Downtown Architecture

Walk Description:

What we like about Portland architecture is how the old and new mesh for a very pleasing effect. Add lots of trees to the mix and you’ll find these walks relaxing, even refreshing between craft brew and food tasting (remember, Portland has 1,300 restaurants, food carts, and craft brewpubs to sample). Here are some of our favorite architectural landscapes.

Follow this Route

  1. Pioneer Courthouse – 700 SW 6th Avenue
  2. Director Park – 815 SW Park Avenue
  3. Multnomah County Central Library – 801 SW 10th Avenue
  4. The KOIN Center – 222 SW Columbia Street
  5. Edith Wendel-Green Wyatt Federal Building – 1220 SW 3rd Avenue
  6. The Portland Building – 1120 SW 5th Avenue
  7. Standard Insurance Plaza – 1100 SW 6th Avenue
  8. U.S. Bancorp., a.k.a. “Big Pink” – 111 SW 5th Avenue

Pioneer Courthouse Square

Pioneer Square Architecture
Old and new combine for a pleasing effect in Pioneer Square

Stand in the middle of the square and look around, then face the Portland Visitor Center. On either side of the Visitor Center are fountains; above is Nordstrom; behind you is the Courthouse, home of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. To your left are long brick steps with columns and building rising above. An overall please effect. Be sure to visit “Umbrella Man” on the south side of the square.

Director Park

Simon and Helen Director Park glass and steel pergola

If Pioneer Courthouse Square is known as Portland’s “Living Room,” Director Park is the den, a smaller space that teems with locals, visitors, and fills with parents and children to play in the fountain in the summer. There are art performances, music, games (giant chess board) and a energizing space for lunch or to just hang out. The glass and steel pergola, part of a park remodeling project that took place in 2017, is a striking architectural object. Yes, it provides shade for those seated below, but it is a thing of beauty — something you must photograph.

Multnomah County Central Library

Night photo of Portland's Central Library
Night photo of Portland’s 1913-built Central Library

Perhaps the saddest event we have witnessed was the removal of two 75-foot tall heritage trees in front of the library in 2016. The trees were diseased and considered a threat to public safety, we were told. To look at them, you would have thought they were good for another century.

There has been a library in downtown Portland for almost as long as Portland has been a city. In 1864, just 13 years after the city was incorporated, a group of businessmen established The Library Association of Portland and leased space on the second story of Benjamin Stark’s building, on the corner of First and Stark Streets.

In 1911, the library board purchased the block bordered by 10th and 11th Avenues and Yamhill and Taylor Streets in what was at that time the outskirts of downtown Portland, for $342,000. They hired Portland architect, Albert E. Doyle from the firm Doyle, Patterson & Beach to design the new building. In September 1913, the Central Library was ready. The building was dedicated on September 6. The design, construction, and furnishings cost $480,000.

The KOIN Center

KOIN Building
KOIN Building

At 535 feet, this 35-story 1984 building’s unusual color, brick exterior, and shape make it stand out in Portland’s skyline.

The building was originally named Fountain Plaza, but it quickly came to be known as the KOIN Center, or KOIN Tower, reflecting the name of its highest-profile occupant, KOIN television, the CBS affiliate in Portland. The building was controversial while being constructed because its location blocked the view of Mount Hood that had long been seen by drivers emerging from the Vista Ridge Tunnel under Portland’s West Hills going eastbound on U.S. Route 26.[6]

The Portland Municipal Services Building

The Portland Building
The Portland Building

Hailed as a modern marvel when it opened, for years since has been ridiculed for its shoddy workmanship. Despite pleas to tear it down, a major remodeling program is now underway. Here’s how the City of Portland describes it: 

“The Portland Building, designed by Michael Graves and built in 1982 as administrative offices for the City of Portland, is an award-winning design of Post Modern architecture. The building was later placed on the National Register of Historic Places as a building of “exceptional importance,” but it currently faces problems with its structure, exterior, and operational systems that repairs alone cannot address. To protect and preserve this major public investment, the City has initiated a $195 million project to reconstruct the Portland Building by the end of 2020. The City will create an adaptable building that will last 50-100 years … .”

Standard Insurance Plaza

Standard Insurance Building Nudes
Standard Insurance Plaza Nudes

The art deco nude statues will get your attention. The buildings outer skin makes it architecturally interesting, and there is a food court inside.

“Standard Plaza is a 16-story office building in downtown Portland in the U.S. state of Oregon. At 222 feet (68 m) in height, it was the largest office building in Oregon when it was completed in 1963. The 217,000-square-foot (20,200 m2) structure, occupying a city block on SW 6th Avenue between Main Street and Madison Street, is owned by Standard Insurance Company, which also owns the neighboring Standard Insurance Center. It was designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in the international style.” – Source: Wikipedia

The Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal building

The Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building in the heart of Portland, Oregon, is an 18-story, 525,000 square foot facility that is home to more than 16 federal agencies and 1,200 federal employees.

The building was originally constructed in 1974 and underwent a major renovation between 2009 and 2013. Today the building is a cornerstone of GSA’s green building portfolio with all new mechanical, electrical, plumbing and data systems designed to make it one of the most energy-efficient office buildings in the country.

US Bancorp / “Big Pink”

U.S. Bancorp, AKA "Big Pink"
U.S. Bancorp, AKA “Big Pink”

Nicknamed, Big Pink, from an album from a group called The Band, the name also no doubt comes from the building’s pink hue at sunset. The building skin is from pink granite quarried in Spain.

According to The Oregonian from September 7, 1913, “Hundreds of visitors flocked to the building, filling the halls, and went to and fro in the great rooms with a hint of the elated swagger that is a symptom of the ‘joy of possession.'”