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Visiting Nordia House

The Pacific Northwest has long been a place of migration by Scandinavians, including my Norwegian ancestors, the Dahls, who came to Oregon in the 19th century.

Like the northern Midwest, our region has attracted an oversized share of Swedes, Norwegians and Danes over the past century-plus, which is arguably reflected in our progressive politics, our eye for wood-centric design and craftsmanship, and our perverse love of inclement weather.PHOTOS COURTESY: DILORETO ARCHITECTURE - The 10,000 square-foot Nordia House is home to Nordic Northwest, which celebrates the cultures of Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.

Given my own Scandinavian ancestry, and my recently heightened appreciation for its high-minded political and cultural values as America shames itself with the most despicable presidential candidate in the nation’s history, it was an easy call to make my own recent pilgrimage to outer southwest Portland (near the suburban Tigard border) for an overdue visit to Nordia House, 1880 S.W. Oleson Road.

Opened last year after some 25 years of fundraising, the $3.5 million Nordia House is home to the nonprofit Nordic Northwest, which celebrates the cultures of Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Designed by DiLoreto Architecture with architect Brian Melton in the lead, the roughly 10,000 square foot building is a humble but wondrous symphony of wood and natural light.

Centered around a cavernous glass-walled and Douglas fir-festooned main hall, Nordia House also includes an attendant gallery and administrative offices and an outpost of the popular Nordic-themed Portland restaurant Broder. It has space for everything from concerts and movie screenings to classes and dances to church services (a Lutheran congregation holds Sunday services there), as well as the Midsummer festival each June and a popular Christmas market in December.

When I visited Nordia House on a recent weekday morning, the place was teeming with life: a throng of locals hanging out in the café and a steady stream of visitors to its gallery. The parking lot was full.

At the same time, this excellent work of Scandinavian-inspired Northwest architecture is a kind of natural oasis. Set back from busy Oleson Road, Nordia House looks out onto a protected wetland, its tall trees casting a dappled light through the building that changes throughout the day like a continuing shadow play. Or if one happens to visit in rainy instead of sunny conditions, the rainwater captured on Nordia House’s roof (as part of a comprehensive sustainable-design strategy) becomes a delightful waterfall at the entrance.

Besides the allure of this both architecturally and naturally beautiful setting or its celebration of all things Scandinavian, while visiting I also thought about the presence less than a mile away of Washington Square, the mall where I spent much of my childhood and teenage years browsing clothing stores and traipsing its climate-controlled spaces with an Orange Julius in hand.

Though Nordia House is technically within Portland city limits, it’s basically a suburban cultural destination too, something our metro area really needs. One needn’t be a Scandinavian descendant to enjoy the artistic, educational or social offerings here, and thanks to Nordia House one doesn’t have to travel to downtown Portland to experience great culture in a compelling work of architecture.

This is a house for Nordic culture, but it’s a cultural, natural and architectural oasis for us all.

Brian Libby is a Portland freelance journalist, critic and photographer who has contributed to The New York Times, The Atlantic and Dwell, among others. His column, Portland Architecture, can be read monthly in the Business Tribune or online at: portlandarchitecture.com

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