reed magazine logowinter2006

Architectural Gems?

watzek image
Watzek Sports Center, erected 1965


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.

eliot hall and ODB image
Eliot Hall and Old Dorm Block, erected 1912


The plan holds Old Dorm Block and Eliot Hall in highest regard; indeed, they are the only structures on campus identified as “landmarks.” Natural features which rise to that level include Reed canyon and the great lawn.

“Nothing says ‘college’ like Eliot Hall and Old Dorm Block,” Teskey says, noting that Gateway and Dell have used images of the buildings for their back-to-school ads. “They’re classic. They’ve been maintained without alteration, including the landscape around them. That’s why the lawn is so special. It gives you this sweeping view and nothing interrupts it.”

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