Tag: diversity

TEDx Portland collaborates with the White Box for "What If ?" Art and Design Show

What If ? . . . . On Intersectionality and Your Visual Backlog

TEDx Portland What If ? at the UO White Box in Portland

The WHAT IF? TEDxPortland Art & Design Exhibition is a curated collaboration by the University of Oregon and TEDxPortland.  26 artists  donated their time, treasure and talent to make this possible. Every penny from the online auction will benefit the Children’s Healing Art Project (CHAP). The Nike Foundation will match the amount raised. The auction starts at 5:30pm on April 17th, ending at 5:30pm on April 27th The exhibit will be housed at the White Box in the White Stag Block from April 4-24th and then will be transported and re-installed for TEDxPortland at the Portland Art Museum on April 27th Celebrating Ideas & Art worth spreading.


In keeping with the mission of TED, the exhibition showcases work that mines the territory between art, design, technology and science in popular culture. The work illuminates natural and imagined worlds through form and function. Selected artists were invited to submit work that is an exploration of visual media that connects to these multiple histories. Responding to concept, object, new knowledge and technologies through creative process, exhibited works span discrete disciplines and burgeoning practices.

TEDx Portland White Box "What if?"

Co-curated by White Box manager, Tomas Valladares and Molly Georgetta (Compound Gallery), What If ? presents a diverse yet curiously cohesive body of works that delve into both the digital and the handmade:  a sort of vibrant intersectionality.  Upon further observation, streams of unity begin to flow through the show but rather than providing simply visual entertainment and explanation, these works united and merged together in this space play with the realness of things and ideas in ways that encourage a captivating uncertainty.

I stared for an unreasonably lengthly amount of time at Zach Yarrington’s signage-cum-art Say it Out Loud.  It spoke at me, not to me:  playing with the blunt, authentic, familiar, but something was different.  A myriad of thoughts flowed, too:  1800s memorabilia, font obsessiveness, decoration with flourish, signage you read at a glance, yet it felt new and unexpected, shifty.  Had I seen this before?  Heard this before? [Look at Zach Yarrington’s Say it Out Loud]

We’ve all heard that words can be deceiving.  And, things are not always as they seem.  Objects, images and language can evoke memories, appear commonplace, create difficult or lovely feelings, even prompt new ideas.  The work displayed in TEDx’s “What If?” bring together pieces at once provocative, questioning, comfortable and challenging.

Craig Hickman’s “LOVER’S LANE” lassoo’ed me in next.  It looked real, it sounded real, it sounded appealing, but then there was that roadsign, grubby billboard delivery, itself lovable in its truthfulness.  However, what might have seemed comfortable was challenged by context, materiality, my own memory. Then I saw that wayward apostrophe, and the added comment, “HIGH WATER.” Had I seen those two paired together before?  The logic of it was almost taunting, shamefully so–like, well of course, why didn’t I see that coming? Is it difficult to cope with ambiguity and a subconscious awareness?  Hickman has no qualms in suggesting that we look, and expose ourselves to his nothing-barred candor. [Look at Craig Hickman’s LOVER’S LANE or for even more, explore his book OXIDE].

The “What If  ?” TEDx Portland art exhibit opened on April 4 and here it is minutes before the online auction opens, and I am wondering about familiarity, the proverbial, and “a fictional world only slightly different from our own” (Craig Hickman describing his piece in What If ?, April 3, 2013).   The exhibit prompts a questioning and a curiosity about ideas and traversing the distance between comfort of the everyday and the uncertain novelty of the unknown.  Every piece here transcends the conventional, and asks the viewer to consider a different reality.  It is a challenge to face familiar concepts that are rife with the expected and the known but here ignited with deviation and innovation the works become an intersection of both.

I talked to a few of the artists and designers exhibiting in the TEDx “What If ?” show to find out more….and asked them to explain a few threads woven into the body of work on exhibit that contributed to a shared ground line:  that of manipulation of the human experience and layering methodology to explore the unknown.  The integrative thinking and the intersectionality of this exhibit offered the opportunity to embrace the show’s portal to fascinating new representations of reality, the future, and here, and now.

