critique of the UO architecture students’ work in Neis’ Regenerative Design studio.  As Neis comments, due to Kobayashi’s recent experience with the Tohoku earthquake recovery efforts, he served as “an invaluable and knowledgeable critic” of the students’ work.  As part of the on-going collaboration with Meiji University, Professor Neis will incorporate Meiji University’s continued involvement with the Regenerative Design studio.

An added component of Professor Kobayashi’s visit to Portland, has been his recent collaboration with the potential redevelopment of Old Town | Chinatown.  In the summer of 2011, Kobayashi had visited Portland and met with Anne Naito-Campbell, a business and community development consultant and lifetime resident of Portland.  Naito-Campbell (daughter of real estate mogul Bill Naito) who has family connections to Japan had been interested in the addition of a Japan-gate to the Old Town region.

Collaboration: Hajo Neis, Masami Kobayashi, and Anne Naito-Campbell.

Historically, the background of Old Town | Chinatown is also the history of Portland’s Japantown.  In the 1890s, hundreds of young Japanese immigrants arrived in Oregon to work on railroads, lumber mills, farms and fish canneries.  Portland’s region by the Willamette River north of West Burnside Street became known as Japantown or Nihonmachi.  By 1940, there was a thriving Japanese cultural area in this location all within a 6-8 block area.  By 1942, Japantown had disappeared completely when all persons of Japanese ancestry were removed from the West Coast and placed into concentration camps due to World War II anti-Japan sentiment.

Anne Naito-Campbell’s interest in reviving Japantown and the region’s sense of Asian heritage stems from her family’s connection to Portland and Japan.  With family background originating from a Japanese ancestry; Naito-Campbell’s father held the dream of bringing a Japan-gate to the area.   Her father had been actively involved in bringing the existing China Gate to Portland in the 1980s, and helped plant the 100 Japanese Cherry Trees planted on the Waterfront, in addition to being involved in building the Japanese American Historical Plaza in north Waterfront Park.

Neis who had invited Naito-Campbell to attend Kobayashi’s original Portland lectures on urban development and the post-earthquake redevelopment, had subsequently encouraged Naito-Campbell to be involved in the Meiji-UO liaison by integrating her with an international joint comprehensive development study of Old Town | Chinatown.  Neis continued to foster this collaboration by introducing Naito-Campbell to UO Department of Architecture Professor Howard Davis.  Professor Davis was working with both Neis and Kobayashi by teaching one of the three graduate design studios focusing on ideas for redevelopment for Old Town | Chinatown and Japan’s earthquake rebuilding.

When Kobayashi returned to visit to Portland in the summer of 2011, he was well established in dialogue with Naito-Campbell for the design of a Japan gate for Old Town.  As a direct result, Kobayashi started a design studio with his third year Meiji students in the fall of 2011 to design and prototype projects from a purely Japanese perspective. These nine Meiji University students travelled to Portland in March 2012 to present their projects to Old Town | Chinatown and UO. Neis describes the Meiji students’ proposals as  showing “fresh ideas and new pedestrian life for the area.”  Professor Howard Davis commented  on the Meiji student work saying “I was particularly impressed with the design work that [Kobayashi’s]  students had done for the area. It was very imaginative, and the discussion about it raised lots of issues that we’ll consider in the fall, when we do more design work.”

Meiji University students' model.

In a display of cross-community collaboration, Kobayashi’s visit and the work of Neis and Davis with their UO studio courses, ultimately contributed to the bringing together of community leaders for the Old Town | Chinatown region.  This weaving together of the culturally significant tapestry that is Old Town has culminated in a more open communication between developers, historians and residents of the Old Town area.  At Mercy Corps world headquarters in Portland, on March 9, as a part of Kobayashi’s Portland visit along with the nine Meiji University students he brought with him, community stakeholders (key developers, architects, city officials), joined Professor Davis and Kobayashi to  participate in a panel discussion addressing how the Old Town neighborhood has changed over the last ten years and how the area can continue to positively evolve while embracing its cultural heritage.  Organized by Naito-Campbell with support from Mercy Corps, the panel addressed how redevelopment of the area is crucial while retaining the intention to not eclipse the diverse cultural past.  Panelists also discussed the somewhat difficult reputation of the area, and the development restrictions due to the area’s historic status.

