At the urging of President Colin Diver, Reed applied for a $140,000 grant from the Getty Trust. A pair of Portland-based firms were hired to lead the research —Fletcher Farr Ayotte for architectural heritage, and Mayer/Reed for landscape features. They worked with a faculty/staff committee to study the college’s physical development from its inception in 1908 to the end of the post-WWII building boom in 1967.
Their efforts culminated in the Heritage Master Plan, which was presented to the board of trustees last fall. It features a somewhat surprising appreciation of Reed’s newer buildings. For instance, Foster-Scholz dorm (fondly known as the Asylum Block)—that unadorned glass-and-brick rectangle so characteristic of ’50s-era architecture—received marks as high as Anna Mann, a distinctive English Tudor-style residence hall that meshes organically with its neo-Gothic nextdoor neighbor, Old Dorm Block.
Mike Teskey, Reed’s alumni director, says he was initially skeptical of some of the plan’s conclusions. “I thought Anna Mann would’ve ranked higher, because, let’s face it, Modernist buildings don’t evoke the same warm fuzzies as nicely-aged brick structures,” says Teskey, who served on the heritage plan committee and is also president of the Historic Preservation League of Oregon. “The notion that the Asylum Block, for example, is somehow significant—that represents cognitive dissonance. You ask yourself, ‘Those are good buildings?’”
Architect Paul Falsetto of Fletcher Farr Ayotte understands Teskey’s skepticism. “In general, Modernist buildings look too new, too quiet,” he says. “They’re unornamented. They look like they could be anywhere.”
But Falsetto insists Reed’s Modernist buildings beg closer inspection. And he thinks one or two of them may eventually rival Old Dorm Block or Eliot Hall in architectural significance.
Take the psych building (originally built for the chemistry department), the college’s earliest International Modernist structure, and perhaps the earliest example of the style on any campus in the United States. Its plain geometric facades and open interiors— common features of the style pioneered by architects such as Walter Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, and Le Corbusier—introduced a radically new look to campus when the building opened in 1949.
“The construction date is listed as 1949,” says Falsetto, “but we saw a full drawing of it as early as 1945.” That date is significant because the Equitable Building in downtown Portland, long hailed as one of the first International Modernist office towers in North America, wasn’t even constructed until 1948. But Pietro Belluschi, who designed the Equitable Building, was also the architect of the psych building.
The drawing suggests that Belluschi “was thinking about the style before he even did the Equitable Building,” explains Falsetto. Connecting the dots of architectural lineage, Belluschi designed Hauser Memorial Library in a modified neo-Gothic style (1930) before his groundbreaking work on the psych building. Belluschi was himself a protegé of architect A.E. Doyle, the master of Collegiate Gothic at Reed, who at 34 laid out the campus and designed both Eliot Hall and Old Dorm Block.
The psych building’s design date isn’t its only noteworthy aspect. The design itself is impressive, though its impact has been diminished by shrubbery that has grown up around the building. “In earlier images its mass and form and shape were highly evident,” Falsetto says. “It’s built principally of glass and steel, it’s stretched away from the core of the campus, it doesn’t have an orthogonal footprint. Really, it took guts by all involved to move forward with such a different aesthetic.”