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A Renovation Saves Michael Graves’ Portland Building

Surfaces of all kinds are top of mind these days, so we decided to look at all aspects of them, in these articles, from A to Z. Thinking of surfaces less as a product category and more as a framework, we use them as a lens for understanding the designed environment. Surfaces are sites of materials innovation, outlets for technology and science, and embodiments of standards around health and sustainability, as well as a medium for artists and researchers to explore political questions.


Dlr Tpb Ewing 2890

Michael Graves’s Portland Building, a Postmodern landmark, has been plagued with structural and operational problems for years. DLR Group and contractor Howard S. Wright have recently completed a renovation and restoration that sought to correct these issues and improve the conditions for the employees who work within its walls. Priorities in the revamp included new exterior cladding, an overhaul of MEP systems, seismic upgrades, and new interior construction. Courtesy James Ewing/JBSA

From the moment architect Michael Graves won a 1979 design competition for what became known as the Portland Building, one of America’s first major works of Postmodern architecture, the city office’s boldly colorful facade and oversize historical references divided opinion. Some applauded its exuberant rejection of Modernist dogma, while others seethed at its cartoonish, skin-deep style.

Since its 1982 opening, Graves’s design, topped with Raymond Kaskey’s massive copper Portlandia statue, has become an icon. Yet one constituency always seemed unanimous in its discontent: the occupants. Administrative staff worked in a near-total absence of natural light, and maintenance crews were tasked with continually patching the leaky facade.

For a few months in 2014, local city councillors openly considered demolishing the building. Today, however, thanks to a $195 million renovation by DLR Group and contractor Howard S. Wright, this Postmodern landmark is not only free of leaks and

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