The Opulent Project

The Opulent Project’s Meg Drinkwater explained “the found files that are used to create [the] ring act as symbols for what we know to be rings….By appropriating and combining these symbols…we have further emphasized the caricature that is in our collective mind….we attempt to ‘manipulate the human experience’ by examining it and questioning it.”  [Look at the Opulent Project’s Digital Ring]

Sara Huston of The Last Attempt at Greatness (Sara Huston and John Paananen] and the works, Expectation 03, smtwtfs 01, and smtwtfs 02, exemplify the studio’s “exploration of subjects of progress, expectation, liminal space, categorization, perception, value and the intersection and language of art and design.”  Huston and Paananen’s work boldly aims at “provoking discourse and contemplation in the viewer or user in an attempt to disrupt conventional ways of thinking, induce reflection and challenge the boundaries of what is known.”  Precisely, the work of The Last Attempt at Greatness is about, as Huston elaborates, “the ‘What if?’…[it is] about getting people out of their comfort zone to look at the world in a new way.” [View their work in the auction.]

Trygve Faste, an artist/designer is showing a work called Protoform Orange Red Blue in What if? Faste’s work is “about examining the creation of objects..currently and in the future, but especially in the future.”  The piece in What If? endeavors to illuminate his concept that “somehow the future will be more promising than the present.”  Acrylic on canvas, Protoform is a product of “studio art and industrial design.”  Faste explains that he has given himself “the challenge of trying to convey the complex relationships we have with the dynamic landscape of objects that surround us through the use of abstract painting and form….” He also believes that designers strive to “create new objects and experiences that bring together appropriate materials and technologies to create innovative solutions to everyday problems,” thus making objects of our environment; for the most part, he postulates this “comes from a place of wanting to do good.”  His work “tries to tap into a collective subconscious regarding the human aspirations imbedded” in our already existing creations.  A self-professed optimist, Faste relates that his work “explore[s] the unknown, particularly from the vague human desire to embark on achievements….that lead to a bright and futuristic tomorrow.”  [See Protoform Orange Red Blue]

Jennifer Wall’s Parametric Ring was “birthed from a process combining 6th century BC technology (cuttlefish bone casting) with neoteric technology (3-D printing from a parametric CAD file).”   Wall speaks of her “pulling from discordant technologies to produce objects,” and explains her manipulation of the human experience as one where her research analyzes “the impulse to self-identify through the objects we make.”  She continues, “time and history are necessary to understand the production of new ideas, which are often a reconstruction of that which already exists.”  [See Parametric Ring]

What If ? may ask more questions that it answers, and prompt you to vacillate between emotions of familiarity and strangeness, between understanding and a sense of impulsive curiosity laced with insecurity.  It may encourage you to recognize innovation and image as a way to explore new ideas and venture away from the expected. Yet, while the ability to leave a level of familiarity and comfort can precipitate a sense of entering a brave new world, it is this facing of dissidence that can bring the most rewarding drive forward.  As Wall explains, we need contexts like this where objects “function as tangible indicator[s] of the space between past and present.”

"What if?" outside looking in....

Owning (and wearing) objects such as those available to you in this exhibit, is to “combine the past with the present so [you] can be doubly validated in ….an aesthetic taste and decision,”  says Wall and achieve a greater understanding and perhaps connection.   “It is plausible that all visual aesthetics are derivatives of one another, and that new ideas lie in seeing potential patterns in the visual backlog that already exists.”

It all starts today (Wednesday), my friends, tonight at 5:30 PST to be exact, here [The Auction]. This is your opportunity to be a part of this and actually have one, or more (!) of these pieces in your possession.

Brad Simon's "Rainbow Harvest"

What if…?” you wait until numbers start trickling in (and up) as aficionados of art and design find their way to  this place and make their bid on . . . . Wait!  A work that you might want? Bidding is a strategic thing, and somehow we might be made just a bit nervous that we cannot see our competition, no paddles to raise, no leaning gaze to see where that bid came from (how dare she!?), and no jocular teasing or outright disappointment when you are outdone.  And, worst yet, no bidding wars?!  Yes, this is a new and different way to hold an auction, just like “What If? contains novel approaches to art and design; and we hope you enjoy it.

I have to admit, there is something to be said for bidding from the comfort of your own online location.  For wherever you are, I advise you to seize the moment:  being online and secretly upping the bid is so deliciously satisfying……now you can add your click, in the name of healing children and buying something more than simply relevant but also something that appreciates the chance to accept both your own “visual backlog” and a voyage away from the status quo.  Doesn’t that feel good?

