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Photo show shines light on local designs

Coliseum is 'a masterpiece,' curator says
by: © 2009 Jeremy Bitterman, Brian Libby curated a group photography show of significant Portland structures at the AIA Center for Architecture, including Jeremy Bitterman’s photograph of the historic Memorial Coliseum (above), through March 31.

Memorial Coliseum in all its glory isn't seen very often, but Jeremy Bitterman's photo captures it.

His image of the old 'MC,' with curtains drawn and sun shining in during the 2009 Rose Parade, helps portray the beauty of the 50-year-old building, says Brian Libby, who has curated a First Thursday Gallery Walk photography show of significant Portland structures at the American Institute of Architects Center for Architecture, 403 N.W. 11th Ave. The show opens Thursday, March 4, and runs through March 31.

Memorial Coliseum is in the news, because the Trail Blazers and other entities have ideas of how to renovate the old building, and the city council will consider the ideas in its March 4 meeting and beyond. Libby, of course, stands on the side of not damaging any of the integrity of the 'Glass Palace.'

'One of the biggest things I've been involved with has been the preservation campaign,' says Libby, a Portland journalist and fan of architecture.

Photos of the Wieden and Kennedy building, 224 N.W. 13th Ave., and Ziba headquarters, 1044 N.W. 9th Ave., will also be on display - two buildings that Libby and his cohorts laud for their innovation and beautiful architecture. But the Memorial Coliseum is a one of a kind, 'a masterpiece,' he says.

'It's floating free space, a large span, with the bowl sitting in a glass box,' adds Jeff Jahn, a photographer and fellow architecture enthusiast.

Says Libby: 'It's all about the transparency for me. I think of it as Wonder woman and the Invisible Jet. When trying to save the building, the hyperbolic phrase I used was 'World's Only Transparent Arena,' which is stretching it, but it's close. I've researched the world for arenas like Memorial Coliseum and haven't seen anything like it. For all the thousands of Portlanders who have gone to Coliseum events over the the generations, all that time the key feature has been hidden, because the curtain has been (not been opened) for 20 years. I went to the Rose Parade with the curtain open and I was almost in tears.'

Natural light provides an aesthetic that cannot be duplicated with fluorescence, Jahn adds.

The Ziba building is a good example.

'If you want workers to be creative and productive, open the curtains,' says Jahn, who has a photo of the Ziba building for the First Thursday show.

Sally Schoolmaster, another architecture follower and photographer, has shots of the Wieden and Kennedy building, before and after the complete renovation of what used to be a cold storage on Northwest 13th Avenue in the 1990s.

'That design sort of raised the bar of architecture in Portland,' Schoolmaster says. She remembers the renovation, and how crews had to add support for the bricks because the building started to collapse. Significant about the Wieden and Kennedy structure is the open space created in the middle and with the use of glass, walk-around flooring and the woodwork and concrete.

'I definitely love modern architecture, and (Wieden and Kennedy) has the feeling of a cathedral,' Schoolmaster says, with Libby adding that 'the cement in this building looks like marble.'

Brad Cloepfil led the architectural redesign. 'It's an absolutely world-class building,' Libby says. 'That project symbolizes architecture in Portland, the fact that you can go inside and it opens up to you. From the outside, it could be any warehouse, which says something about Portland.

'There's not a lot of significant architecture (here), but there's great design when you go looking for it.'

Jahn has done his research on Portland architecture, and found lovely works from the early 20th century, a huge gap and then a resurgence since the 1980s. He says the OHSU tram, of which he has a shot of in the show, represents some of the new 'external' pieces of Portland architecture.

'Now we have a (planned pedestrian/bicycle) bridge across the Willamette,' he says.

Libby compares Portland architecture to Seattle's and says, 'Seattle is like three or four diamonds and Portland is a string of pearls. Seattle is given to individual iconic buildings.'

Nineteen photos will be in Libby's show, exhibiting notable buildings and structures, 'nameless places' and Lovejoy and Keller fountains.

'To be honest there wasn't much strategy that went into it,' says Libby, a former architecture critic for The Oregonian. 'I went about it going with photographers work that I liked. I wanted pictures of architecture that could be more abstract or representational.'

One photo is by Shawn Records, who shows his son, Max Records, in the backyard against the backdrop of modern condominiums. (Max Records, by the way, starred in the movie 'Where the Wild Things Are').