Try to imagine the Portland skyline without the Oregon Convention Center’s glass towers, the KOIN Tower, the Multnomah County Justice Center, Waterfront Park or OMSI’s reimagined power plant — to say nothing of the beloved Portland International Airport and its Instagram-star carpet. It’s hard to do. And we have one man to thank for all of those, in addition to so many other Portland landmarks: Robert “Bob” Frasca.
Frasca moved to Portland in 1959 under the encouragement of another local architecture hero, Pietro Belluschi. After working for others, Frasca co-founded the firm Zimmer Gunsel Frasca, or ZGF, in 1966.
“Under Bob Frasca’s leadership, ZGF really redefined Portland: not so much with landmarks of architecture, but really landmarks of culture,” said longtime local architecture critic and writer Randy Gragg.“His architecture was always responsive to its surroundings and beautifully crafted.”
Gragg pointed to Frasca’s designs for the convention center, and Doernbecher Hospital and the Vollum Institute at OHSU, for reimagining how things like convention centers, hospitals and research facilities can exist with a more humane eye to their inhabitants.
“Convention centers I’ve been in, they’re all these dark places, where you never know where you are,” Frasca said of designing the Oregon Convention Center’s iconic glass towers in a 2016 conversation about his work with Gragg. “The thing I wanted to do is get light into it.”
Under Frasca’s leadership, ZGF grew into a global company with six offices and hundreds of employees across the U.S. and Canada.
The firm has become a leader in designing university facilities and hospitals, including buildings at Stanford University, University of California-Berkley, John Hopkins University and elsewhere.
ZGF also designed embassies in Istanbul, Cape Town, and Sofia, as well as notable structures like the Robert Mondavi Wine and Food Institute and the nine-block LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake City.
Frasca died Jan. 3 in Portland from complications of chronic lymphocytic leukemia.