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Watch: Delivering on Design Vision and Building Performance

After nearly 40 years, the exterior of the Portland Building was in need of comprehensive repairs. But how should modifications be made to one of the most recognizable pieces of architecture in the world? Watch below as our design team proposes an unexpected solution.

A transcription of the video can be found below:

Erica Ceder, DLR Group

Water challenges were definitely the major factor that drove us towards the solution of over cladding the exterior of the building.

Dan Zylkowski, Howard S. Wright

The beautiful thing about the rain screen is it effectively puts kind of two levels of barrier out there – one that sheds 99% of the water and then kind of that backstop [so] that if something does get through it’s going to hit the ultimate weather barrier and still shed out and not get into your building.

Erica Ceder, DLR Group

The way the Portland Building was originally constructed was really put together with budget in mind. There was not a lot of consideration – definitely not as much known then as there is today about building skin performance and how things function over time.

When the idea of using a unitized curtain wall came up it was actually kind of brilliant because we were looking at all these problems of you have this building that’s a very pure architectural expression of walls with these very perfectly punched windows. And that’s really difficult to do if you’re trying to just cobble parts and pieces together because you have to put flashings in that would have created these little bands underneath every window and they’re just all these little details that would have started to [I] think kind of dilute that design vision.

But with the unitized curtain wall, everything is factory assembled into these panels and it allows them to actually put these wall systems together that match Graves’s original kind of perfect vision of a perfectly square window placed into a wall with no extra clutter around that opening.

That was the moment where I said to myself, “Yeah, I really think that this is the right solution,” because it’s not just giving the technical performance; it actually was the most respectful of the original historic design.

So one of the problems that we had to solve was how to get that staggered, running bond appearance for these panels when the actual panels themselves needed to stack vertically on top of each other. Even though the actual functional panels are stacked in perfect vertical rows we have this little transition panel that goes over the joint that kept the original architectural vision of this giant, running bond stone.

The ribbons were another really funny one because nobody does that in architecture so much these days. I think we’ve gotten so used to modernist architecture that the idea of putting together these purely ornamental giant building pieces is a little bit of a lost art form. Because similar to the ribbons and medallions those column capitals, no one really has a ton of experience of putting together a 30-foot-wide, 40-foot-tall wedge of cheese that just kind of sits on the face of the building.

Carla Weinheimer, DLR Group

The result does actually respect the design as it was conceived of by the architect Michael Graves, while also solving those technical issues. And maybe even bringing it a little closer to the original vision because it’s just so crisp and beautiful and the colors are so clearly identified and the detailing is so precise that it’s all about the shapes and forms and colors, which is really what made this building so exceptional.

It wasn’t concrete that was expressed, it was elastomeric paint on concrete. [And] we now have a very high-performance paint surface on the metal panel. We also, at the base, have brought back the terra cotta tile.

Michael Graves, Michael Graves Architecture & Design

I thought, if there’s any material I should use here in town, it should be terra cotta as you know it; the green floors to go with the park

Erica Ceder, DLR Group

I think that what was originally constructed kind of met that criteria of matching the sketch on paper but I don’t think it had the same kind of longevity. And if you look at photographs of the building that we took in 2016, there was quite a bit of wavy concrete, and the imperfections were really starting to show. The tile system at the base was very wobbly and it was just starting to show the impacts of some of the detailing issues.

I think that the system that we have now keeps that really pure architectural aesthetic but is going to be able to hold itself together over time much better.

Learn more about this unique historic preservation project.

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Justin Stranzl
Connect with me to start a conversation ➔ Justin Stranzl, Business Development Leader


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