Panel at Mercy Corps organized by Anne Naito-Campbell.

Students in Neis’ and Davis’ studio courses will continue to study and explore in-depth possibilities for the community carefully noting use, condition, height, history, street-level activity of each proposed building.  Davis’ students publically presented their concepts in a final review session at the White Stag Block on March 21.

Future collaboration plans between Neis, Davis, and Kobayashi will develop into the fall of 2012.   The intention to begin three design studios (two at UO in Portland, one at Meiji University in Tokyo) for Old Town based on Professor Davis’ research and seminar will continue.  The professors also hope to initiate a small advisory group based on the panel group discussion and to move forward with the ideas and dialogue presented there. The architecture students in these studio programs, both in Portland and at Tokyo’s Meiji University will carry on in the collaboration by further analyzing several Old Town development possibilities, including pressing forward with the plans for a Japan gate.  As Davis commented during the panel discussion “[these] will be hypothetical projects, but looking at them could help move the conversation….forward….”

This community and cultural collaboration was enhanced by the participation of Anne Naito-Campbell.  As professor Davis says, this “ collaboration between two UO studios and one of Professor Kobayashi’s graduate studios at Meiji University. ….is a great opportunity, and we’re very fortunate to have [Kobayashi’s] support and the support of Anne Naito-Campbell and other people in the community and city.”

Following his return to Japan in March 2012, I contacted Professor Kobayashi and asked if he could respond to his experience here in Portland. Reproduced, here, in full is his reply:

Thoughts on Academic Collaboration and the Real Field we have to tackle on.

By Masami Kobayashi

The world is coming smaller and smaller with the progress of communication media such as Internet and Twitters.
Furthermore, we need to think beyond our boundary about the environmental issues such as global warming and Disaster issues such as earthquake and Tsunami, and hence to share our ideas to solve these issues.In that sense, our visit to the School of Architecture and Allied Arts, University of Oregon in Portland, bringing our 3rd year young students of Meiji University looked very effective and our students seemed to have learned a lot from the faculties and the students of UO during our short stay. Though the timing was not so good before the deadlines in UO, the both students seemed to feel something important from each other’s works.Our project dealt with the revitalization vision of the old historic district surrounding the UO Portland campus building, and our students proposed a rough urban design schemes and architectural proposals based on their urban studies. In the public symposium at Mercy Corps on March 9th, the local stakeholders, city officials, academic people, and people from historic institutions sat together as the panelist, and discussed on the coming future of the district. I felt something important has just started for the district, and the design works by both of the students, which were displayed on the surrounding walls of the symposium, looked helpful to evoke and activate the debate of the symposium.We teachers always have to think how to balance the education of our students between the traditional theoretical studies and the practical experiences which is connected to the real society, and we also need to think how the universities can support the local community to enhance its own culture which empowers its local identity. Thus, our experimental visit to UO and Mercy Corps might be a kind of catalysis to let the students to think that balance and let the local people be conscious about the future of the district. I thank to all of the related people for giving us such fantastic experiences.

[The author of this post extends her sincere appreciation to Hajo Neis, Masami Kobayashi, Howard Davis, and Anne Naito-Campbell for their input and cooperation on this article, thank you. -SS]

Old Town | Chinatown Cultural Center, Portland: A Fusion of Cultures

Image from Dan Nowell's proposed Old Town | Chinatown Cultural Center

Work by Meagan Dickemann | Alex Jackson | Dan Nowell | Jodi Hanson

University of Oregon | Portland Programs

School of Architecture and Allied Arts | Department of Architecture

Portland Urban Architecture Program: Arch 683 | Fall 2010

Professors Gerry Gast and Suenn Ho

[Note:  Student projects from this studio will be on exhibit in Old Town | Chinatown on April 8, 2011 (5pm-7pm) and April 9 and 10, 2011 (1pm-4pm), 117 NW Second Avenue, Portland.  The public is invited to this free event;  sponsors include The Bill Naito Company and MulvannyG2 Architecture.]

