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More UO student projects: "Places Full of Time"

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Recently I wrote about visiting an exhibition of architecture student projects from a University of Oregon called "Experiential Harmony" taught by Kevin Valk and John Holmes of Holst Architecture. During that same visit, the work of another class, taught by Gerald Gast Ghast was also on display.

The class was called "Places Full of Time" and students were tasked with creating projects of urban regeneration. "During the nine-month process," it explains in the class syllabus, "students select the final 'capstone' project of their professional education, conduct in-depth research, prepare a design program, and develop rigorous design studies that include a high level of tectonic development. The emphasis of the studio is development of a comprehensive architectural project backed by a creative and rigorous research effort."

The syllabus description of the "Places Full of Time" concept and assignment follows:

    "Renzo Piano recently remarked that the projects he found most stimulating were those with a depth of physical and cultural history.  They often require reworking or adding to an existing building, transforming a derelict site to create a renewed place, or recovering the roots of a culture that is associated with the history of a site or neighborhood."

    "From the late 1960’s, the influence of Jane Jacobs’ prolific book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, the growing interest in preservation and conservation, and the environmental movement have all converged to orient urban architecture toward a more time-layered approach."  

    "In his book and drawings, Radical Reconstruction, Lebbeus Woods advocates retaining scars of the past, including tragic ones with unpleasant memories.  In the German Ruhr, one of the most environmentally-devastated industrial districts in the world, an ambitious regeneration effort emphasizes retaining the archeology of abandoned factories and industrial sites as part of  a “green” environmental and economic revitalization at a regional scale.  Closer to home, revival of historic public places, cultural landmarks, and neighborhoods that experienced post-WWII decline, have invigorated city centers with new energy.  Sensitive community-based efforts in small rural places, exemplified by the work of Rural Studio in Alabama, demonstrate that exceptional architecture need not be limited to high-end budgets and new signature museums by star architects.

    "We take it for granted that historically-significant buildings and districts are worth preserving, but what about the archeology of more ordinary urban places, sites and buildings?"

I particularly like the idea of this class because I've long felt that too many old buildings, particularly historically protected ones, are restricted in the ability of architects to imagine new futures for these structures as hybrid architecture. But the examples of projects that have become new-old buildings includes some of the most impressive architecture in the world, such as Norman Foster's renovated Reichstag in Berlin, or Herzog & De Meuron's Tate Modern museum in London.

One of the student projects, that of Danielle Meyers, is an adaptive re-use of the Pabst Brewery complex in  Milwaukee, Wisconsin (pictured at top and above). One can't help but see the similarities to the Brewery Blocks here in Portland, the adaptation of the former Blitz-Weinhard brewery into a vibrant mixed-use area.

Another student, Jessica Kreitzberg, created  "A Building That Heals", situated in the Old Town-Chinatown district of  Portland. The project is a medical center combining western and eastern medicine.

Nicholas Lopez created the "San Francisco Maritime Museum" project along Pier 70. It's an adaptive reuse of the historic Union Ironworks industrial district, the oldest surviving industrial district in San Francisco.

Kristopher Celtnieks designed "Relief School, Philadelphia", a demountable school and building system for temporary use when inner city schools are closed for renovation, overloaded or stressed with unexpected events. The great thing about these student projects is the creators have license to dream and imagine without real-world constraints. Like a lot of these projects, I couldn't help but feel a little seduced by Celtnieks' images.

Ellen Hagen designed the "Sustainability Integration Learning Center", located along the Ballard Locks in  Seattle. I enjoyed how the building seems to integrate well with the landscape.

Stephen Varady's project, "Bootstrap Union", is a business incubator for the Detroit inner city. And of course in Detroit, America's Pompeii, there is ample need for a business incubator, and lots of opportunity for adaptive reuse. Although I wonder if the word "Bootstrap" is ideal in the title, for the phrase "pulling yourself up by the bootstraps" has long been a kind of conservative code for arguing against public assistance and equality programs such as welfare and affirmative action. Chances are people in Detroit getting small-business assistance wouldn't be this sensitive, but a building title should always send the right message.

Tony Walsh was one of the students contributing a locally focused design.  "Portland Adaptable Housing" is targeted for Northeast Portland.

These are the final projects for these students as they complete architecture school. Most all of them will face grim prospects as they enter the job market amidst a building industry that has largely collapsed from its boom of the 2000s. There won't be lots of half-block condo buildings or office towers to work on. They'll have to possess not only ingenuity and talent but perseverance. But we can't ask design students from this class anything more than they've already given: their passion, their ideas, and themselves. Congrats, gang, and Go Ducks!

by Brian Libby

Published with permission of Portland Architecture

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