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Portland Building

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Type  Government offices
Opening  October 2, 1982
Height  70 m
Phone  +1 503-823-4000
Completed  1982
Cost  US$29 million
Architectural style  Postmodern Architecture
Architect  Michael Graves
Portland Building
Alternative names  Portland Municipal Services Building
Location  1120 SW 5th Avenue Portland, Oregon
Address  1120 SW 5th Ave, Portland, OR 97204, USA
Similar  Public Service Building, Oregon Convention Center, Humana Building, Portland Union Station, Pioneer Courthouse Square

Portland building

The Portland Building, alternatively referenced as the Portland Municipal Services Building, is a 15-story municipal office building located at 1120 SW 5th Avenue in downtown Portland, Oregon. Built at a cost of US$29 million, it opened in 1982 and was considered architecturally groundbreaking at the time. The building houses offices of the City of Portland and is located adjacent to Portland City Hall. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.


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The distinctive look of Michael Graves' Portland Building, with its use of a variety of surface materials and colors, small windows, and inclusion of prominent decorative flourishes, was in stark contrast to the architectural style most commonly used for large office buildings at the time, and made the building an icon of postmodern architecture. It is the first major postmodern building, opening before Philip Johnson's AT&T Building, and its design has been described as a rejection of the Modernist principles established in the early 20th century. Graves' design was selected in a large design competition, with Johnson as one of the three members of the selection committee. Graves was added into the competition after Johnson threw out the entry from architect Gunnar Birkerts for having not been Postmodern enough. Birkerts went on to design the Detroit Institute of Arts South Wing, which was re-clad by Graves in 2007.

Portland mayor Frank Ivancie was among those who expressed the opinion that the modernist style then being applied to most large office buildings had begun to make some American cities' downtowns look "boring", with most of the newer, large buildings being covered in glass and steel, and largely lacking in design features that would make them stand out. Among architects, reaction was mixed, with many criticizing the design while others embraced it as a welcome departure. In 1985, the hammered-copper statue Portlandia was added above the front entrance.

Beyond questions of style, many structural flaws came to light shortly after the building's completion. The building's failings are the subject of much humor and contempt by the civil servants who work there, who describe it as cheaply built and difficult to work in.

In 1990, only eight years after it was built, the lobby and food court were in need of remodeling. Four firms, including Michael Graves, were bidding for the job. Karen Nichols of Michael Graves's firm said "Michael feels like he owes the city one.... We have done a lot of public buildings since then. I do know we talk about the Portland Building all the time."

It suffers from extensive water infiltration and structural issues. In 2014, some city commissioners expressed the view that it should be demolished, one calling it a "white elephant", while at least one commissioner was opposed to that idea. Michael Graves fiercely opposed demolition. In 2015, city officials were considering spending $175 million to fully renovate the building.

In July 2016, plans to renovate the building were moving ahead, with the city council choosing a contractor and setting a maximum cost of $140 million for the work, not including estimated non-construction expenses of up to $55 million, such as for the leasing of office space for around 1,300 city employees who will be temporarily displaced during the renovation work.


The roof of the Portland Building is covered with a green roof, installed in 2006. The roof was proposed in 2005, part of an experiment through Oregon State University to test Sedum spathulifolium as a water-absorbing plant for the northwest. The new roof will help the building's heating, cooling, and storm-water runoff systems.


As of October 2009, the Portland Building housed these municipal bureaus and departments: Office of Cable Communications & Franchise Management, Bureau of Environmental Services, Facilities Services, Bureau of Human Resources, Office of Management and Finance, Mt. Hood Cable Regulatory Commission, Bureau of Parks and Recreation, Bureau of Purchases, Bureau of Risk Management, Bureau of Technology Services, Office of Transportation, and the Portland Water Bureau. The Portland Building is located across the street from Portland City Hall.


In May 1983, the building won an American Institute of Architects honor award.

The building's style remains controversial among Portlanders as well as the entire architecture field. In 1990, The Oregonian stated "it's hard to find anyone who doesn't like Pioneer Courthouse Square.... it's even harder to find anyone who admits to liking the Portland Building." Nearly a quarter century later, Oregonian columnist David Sarasohn revisited the theme, noting that the "huge blue tiles, colored glass and odd pastel flourishes meant to evoke early modern French paintings" actually resembled "something designed by a Third World dictator's mistress' art-student brother."

These laypersons' appraisals were bolstered by Italian-born modernist architect Pietro Belluschi, who called the building "totally wrong" and declared: "It's not architecture, it's packaging. I said at the time that there were only two good things about it: 'It will put Portland on the map, architecturally, and it will never be repeated.'"

Not all commentary has been negative. In the estimation of architectural critic Paul Goldberger: "For better or for worse, the Portland Building overshadows other things. It is more significant for what it did than how well it does it. It had a profound effect on American architecture and brought a return to classicism that brought us better buildings."

In October 2009, Travel + Leisure magazine called the Portland Building "one of the most hated buildings in America".


Portland Building Wikipedia

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