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NW Life | Business | local | Arts

An International Architecture Firm Wants To Reshape Portland


As the Norwegian architecture firm designs two projects in Portland, we look at some of their most famous work around the world.

While the architectural firm Snøhetta might not be a household name in Portland, it has become one of the biggest players in architecture internationally.

Its designers are the process of remaking New York City’s Times Square. They created the newly opened 9/11 Memorial Museum, and they expanded the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art into the largest museum of its kind in the country, set to open on May 14 — to say nothing of the major buildings they’ve designed across Europe.

Now, Snøhetta is focusing its gaze on Portland. The company is currently working on designs for redevelopment of the Willamette Falls site in Oregon City, as well as the proposed James Beard Public Market in Portland.

Our columnist-in-residence, Randy Gragg, and producer Aaron Scott met with Snøhetta founding partner Craig Dykers and discipline partner Michelle Delk to take a tour of the exhibition “Snøhetta: People, Process, Projects.” It’s the first U.S. retrospective of the firm’s work and is on view at the Portland AIA Center for Architecture through June 30.

Craig Dykers on Snøhetta’s first project, the Library of Alexandria in Egypt, which was at the heart of the Arab Spring:
The first debates for the democratization of Egypt occurred inside this building and that led to the first protests against the Mubarak regime. Nearly 200 people died in the first two weeks of the protests just in the area immediately surrounding this building. There was great fear that the Library of Alexandria would be burned once again. So the citizens of Alexandria and the students of the nearby university created a human chain around the university, both pro– and non-government groups, holding hands side-by-side to protect it from damage. As a result, there was no looting or damage to the building and it continues to be a center for open debate in the country.

"The waterfall itself is the second largest waterfall by volume in North America, after Niagara Falls," says landscape designer Michelle Delk. "Many people who live in Portland or in the area have never even seen or heard of it." 

“The waterfall itself is the second largest waterfall by volume in North America, after Niagara Falls,” says landscape designer Michelle Delk. “Many people who live in Portland or in the area have never even seen or heard of it.” 

Courtesy Snøhetta

Michelle Delk on the Willamette Falls project:
The waterfall itself is the second largest waterfall by volume in North America. Many people who live in Portland or in the area have never even seen or heard of it.

While fundamentally the end product needs to provide access to the water and to the falls, we are beginning to imagine that can happen in multiple ways in multiple places. So it might be somewhat episodic, where you might come to the water and relate to it in different ways. You might be able to get down to the water at times, you might have great overlooks where you see the falls in the background. We have begun to explore different ideas about keeping many of the industrial buildings on the site and re-imagining them. We’re really in the throes of all sorts of great possibilities right now.

Snøhetta's concept for the James Beard Public Market in Portland would fit under the western end of the Morrison Bridge and between the existing on and off ramps.

Snøhetta’s concept for the James Beard Public Market in Portland would fit under the western end of the Morrison Bridge and between the existing on and off ramps.

Courtesy Snøhetta

Craig Dykers on James Beard Public Market:
We’re very in love with this project. It’s an opportunity for Portland to build a flagship facility to showcase it’s wide range of agricultural products complimentary to the many markets that exist in the city. You can buy food here, but you can also sit in a controlled environment and have the food prepared for you. There’s a learning kitchen where you can learn about cultural typologies of food. Many more activities are possible in a market like this.

Michelle Delk on James Beard Public Market’s waterfront location:
The site itself is a really special location in the city. I think a lot of people would shy away from an idea to build a public market where a bridge and the on-and-off ramp for the bridge is landing in the city. The opportunity to create a very public, very active space that stitches the density of downtown Portland to the waterfront by activating this space both really contributes to the fabric of this city, but also makes a more dynamic outcome.

So the building itself, in what we’ve imagined so far, has this winglike quality where it dips underneath the bridge and remains a connected structure. A lot of the early ideas people were asking us to consider were one side or the other or how it might all fit on one side. It was really wonderful to explore that connective tissue.

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