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Portland Building on track to be delisted from National Register of Historic Places

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Facade changes to the postmodern icon are moving along

The exterior of a postmodern Portland building. The facade is red and white. There are trees in the foreground.
Portland Building with its original facade.

Back in 2014, the city of Portland, Oregon, hemmed and hawed over what to do with the Portland Building, Michael Graves’s 1980s ode to postmodernism. The iconic building was in need of serious repair, and the city considered tearing down the boxy building in lieu of investing in its renovation.

The city decided to renovate and the preservationists seemed to have won the day. But now, as work continues on the $195 million project, the building is apparently losing so much of its old self that it’s on track to be stripped of its national historic landmark status.

As first noted by Docomomo Oregon and Archinect, a new audit of the project conducted by the city states that the State Historic Preservation Office will move to delist the building from the National Register of Historic Places when construction is nearing completion.

According to the report, “Despite the importance of historic preservation, there was no minimum requirement identified for this project principle. The project team identified an aspirational goal and anticipated benefit to ‘maintain the historic and iconic status of the building.’”

Meanwhile, the changes, which include adding aluminum overcladding to Graves’s original painted concrete and tile facade and replacing black glass windows with lighter, more transparent ones, apparently will alter the appearance of the building so much that it will no longer retain any historic significance.

While some might say that’s a good thing (the building is divisive to say the least) the facelift seems to have inadvertently accomplished the exact opposite of what the original plan set out to do. The report says the city can pursue local landmark status once the building is removed from the National Register. Stay tuned.