The Old Town | Chinatown studio examined issues of “collective space and social space” as detailed in Herman Hertzberger’sSpace and the Architect, a series of essays on architecture which explore “in between space” and the city.  Offered in the fall of 2010, Professors Gast and Ho led an introduction studio for students in the Portland Option II Graduate Architecture Program.  The studio combined aspects of architecture, urban design and the design of public spaces as all integral ingredients of what defines “urban architecture.”  The studio addressed building tectonics as supportive and reinforcing to design concepts.  True to the University of Oregon’s Graduate Program ideals, this course emphasized a comprehensive design process:  the essential combination of theory, history, design skills, human factors, sustainability and tectonics (structure, construction and environmental systems) in design studio work.

Sources of inspiration from student Dan Nowell's project.

The project was designed to concentrate on the conception of a Cultural Center in the Old Town | Chinatown neighborhood of Portland, Oregon.  This area just off of Northwest 4th and Burnside in the Waterfront Blocks Redevelopment Area (Portland Development Commission), a part of the Portland River District, and centrally located to downtown Portland, is “one of the city’s most socially diverse neighborhoods– a reviving community representing people of many ethnicities and walks of life.”  Culturally and historically, the area has a colorful past embracing Chinese, Japanese, Jewish and Greek communities.  Overall, the studio project was purposed to be a “‘catalyst’ to advance Old Town | Chinatown’s [recent] revitalization efforts.”  The proposed Cultural Center is to be “accessible and open to both community residents and visitors from throughout Portland” and would accentuate the “diverse nature of the present community and its multicultural history.”

Given the Chinatown context and the importance of diversity, students also studied the writing of Richard Sennett, historian and sociologist.  Sourcing Sennett’s works, The Conscience of the Eye, The Fall of Public Man and The Uses of Disorder, the goal was to observe and magnify diversity, obscurity and underlying pressures of metropolitan existence.  By relying on Sennet’s perspective, students were encouraged to develop a city-vision where all people regardless of ethnicity or socio-economic background would have ample opportunity to interact and come into contact with one another in a designed environment.  The primary objective would be to compel all individuals to experience their differences and semblances.  This perception compelled students to create spaces where the humanity of this city would learn to co-exist and cooperate thereby fostering a “healthy tension” within the metropolis and, in turn, promoting a “healthy city”.

The studio further advocated for environmentally healthy design placing a high priority on sustainable design practices to “[conserve] energy resources, [reduce] carbon emissions, and [promote] the use of non-toxic and recyclable building materials.”

Dan Nowell's "Sustainability Checklist."

Below is an excerpt from the course syllabus that further illuminates the intent of the studio:

The Old Town – Chinatown Cultural Center is envisioned as a new public “catalyst” to advance regeneration of the Old Town-Chinatown neighborhood. Although Old Town – Chinatown has made solid progress on its revitalization during the past five years, the district remains a struggling corner of Downtown Portland. While Portland’s central Downtown and Pearl District have witnessed remarkable recent regeneration, Old Town – Chinatown has not kept pace with the rest of the city center in attracting new investment, activities, residents and visitors.

Although public and private investment in the River District (the combined Pearl District and Old Town – Chinatown) has totaled well over $ 1 billion in the last 15 years, the district has a need for more public places, especially indoor public places that can be used in all seasons, in all weather, and at all times, day and night.

Remarkably, the only major new indoor public place in this large district is the Armory Theater. North of Burnside and east of Interstate 405 (the approximate boundaries of the River District), there are no public libraries, community centers, recreation centers, major museums or cultural centers. This poverty of “cultural infrastructure” has resulted in a somewhat monolithic district of affluent housing, high-end retail/commercial and expensive restaurants/entertainment uses in the western part of the River District – the Pearl District. In contrast with the upscale Pearl, a separate district of primarily low income housing and social services characterizes much of Old Town – Chinatown. This west-east gradient has produced separated social, economic and racial enclaves. The reasons for these planning shortcomings are numerous and complex, but the reality of the separated urban landscape is undeniable.

Recent development projects, including the University of Oregon and Mercy Corps, have introduced major new attractions in Old Town – Chinatown. However, these are only partially public venues. A recent positive trend has been the opening of many new small businesses such as Floyd’s, several restaurants, and a healthy nightlife scene..

