A nice diversion to my packed schedule at Rail-Volution was a visit the University of Oregon’s Portland Program (PP) design studios, located in the landmark White Stage/Made in Oregon Building, in the southeast corner of Portland’s Old Town. Allowing architecture and other design students (including a new product/industrial design program -- nice!) an opportunity to learn their craft in the nation’s most livable city, the U of O's Portland Program has been around for at least 20 years, during which time it has had many homes, including: the the former space of the long defunct Oregon School of Design, as well as space shared with Portland State University in their then-fledgling architecture studios, and some intervening spaces which I no doubt lost track of.
North Facing Skylights -- Who Could Ask for Anything More?
The U of O's PP Old Town digs are not really new. Despite the fact that I make the three hour trip several times a year from Seattle, I had yet to pay a visit; unfortunate on my part, because, quite frankly, their new space rocks. I could not envision a more apt place for architecture (or design) studios: a renovated, landmark building in a city’s historic core, in a city that (by the way) also happens to be a laboratory for the most exiting urban design (and increasingly architectural design) in North America. Located at the southern terminus of the great trifecta of Ecotopia’s other exceptional urban centers of Seattle and Vancouver (both conveniently linked by Amtrak), the geographical setting of the PP could not be more advantageous for learning design.
There are Two Interconnected Floors of Design Studios
The design departments of the Portland Program are on the top two floors of the White Stag building, with the studio exhibiting all one could hope for in an atelier. Saw-toothed, north facing skylights (yes, can you imagine!), board-formed concrete walls, a lovely communicating stair linking the two floors, and views to the Willamette River. Perfect.
The Incomparable Gerry Gast in Action
An east coast refugee, my experience with the U of O is strictly as an outsider, and dates back to the early 1990s. In that time, despite their many changes of venues, there has been one constant: the inspirational teaching and leadership of Gerry Gast, a design studio professor and lecturer at the Portland Program (as well as a lecturer at Stanford, in his beloved Bay Area). I hate to be gushing, but Gerry deserves it. He is a close friend, an advisor, and most importantly to the students he leads, an endless source of enthusiasm, wisdom, integrity, and youthful energy (despite being north of 60?). The opportunity for my visit to the White Stag studios was in fact provided by Gerry, who I had an opportunity to watch in action (yet again!), during a pin up of his students’ work, and later at a desk crit. Gerry never parses his words with either his students or friends, while skillfully imparting a commitment and passion for teaching that has few peers; he is as great an asset to the PP as their new physical space.
Just Look at Those Steel Sash Windows (they look like steel . . . .)