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Protecting the Symbol of the City: Preserving Portlandia

DLR Group

Standing nearly 40 feet tall, Portlandia is a symbol of the strength and vitality of the city of Portland, Oregon. But behind that strength is something much more delicate: thin sheets of hammered copper. While the Portland Building has proven to be a controversial structure in the decades since it was built, Portlandia has become a beloved icon for the city. When we started our reconstruction of the Portland Building, we were faced with the question: how do we preserve Portlandia?

Portlandia’s construction created a unique set of challenges for the design team. As a raised copper sculpture, each inch of the metal sheets used were hammered dozens of times until incredibly thin. These sheets are riveted together and supported internally by a wooden frame.

“In actuality, she’s very fragile,” said Principal and architect Erica Ceder, LEED AP BD+C, Assoc. DBIA.

This means that any plans to move her from her platform, three stories above the ground, had the potential to destabilize the sculpture and cause irreversible damage. A strategy was developed to protect Portlandia where she stands: protective scaffolding was erected. Portlandia was removed from the public eye, and danger, for over a year. In 2019, on the project’s completion, the scaffolding was removed to reveal Portlandia, not only unscathed, but revitalized by conservators.

The Portland Building Reconstructed

Protecting Portlandia: Preserving the Symbol of the City

Though the design and appearance of the Portland Building continues to drive debate, Portlanders seem to like their Portlandia. Special attention was paid to the care and preservation of the sculpture during the reconstruction process.

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Learn more about this unique historic preservation project.

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