Urban Design - Part 3

The Urbanized film screening last night ushered in a packed house and the post-discussion was great. Mitchell Rasor continues the conversation below with Part 3 of our urban design blog discussion. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. And thanks to all who came to SPACE last night!

Mitchell spoke to Hilary Bassett, Executive Director of Greater Portland Landmarks

MR: Your organization is a strong advocate for the preservation and revitalization of historic buildings, neighborhoods and landscapes. Portland would not be the same without these assets. GPL also promotes preservation as a form of sustainability by encouraging the adaptive reuse of buildings. This seems like a wise way to harness change for the better.

HB: A great example of preservation and adaptive use, both as a sustainable strategy in itself, and that also incorporates energy efficiency and green approaches is the revitalization of the former Baxter Library building at 619 Congress Street into corporate headquarters for the VIA Agency. The building originally served as the Portland Public Library, built in 1888, a gift to the city from philanthropist James Phinney Baxter. Francis H. Fassett designed the building using many of the classic characteristics of Richardsonian Romanesque architecture. What works so well is that VIA has kept the architectural integrity of the building, and added its own personality, with creative interior partitions that allow the historic architecture to shine through and commissioned art that responds to the space. Portland architects Scott Simons and David Lloyd were instrumental in the transformation, as was VIA’s visionary CEO John Coleman. Greater Portland Landmarks recognized this project with an Honor Award in 2010.

I hear from so many people who visit Portland or who chose to move here that the city’s authentic historic architecture is part of the reason they come and stay. We have an opportunity here to capitalize on our unique built assets and great neighborhoods. People can feel the difference in the scale and quality of our built environment, even if they can’t express it in words. This also applies to our public green spaces like the Eastern Promenade and Deering Oaks.

MR: Also, Portland has not experienced explosive growth or scare like urban renewal in quite sometime. Thus, when opportunities do come along, they are heavily scrutinized – and may be with good reason. From GPL’s perspective, how can one of these opportunities best become a landmark of the present and the future.

HB: While it seems like a long time ago, Portland recently experienced an intensive period of potential growth along the waterfront, and I expect that such growth will return. Landmarks has always been interested in the part of the city which features the great Commercial Street warehouses, the Old Port, and the gateway to the city from the harbor. These historic buildings reflected a sense of pride and high aspirations for the city – at the time they were the best in contemporary architecture. Our vision is that the waterfront area defines the city from the sea. The areas there that are yet to be developed deserve great architecture that creatively reflects the identity and personality of our city – including its human scale, pedestrian friendliness, and amazing seaport setting. New buildings that express quality in their design, materials, and aspirations will be the landmarks of the future.

Mitchell Rasor is a musician, writer, and artist. He is also the Principal and founder of MRLD Landscape Architecture + Urbanism, an interdisciplinary design studio. Mitchell holds degrees from Oberlin College and the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

By marcie
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