McGranahan’s annual architecture tour went to the fringes of Portland on a sunny Saturday in mid-July. We drove as far south as Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary near Silverton to visit a modern classic library by Finnish master Alvar Aalto, as well as some newer thoughtfully designed daylit classrooms. While down that way, we sought out a couple wineries by contemporary Portland architects. Back in Portland, we enjoyed new work at the Japanese Garden by Kengo Kuma and ended our day with a stroll through Portland’s Pearl District neighborhood. It was a day full of architectural adventure, discussions, fun times, and good eats.
The tour began with a brief pit stop and breakfast at Kenny and Zuke’s, a local prominent breakfast establishment in Portland. It is typical in Portland to repurpose old buildings by creating commercial spaces over an open-air double loaded corridor, almost like a mini outdoor mall fitted within the city fabric. The contrast between the old exposed structures and the new materials inserted was striking, creating an appealing place to walk through.
The second stop was Mount Angel Abbey and Seminary. The abbey is located atop a hill overlooking the valleys below. The Benedictine monks welcomed us and began the tour with a visit to a newer sustainably-focused educational building. The classrooms featured intricately designed louvers to diffuse daylight coming from a large skylight above the center of the room. The resulting bright spaces required no artificial lights during the day. The classrooms also used cross-ventilation through open panels over louvers and exhaust fans on the ceiling/roof. Next, we were guided to Aalto’s library. Although located directly on the abbey quadrangle, the building was very unassuming from the main entrance, looking like a simple light-colored brick box with vertical wood louvers over the windows. Still, attention to detail was evident, such as the louvers being thoughtfully designed to open for window cleaning. The space was first compressed with a low ceiling, but opened to a breathtaking view of book shelves and reading spaces, daylit from the curved monitor and wall both in plan and section. It was awe-inspiring moment.
The abbey generously provided us with a lunch we enjoyed from a patio overlooking the valley with four mountains in sight: Mt St Helens, Mt Adams, Mt Hood, and, on a truly clear day, Mt Rainier off in the distance. Three of the four mountains are in our own Washington State! We were accompanied by Brother Matthew during lunch and were able to learn a bit about the daily life of a monk in the abbey.
Our next stop were the two wineries. Both buildings were detailed well. One winery was more refined than the other in the approach of detailing, but the results were equally stunning. The first played with form and roughness of material and the second used a simple form with refined detailing. Combined with excellent wines and landscape, the space experiences were elevated to the next level.
The third stop was the recently completed Portland Japanese Garden pavilions by Kengo Kuma. The garden was exquisite and the pavilions were excellent. Attention to detail, care of craft, and quiet respect of the place, nature and tradition were all evident and felt in the design.
Finally, the day was closed by walking around the Pearl District. We visited The Fields Park, Tanner Springs Park, and a few small developments in the neighborhood. Last but not least, we capped the tour with an excellent authentic northern Thai cuisine at PokPokNW.