Despite the River District’s segregated social pattern, there is an opportunity to create a more integrated and diverse neighborhood (socially, economically, physically) within the remaining undeveloped areas of Old Town / Chinatown. One of the most opportune ways to accomplish this goal is to develop new public places open to all residents and used by all, places where people of diverse origins, social and status “rub shoulders”, see and meet persons unlike themselves, and participate in common activities and events. A cultural center with a strong participatory program can further this goal.

Students were asked to create approximately 22,000 square feet that would incorporate an entry, a public event space, a multi-purpose or performance space, an exhibit or art gallery, a childcare center, a library area, a research and media lab, space for community education classrooms, a cooking studio, dance and drama performance studio, numerous small-scale work or meeting spaces, an administration office and a cafe.  Designs were to consider realistic zoning frameworks and development standards.

Meagan Dickemann's elevation and exterior view.

Adopting the requirements and suggestions for ancillary spaces such as a commercial bookstore, offices and space for the Northwest China Council offices, most students also made allowances for highly desirable site spaces like courtyards, rooftop terraces or other socially and physically pleasant outdoor spaces.

Dickemann's concept for rooftop terrace space allows for scenic enjoyment of surroundings.

Commenting on her vision for the Cultural Center, a plan that incorporates the extensive use of glass to connect the building users to their outdoor environment, Dickemann says:

“I greatly enjoyed working on a site in downtown Portland. I feel like this studio was a great introduction to …..the city since our site was just down the street and most of us were new to Portland.  I feel that [the instructors] really pushed us to keep designing until we had developed a concept that was worth exploring and evolving.  The studio also pushed us to design outside of our building’s footprint and examine the greater contextual influences and also the community for which we were designing.  I think one of the programs’ strengths is the focus on the urban environment and examining the greater picture when designing.  The things we design and build can have a great influence and great consequences that extend far beyond simple property lines.”

Dan Nowell's Architectural Ribbon Concept models.

Architecture graduate student Dan Nowell’s project embraced the idea of Old Town | Chinatown as an extremely culturally diverse region.  “The essence of this area,” he writes, “requires the support of every combined influence brought upon it by various different peoples over the course of time to adequately portray its story.”  Nowell’s proposal for the Cultural Center “conveys this need for all peoples to join together in support of their community.”  He continues, “Every nationality is expressed through an architectonic ribbon with the language of the given nationality prominently enscribed upon it.  These ribbons flow from the sidewalk bordering Burnside and climb up and over the site to create a framework for the programatic spaces of the center.”

Ribbons are structural suppport, as well as housing mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems.
Nowell's ribbon system detail.

In a thoughtful and planful interpretation of the ribbon concept, Nowell comments that “one ribbon alone would not be able to support the cultural center in this manner, it requires a consolidated effort by all of the ribbons to achieve this end, just as Old Town | Chinatown requires the input of several different peoples to adequately portray its history.”  With a decidedly abstract and artful approach to his innovative plan, Nowell says that the original application of the series of ribbons across both the “project site and surrounding context was born out of a concern for the automotive dominated presence of Burnside Street…..the ribbons, running perpendicular to traffic flow on Burnside, were meant to abstractly represent a visual slowing of the traffic and guiding of the eye into Chinatown…”

Student Alex Jackson writes that the process of designing a Cultural Center presented a challenge to “create a building and an urban environment which embraces a diverse population—a place where people of all cultures, ages, and resources will want to go to meet, learn, play and work.”   Jackson provides more detail to his approach when he acknowledges his goal was to “create a design which [would] be a resource to the neighborhood [as well as] a magnet for attracting visitors from the whole of Portland to the Old Town | Chinatown area.   He envisions a building designed for “the greater sense of community and [that will] invite new families, businesses, and individuals into the community.”  Ultimately, Jackson planned for the creation of “a stoop for the entire neighborhood and, in fact, all of Portland.”

Alex Jackson's models incorporate his "Stoop" concept.

