I’m going to do something a little unconventional here. I’m going to be conventional, for a moment. At least that’s what it feels like to me, but chances are, as the words pour forth, my unconventionality will surface.
I attended Portland’s AIA Design Awards Gala last night, planning to be bored to tears, and also planning to be unimpressed. But actually, I was neither bored nor completely unimpressed. Shocking, I know.
I was reminded why Portland is on the radar as a successfully designed city, and one that has a long history of sensible thinking about what we can and should do to the earth beneath us. From the 30+-year-old Urban Growth Boundary to public transportation to a general awareness and respect for environment, Portland is certainly among the “cities of the future,” as Will Bruder, one of the jurors, put it. But oh, don’t get me wrong—we are not perfect. And given the content of my last post about climate change, my ultimate belief is that even in Portland, we are not doing enough (or rather, too much?).
I did feel a bit of Portland pride, though, as the jurors remarked on the quality of design in the city, and their impressions of what is happening in Portland. Even with all my misgivings about the built environment and how we go about building more, I have to say that for a moment, I got caught up in the pretty of it all. It was like I was thrust into a time machine, and transported back to a time when I was ignorantly, naively enamored with design.
I snapped out of it eventually, but I’ll admit, begrudgingly, that I liked it—at least a little bit.
Two firms seemed to sweep the awards: Works Partnership Architecture and PATH Architecture. In those fleeting moments when I can be considered a fan of architecture, I’d say I’m a fan of both firms’ work. It all has a quality and a twist on regionalism that intrigues me. The work is not “typical” but it’s also not out of touch with reality.
During my brief stint of being caught up in the pretty of it all, one of PATH’s projects caught my eye. And sitting in the audience, watching the winners accept their awards, I realized that earlier in the evening I had been chatting with (who I now think was) Corey Martin of PATH, as we were each trying to find the proper entrance to the Gala. Only I didn’t know at the time who he was. And looking back, it was a proper indication of my indifference to the “who’s who” that I didn’t bother to ask, even though he asked me.
For some reason, PATH seems to be crossing my path a lot lately. After researching the work of Saul Zaik for a project I’d been doing related to an award Zaik was receiving last night, and speaking with Zaik personally, I came to understand that Zaik and Martin have a mutual respect for one another’s work—even though they are separated in age by several decades. In both cases, I think the mutual respect stems from each architect’s attention to, and respect for, a regional vernacular. So with the Zaik-Martin connection in mind, and my later realization that I had been speaking with Martin, and after absorbing a little of his work at the awards ceremony, I decided to do a little more research.
And now I’m truly intrigued.
I read this interview on Portland Modern and now I get it. Martin is a thinker, and it goes without saying that I like thinkers. His architectural work is aesthetically beautiful, but there has to be something more than that to draw me in. He talks about human experience in the spaces he makes, on a very intellectual and visceral level. He also has a relationship with sculpture—a characteristic that seems to be evident in much of the work I’m drawn to. But what really got me was this digital sketchbook of his. I find his drawings beautiful, evocative, and I like their abstract relation to architecture.
All in all, there is something about his thought process and design intentions that make me want to know more. So now I’ll have to work on finding out if it was actually him I spoke with. And maybe there will be more to come on Corey Martin; time will tell.
But for now I will acknowledge that it is entirely possible that I have, and will continue to, contradict myself. That is one of the hazards and beauties of being a thinker. It’s not necessarily about having answers; it’s more about having questions.