Monday, October 6, 2008
This is a nice story
When I moved back to Portland in 2001, I used to frequently walk the streets downtown, trying to get to know the city. This building always interested me. It's the Union Bank of California, one of Portland's only, if not the only, modernist skyscraper. When it gets wet, which is frequently, the green granite turns a very dark green, and the contrast with the white is even more dramatic.
I like the way the architect used a version of Clarendon, a very popular typeface of the time. I like the interior panels, it looks like wooden chocolate. I like the clock.
So anyway, I see on a plaque that it was built in 1969 by an architectural firm called Anshen & Allen. I go to the website, and they're still around, so I take a chance that they might have some information about the building.
I talked to the receptionist, and she was sort of confused by my request, but she takes my name and number.
A day or two later, I get a phone call, a guy with a British accent, and he asks me what I wanted to know about the building. It's the original architect, 35 years later, still with the same firm, a partner and principal, and he's calling me back personally. It freaked me out, but I managed to stammer something about being interested in his inspiration.
He told me remembered thinking at the time that the expansion to the American west coast reminded him of the original European settlement of America. Then and now, the old place wasn't big enough to contain their new thinking, so the people had to move west. He had a painting from that period of a white church with a tall steeple, alone in deep green forest.
He said he wanted the white part of the building to stand out from the green slate in the same way.
Anyway, it was neat to hear about his process, and hear his humility, and think about what it would be like to spend 35 years with one firm, what that would be like, to watch something grow, and what it would be like to come back to Portland every once in a while and see the skyscraper that you built.