Viewing the “stoop” as a traditional area for “brief, incidental social encounters…..a place to sit and relax, greet neighbors, enjoy the fresh air, and see what is going on in the neighborhood,” Jackson moved forward with his plan to create a Cultural Center that feels accessible as a neighborhood hub of social interaction coupled with concepts of a marketplace and playground.  As his models illustrate, plentiful areas for human presence are creatively interwoven with spaces that contribute to innovative and business-minded communities, or as Jackson says, “a giant urban stoop.”

As seen in Jackson’s models and drawings, his concept of the stoop is gestural in providing public space for the humanitarian aspect of the community to congregate adjacent and within the built environment of the Cultural Center.  Jackson sees this stoop aspect as ” a very social space and very public” as well as pleasantly “informal so people can take or have a sense of ownership.”

Mindful of sustainable design, Jackson’s proposal incorporates such elements as bamboo rainscreens and interior partitions, maximal daylighting, abundant southern exposure, natural light diffusion, water collection systems, natural ventilation, and accessible alternative transportation.

Jackson's exterior elevation.

Visible in the elevation above, the rainscreen of darkened bamboo panels gently shelters the side of the building providing diffused light as well as having great cultural relevance embracing the Asian culturally-grounding aspect of the neighborhood.  The presence of the bamboo screen is also visible and tactile in the interior elevation seen below:

Jackson's interior cross-section elevation.

Jackson relies heavily on the cultural connotations of the bamboo screens using this feature for both its sustainable advantages as well as its nod to the symbolism of the region.  His concept relates a fusion of both environmental considerations and historical and cultural reflections.

Student Jodi Hanson also chose to adopt both the historical and the cultural considerations into her project to enhance her design aesthetic.  Visualizing the Cultural Center as a “vertical timeline that is anchored to its place….[and tells] the story of the neighborhood,” Hanson utilized an unfolding concept effectively layering idea remants of people, events, and culture.  Anchoring her structure with a gradual upwardly diminishing terra cotta brick screen, her proposal steps skyward with block-like progression into the cityscape silhouettte solidly achieving a shift in focus from the heaviness of the terra cotta lower floors to a floating sensibility with the addition of glass top floors. Hanson refers to this effect as “growing from the ground to the sky, the experience through diverse vertical space informs the passage through time and a shift in focus from inward to outward.”

Jodi Hanson's Vertical Timeline-inspired structure in situ.

Hanson sees her “disparate layers [as being] imperfect and, at times, unstable, creating drama with which the current community interacts.”  Prior to creating her model and plan, Hanson engaged in an extensive study of the areas history. From this historical perspective, she developed a timeline of events definitive to the region and this helped shape her vision for the Cultural Center:  it had to have “a lot of cultural history,” she said, “and this history had to evolve into other things…into this vertical timeline.”  Hanson saw the history of the neighborhood as “being so much a part of the area” as to be a major influence in forming her urban plan;  she also perceived of the “Chinese Lion gate” as one of the definitive features of this geography.

Hanson's anchoring to surrounding rooflines and materials.

Using the rooflines from the surrounding existing buildings to define the planes of her structure’s first and third floors, Hanson related the new Center to the neighborhood context and the built history of the streets.  The terra cotta cladding she employed as her primary exterior material relates to the predominant use of warm reddish brick tones on the surrounding historical buildings drawing a connection both historically and physically to what already exists and what existed historically.

Hanson's models for Old Town | Chinatown Cultural Center.

Turning her attention to sustainability issues, Hanson incorporated elements into her proposal such as green roofs as outdoor space, and the use of natural light with a mostly transparent north side of the building as well as plentiful use of light boxes, operable windows to aid in ventilation, and access to roof spaces for additional ventilation sources.  Overall, considerations in Hanson’s design and plan draw upon the historical past of the area, a diverse past she lauds as her inspiration to create a built environment at this location that “has a focus on more of a wholistic urban plan” and still retains a sense of closeness to the waterfront and the urban nature of the site.  By linking the sustainable aspect, the connection to the historical context, and the acknowledgement of fused yet distinct cultural influences, Hanson sought to draw upon the past and use this to inform and interact with the present, using the existing surroundings to infuse her project with “the energy that this [idea] produces.”

Post | sabina.  Thank you to the students, Alex, Dan, Jodi and Meagan for speaking with me about their projects and to their instructor, Professor Gast for providing information on the course.