Saturday, August 16, 2014

Lovejoy Park Shelter

I've done quite a few posts about Lovejoy Fountain over the years this blog's been going. It's in my neighborhood, and I'm kind of fond of it. Besides the fountain itself, the park's also home to a large wooden shelter structure, on the west end of the park, "upstream" of the fountain. The shelter was part of the original park design, and it was designed by a duo of prominent architects, Charles Moore & William Turnbull. So I figured it merited a post of its own.

A Metropolis Magazine article about Moore, "Why Charles Moore (Still) Matters", mentions the shelter project briefly:

“Who threw this tantrum?” That was the reaction—according to Halprin—of a number of Moore’s Yale architectural colleagues when they saw his Lovejoy Fountain Shelter (1966), perched atop the concrete waterfall designed by Moore, Halprin and Turnbull. The whole Portland Open Space Sequence, of which Lovejoy is a part, recalls the natural forms of the nearby High Sierra, with sprays, erosion channels, tumbled rocks, and weirs. Made of a series of board-formed concrete slabs, the fountain works as well with water as without. The pavilion serves as both mountaintop and protection, its expressive hillocks made with a latticework of straight wooden members. One explores the fountain like a natural discovery, climbing down, scaling up, losing one’s sense of oneself in the city. Moore had been interested in water as an element of architecture since his student days; that was, in fact, the topic of his doctoral dissertation at Princeton. In period photographs, one can see the fountain and the shelter against the geometric, repetitive backdrop of nearby SOM towers. “Looking at the photograph of that form, now 50 years old, I thought: This is what people are doing with the computer now,” Lyndon says. “How amazing is the juxtaposition again with the corporate modernism in the background. The latter was the norm of the time.” Before Frank Gehry (with whom Moore and his partners competed for the Beverly Hills Civic Center) lofted an angled chain-link fence in the air at his own famous house, Moore was working with the everyday to make something more monumental, memorable, and strange.

I'd just like to point out here, for the sake of geographical accuracy, that the Sierra Nevada mountains are nowhere near Portland as the article claims. It's true the Halprin designs were inspired by the Sierras, though. If they were being built today, the architects would have the decency to fudge and say they were inspired by the Cascade mountains, which are nearby. But no matter. The "who threw this tantrum?" reaction didn't entirely die down after 1966. A local architecture critic, writing about the Keller and Lovejoy fountains, recently referred to the shelter as "startlingly ugly". I'm not sure I agree; it seems like the fountain, and the park as a whole would look strangely unbalanced without the structure there.

I imagine the city would secretly love to remove the shelter, because homeless people often sleep under it to avoid the rain, which of course is the worst thing imaginable. But they can't tear it out, because it's part of the park design, and so is on the National Register of Historic Places as of 2013. So instead they're obligated to preserve and maintain it, which presents another problem. The shelter is a striking design but not necessarily built to last for decades in this climate. It slowly decayed for years, and its crazy-angled roof began to sag, and it became a case study in an article titled "When a Master Work Fails" (i.e. physically, not aesthetically)). Money arrived with the city's renewed interest in this part of town, and it finally underwent a major renovation that completed in spring 2014.

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