Artists and designers with UO affiliation in TEDx Portland What If ? are

Zach Yarrington (BFA ’11 Digital Arts)

Trygve Faste (UO Assistant Professor, Product Design Program)

The Opulent Project with Meg Drinkwater and Erin Rose Gardner (BFA ’07 and ’08, respectively, in Metals/Jewelry)

Laura Vandenburgh (UO Assoc Professor)

Craig Hickman (UO Professor Digital Arts)

Sara Huston with The Last Attempt at Greatness (UO Instructor), I, II, III

Jennifer Wall (UO Instructor)

Jenene Nagy (UO Management Certificate)

"What If?" co-curated by Tomas Alfredo Valladares and Molly Georgetta



Johnpaul Jones, FAIA | 2011 Pietro Belluschi Distinguished Visiting Professor in Architectural Design


Southern UTE Cultural Center and Museum, Ignacio, Colorado.

Johnpaul Jones, FAIA:  “Seeing the Things In Between”

The 2011 Pietro Belluschi Distinguished Visiting Professor in Architectural Design is Johnpaul Jones, FAIA, of Jones & Jones Architects, Landscape Architects, and Planners, Seattle, Washington. In the fall of 2011 and as the 2011 Pietro Belluschi Distinguished Visiting Professor, Johnpaul Jones presented two lectures at the University of Oregon for the School of Architecture and Allied Arts Department of Architecture:  “The Frog Does Not Drink Up the Pond in Which It Lives, “ October, 2011 in Eugene;  and “Times Change but Principles Don’t,” November, 2011 in Portland. Among the many attendees at the lecture in Portland at the UO in the White Stag Block were Pietro Belluschi’s two sons, Peter Belluschi and Anthony Belluschi.

Jones has a distinguished 40-year career as an architect and founding partner of the Seattle-based firm, Jones & Jones Architects, Landscape Architects, and Planners.  His design philosophy emerged from his Choctaw-Cherokee ancestors and connects his work to the natural, animal, spirit and human worlds.  His designs have won wide-spread acclaim for their reverence for the earth, for paying deep respect to regional architectural traditions and Native landscapes, and for heightening understanding of indigenous peoples and cultures of America.

What follows is a post on his Portland lecture, “Times Change but Principles Don’t.”

Northwest Native Canoe Center Seattle, Washington.


Johnpaul Jones is internationally lauded as an architect of both structure and landscape in Native, indigenously-inspired design projects.  Jones’ projects take a multidisciplinary approach swirling together symbolic Tribal activity, a sense of place, the natural environment, Native social customs, and religious beliefs.  His projects stand as virtual cultural reconstructions and beautiful culminations of cosmological concepts and life represented in an architectural achievement. Jones’ approach is one that reaches well beyond the basic requirements of a building to incorporate Native sensibilities and aesthetics.  His ability to bridge a path between the built environment and the Native universe, has allowed him to meld buildings rich with imagery, connections to the earth, and stratifications of story with reference in color, texture, and detail creating both a structure and a site that melds story and interpretation of a living, reacting, existing culture.

Johnpaul Jones began his presentation, “Times Change but Principles Don’t,”  with an acknowledgement of the namesake of his distinguished professorship: Pietro Belluschi; Jones also profusely thanked both of Belluschi’s sons, Peter Belluschi and Anthony Belluschi (seated in the front row) for attending the lecture.  “Your father,”  Jones proclaimed addressing both the audience and Belluschi’s family, “was timeless, he had spirit.”  Jones asserted that the designs of the famed Northwest architect “inspired [him] to become an architect.”  Also, praising his architectural education at the University of Oregon, Jones recalled that “[UO] was the right place for [him].”

Jones, himself of Cherokee | Choctaw heritage, became involved in Native art  and architecture early in his career due to his belief that one must bring new life to indigenous design and commit to taking a sort of pilgrimage to Native cultural environments thereby becoming influenced and inspired by the rich aspects of these Native traditions.  He encouraged a proactive personal seeking of this heritage as a way to gain an awareness of the Native environment.  This individual participation in the culture of a region would contribute to one’s understanding of distinctive forms.  Once one has experienced this uniqueness of site, the subsequent built environment and landscape design will more honestly evoke Native stories and connections to all four of the worlds present in indigenous beliefs:  natural, animal, spiritual and human.


Traditional regalia and dancing, Southern UTE Cultural Center and Museum, Ignacio, Colorado.

The importance of these four worlds to design and structure, according to Jones, cannot be underestimated —as these elements become the formative basis of the project.  Jones reflected that the natural world has the potential to effect us everywhere and needs to embrace the idea of sustainability as a constant.  The natural world deals with light and the seasonal equinox and solstice patterns.  Thus, in designing for a site the very initial step taken should be noting the cardinal directions, the location of the sun, and the stars in the cosmos.

