Randy Gragg, architecture critic for The Oregonian, isn’t as captivated by the psych building, but he recognizes its charms. “It’s not one of Belluschi’s masterpieces,” he says, referring to the architect’s acknowledged landmarks, including the Portland Art Museum and the Pan Am Building (on which he collaborated with Gropius). “But it’s highly representative of his best phase, when he practiced a contextually sensitive form of Modernism.”
Gragg is similarly even-handed in his appraisal of the Watzek Sports Center, a 1965 Harry Weese design, likewise ranked as a “primary” resource in the Getty report (see sidebar, page 4). “Weese was just one of many architects from elsewhere who were drawn to work in Portland, in part because of Belluschi, but also because of the strong Modernist buildings being built in the city,” Gragg says. “Weese was a strong Chicago Modernist, but his work at Reed reflects his sensitivity to the local context—both architectural and natural.”
Falsetto is more effusive in his praise of Watzek. “That you can take a building with a huge program—the natatorium and two gyms—and snake it onto its site, roll it down the west slope, and break it up into volumes so that it doesn’t appear to be one building, but a series of pavilions—that was skillfully done.”
Other Modernist buildings on campus are also worthy of respect, Falsetto says. He calls the MacNaughton and Foster-Scholz dorms (1954–55) mature expressions of Modernism, with their simple geometrics, expansive glazing, and commanding use of what were then new building materials: reinforced concrete, plywood, and steel. Although the Cross Canyon dorms (1958 and 1962) borrow from the same stylistic palette, they exhibit a more Northwest-specific interpretation, with their sloped roofs and relaxed site layout.
Still, neither set of dorms heralded a new architectural style in the way the psych building did. Nor do they offer authoritative answers to questions of function and form, as does the Watzek Sports Center, with its strong response to the college’s athletic and architectural concerns. But they do exhibit more design verve than the remaining Modernist-era buildings on campus. Both the biology building and physics lab are simply average among the more inspired examples by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, a leading national firm that also designed the Lever House in New York and the Hancock Tower in Chicago.
The Heritage Master Plan doesn’t overlook the pre-Modernist era. It is duly respectful of buildings and landscape features that clearly fall under the “historic” rubric—Prexy, the foreign language houses along Woodstock Boulevard, the Depression-era Cerf Amphitheatre.