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UO architecture students seek "Experiential Harmony"


A couple times a year, architecture students at local schools like PSU and U of O give the public the chance to view their enlightened daydreaming, through open studio exhibits like the one I attended last week for Kevin Valk and John Holmes' class, "Experiential Harmony".

What does that term mean? Here's a description from the professors, who both come from Holst Architecture:

    "Experiential Harmony is the study of space through experience and perception. Architecture is seen as the manipulation of three dimensional space based on the requirements of a number of factors: budget, program, structure and perhaps most importantly an innate feeling of harmony. The whole being different than the sum of its parts. The intent behind the studio has been to immerse the student in a direct and visceral 'experience' of architecture, a process by which one is encouraged to engage in the kinesthetic experience of space, light and texture in-order to arrive at beauty and harmony. All criteria for successful design will be measured against the human experience, not theoretical complexity."

What I like best about attending these architecture class studios is the fact that, although these students don't yet have the experience of working in the building profession as architects, they are imagining Portland and other cities with fresh eyes, and seeing possibilities that we've sometimes forgotten.

Student Marc Holt, for example, resurrected an idea first proposed by then-mayor Vera Katz in the 1990s: a cap for Interstate 405, complete with a new central library between Yamhill and Morrison Streets (pictured at the top of this post). Holt chose this site "because of the potential for reconnecting two parts of a city that is very much separated by the interstate transportation corridors," he wrote in his project narrative. "Portland is known for its ability to reclaim land that was occupied by highways, such as what is now Tom McCall Waterfront Park."

Of course Portland already has a wonderful Central Library, a Georgian-styled gem designed by one of the city's top architects in its history, A.E. Doyle. But there's no reason why a student like Holt can't challenge the assumption that Doyle's building will be the only downtown library space we'll ever need.

Another student, Mark Schmidt, designed a School for the Industrial Arts, on Water Avenue in the Central Eastside Industrial District. The school incorporates three main components: The industrial arts school (the foundation for the project); Industrial arts museum (tower element, providing public display and visibility to the project); and lastly the roof sculpture garden (the most public element of the program).

"The district, an eclectic mix of legacy industrial and independent art studios, is the last true artist stronghold in the city of Portland," Schmidt writes. "Affordable rents due to the flexible reuse of industrial space have allowed the district to absorb fleeting refugees from previous gentrified artist communities. The goal and aspiration of the School is to be a beacon for the district that celebrates the qualities and character that the district embodies."

Courtney Nunez also targeted the Central Eastside, but in her case for a culinary school. "The project celebrates the life of food by providing spaces for growing and raising food, curing and preserving food, cooking and eating," she says. "Each of these spaces is given a unique character appropriate for its craft, and interaction is encouraged by way of a path, which acts as a backdrop for the food while connecting the earth to the river and taking the user from the garden to the table."

Jason Riffle created "The Peninsula Center" in St. Johns (above), a mixed use project offering transitional housing, educational and vocational opportunities to homeless and at-risk youth, and an "urban  living  room" for the North Portland neighborhood. The latter is a public commons set back from the Lombard Street corridor, and reflects the site’s residential exposure to the northeast.

Chris Iverson designed a Beaverton Performance Theater, seeking to act as a catalyst for downtown Beaverton. "The concept driving the design of the theater revolves around the relationship between the audience and the performers on stage," he writes. " The stage is the life of the theater, where the unfolding events portrayed by the actors are fixated on by the audience."

"In the translation to the building, the wooden auditorium becomes the stage with the audience, the public, focusing on the theater's main auditorium space," Iverson adds. "The glass facade provides a heightened transparency to the project, giving that extra emphasis on the wooden auditorium."

Kelly Wyland created a more souped-up renovation of the circa-1928 Meier & Frank Warehouse in the Pearl District than developer Gerding Edlen and architecture firm GBD have proposed.

"This project set out to tackle the problem of how you preserve but still have a relevant and functional building," she writes. Her design converts the original building into mixed-use and adds a new structure for a residential tower.

"The idea was to preserve the original facade as much as possible," she adds. The design cuts a courtyard into the middle and the new addition grows right through the original building like a sapling out of a tree stump. The new residential tower is constructed of reinforced concrete with a light glass facade.

Congrats to these students on their ingenuity. I hope to be able to post more student projects in the days ahead.

by Brian Libby

Published with permission of Portland Architecture

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