Animals are of importance to a design and structure as well.   Many Native stories come from the animal world.  Using the inspiration of a living, breathing thing, whether a delicate frog, butterfly, bird or dragonfly to tell a story about life, existence and the fragility of living beings becomes a powerful design principal.    The spirit world contains objects such as rocks, views, mountains and trees, as all things have a spirit, says Jones.  Understanding or recognizing this idea of the spirit world will translate to a respect for the site and a comprehension that the land has something to tell.  Equally important is the human world as in all work there is the element of the passing on of knowledge.  Good design must provide opportunities to pass knowledge; and this component comes from the human world.

Using the idea of a canoe filled to the brim with elements from all four worlds:  natural, animal, spiritual, and human, Jones urged architects to “listen to the client, respect the land of the site, and be aware of the bigger message.”  The built environment is not just a sequence of buildings, said Jones, but stuctures that contain “life messages” and serve to act as translators of both ancient and indigenous gifts.


Light-infused interior, Southern UTE Cultural Center and Museum, Ignacio, Colorado.

Jones continued by discussing several projects he has participated in:  the National Museum of the American Indian, the Commons Park in Denver, Colorado, and a zoo design.  In each project, Jones emphasized that importance of a diverse practice and the diversity of design but, overall, the importance of a respect for the environment and natural settings and an integration of all four worlds.

For each of his projects that involved Native tribes, Jones recounted the sequence of the work pattern.  First, one must establish what is “welcome.”  He urged both the writing and thinking of the idea of “welcome.”  In addition to discovering this key concept of “welcome,” the architect must work with the tribe to determine the life force of the people.  In his cultural museum design at the Southern UTE Cultural Center and Museum in Ignacio, Colorado, Jones spoke of the lives of the people as always spiraling outwards much like the spiraling basketry the tribe handcrafted.  Jones made a connection between trying to work within these stories and integrating this concept into the ultimate design.


Designing the Welcome cone-shaped structure, Southern UTE Cultural Center and Museum, Ignacio, Colorado.

Discussing his work with the Mercer Slough Nature Park in Bellevue, Washington, Jones described the master plan as embracing the value of creating a place for walks and a place where people could connect with themselves. This connection space and place would serve to provide a sense of enjoyment.  By integrating walkways and spaces in between the buildings, providing places to sit and see nature and the natural views of the surrounding landscape, and giving ample opportunities to appreciate the natural light though large windows in the buildings, Jones developed a way to integrate the person to the environment.   In doing so, the architect provided a source for conversation about what is being seen and what one is literally surrounded by.  Jones calls this “giving reasons to talk to [children] and to explain things.”

At Fort Vancouver, Jones related a project of reconnection, of a circle that connects to itself, his renowned Vancouver Land Bridge and was a key component of the Confluence Project.  His design here is intended to reconnect visitors to the river and to the land; to uncover the spirit of the place and the enchantment of the history, both Native and of the Western Europeans.  The effort one must make to “walk up and over and into the Fort” compels a sense of circular involvement and movement in amongst objects that seem low and unobtrusively part of the land.

Sleeping Lady Mountain Retreat and the Icicle Creek Music Center, Leavenworth, Washington, is a project of Jones’ where he let his design meander naturally and organically throughout the complex.  Integrating large windows that face snowy, rocky hillsides, Jones thought to bring the outside in and use the natural surroundings to inspire the work of the musicians composing, playing, and practicing within the retreat.  As Jones puts it, his arms swirling to evoke the movement and melding of nature and music:  “you can see clouds moving, birds flying, and this brings the spirit of the music alive.”  It is a place to create and to observe, a place where one is not separated from the natural environment that is so strikingly just outside the windows but where one can infuse creative musical composition with the stunning visual component of the dramatic landscape and moving weather systems.

Architects must be adept at designing for emotion, Jones continued.  In the early 2000s, Jones was asked to design the masterplan for the Bainbridge Island Japanese-American Memorial, a monument wall to honor the Japanese Americans who were displaced during WWII.  Jones created a place of quiet, a gently curving cedar wall where visitors can remember and honor their ancestors.  Key to this project was working directly with the Japanese American community of the region to discover what they would feel epitomized their emotional response.  The site would have to be something that recognized all diverse peoples.   Jones recalled with reverence the appreciation he received from the Japanese-American community for this project.


Influence of basketry in design, Southern UTE Cultural Center and Museum, Ignacio, Colorado.

Jones’ most recent Native project is the cultural education center in the Rocky Mountains, the Southern UTE Cultural Center and Museum, in Ignacio, Colorado.  Jones spoke of how the tribal members came to him and asked for a building that would represent their “circle of life”philosophy.  The tribe wanted a permanent gallery, a temporary gallery, and a native gift shop  in addition to educational and administrative components and a library.  The desire was to have a complex that began in a space that was clearly a  Welcome Center.  Jones devised a welcoming area that utilized the tribal concept of a cone, or a circle that crossed a stream and progressed under an arbor covered in a translucent material to let light glow within.  Jones thought that the most important component of this project was that it feel welcoming and that it resonated with the cultural mores of the tribe.  The resulting structure makes use of a great deal of colored glass (similar to the architectural designs of Pietro Belluschi, said Jones, as well as echoing the regalia of the Native tribe on this land).

As Jones brought his presentation to a close, he somberly appealed to his audience to remember: “Times Change but Principles Don’t” and commented that he felt Pietro Belluschi had understood this in his designs.  “We are destroying the earth,” cautioned Jones.

Jones’ lecture reminded the audience that the times have changed, the landscape is rapidly changing, but we remain here to live together and to be creative in the pursuit of allowing this land and all the people to listen to the swaying of the leaves, the roaring of the river, the blowing of the winds, the snowcapped majesty of the mountains.  The smallest frog or butterfly should be compelling enough to inspire a connection to animals and nature; the weather and the flowing of time, might evoke spiritual appreciation, and the father sitting with his child on a park bench telling her the story of the woodpeckers or the creek or the bear,  should provide a reason to think about the human world and the importance of communication, conversation, and connecting with one another.  Jones encouraged all to look in between things, to observe and notice that which is always present and around us.

Jones’ Portland lecture was delivered to an audience of over 150.   Quiet and contemplative throughout the presentation, listeners fell into an even greater sense of attentiveness as Jones read a well-known poem by Chief Dan George:

The beauty of the trees, the softness of the air, the fragrance of the grass, speaks to me.  The summit of the mountain, the thunder of the sky, the rhythm of the sea, speaks to me.  The faintness of the stars, the freshness of the morning, the dew drop on the flower, speaks to me.  The strength of fire, the taste of salmon, the trail of the sun, and the life that never goes away.  They speak to me.  And my heart soars.

“We are part of this planet,” said Jones, “It is never going to go away.  So, take care of it.”  Jones advised, by “listening and being respectful,” and, above all, we must all seek to  “see the things in between.”  Do not forget the importance of “the place, the culture, and the environment, keep bringing these up” he encouraged.  When designing, “keep at it, and put people right in there.”  While Jones credited his mother and grandmother for teaching him the lessons of his heritage, he also thanked his university education for developing his approach.  Adopting a humanistic perspective and maintaining a design philosophy where the people-element is never forgotten or sacrificed is a principle Jones proudly says he “got from the University of Oregon.”  Post-lecture, Jones was asked for his comments about this recent experience as the Belluschi Distinguished Visiting Professor and his work with the students at the University of Oregon.  He commented that he tried to instill in the students the idea that “It’s not the final designs, even though that is what we are judged by, but the ‘Emerging Indigenous Gifts’ that count.”   He added that he would like to “thank all of [the University] for the opportunity [it] gave [him], and look forward to continued interchange.”

Jones’ lecture provided an education into the wisdom and unparalleled legitimacy of indigenous peoples.  His ability to come into the peace of a wild, natural environment and to absorb the presence and stillness of nature by bringing that into his designs is a principle of grace and understanding.  As an architect, Jones has allowed his heritage to move him and transpire into a empathetic design aesthetic.  It is this multidisciplinary aesthetic that  brilliantly incorporates into his architectural systems and thus adding meaning and story to the landscapes, shapes, textures, colors, patterns, rhythms, and forms of his projects.

[Note:  the video of Johnpaul Jones’ Eugene lecture is available at the following location:  “The Frog Does Not Drink Up the Pond In Which It Lives.“]

post  sabina samiee

many heartfelt thanks to johnpaul jones for sharing his images with us for this blog.

Johnpaul Jones delivers "Times Change, But Principles Don't", UO in Portland, 2011.

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.