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Why It’s Called Art?


The canvas is real estate, the brush is material. Engineers and builders turn a big mess into something beautiful.

But the mess has a beauty of it’s own.

The image above shows electrical conduit headed from the floor level box up four stories. Is has the look of the movie Brazil.

Art in Portland means an image sculpted into the foam floating on a coffee cup, a homemade bike ten feet tall, or knitted scarves wrapped on bronze statues.

It’s all good, but no one should turn their nose up at the construction arts.

Taken as a whole, one building looks similar to the next. But in it’s parts, each is a new vision.

You can’t leave a building powerless, but who knew it had this look in the beginning?


Once a building is finished you never see this stuff.

Water, power, and drain pipes never looked better.

In an apartment building, electricity gets routed to the right places.

The artists pick the right colors for the right power.


For review, there’s always a reminder.

The codes, numbers, and boxes all relate to other lists, notebooks, and plans.

Nothing overlooked, nothing left undone.


Every question has an answer, every detail a reason.

It takes an accomplished artist, a regular choreographer, to schedule materials, equipment, and labor to show up on time and stay out of each others way.

Anything less is too interpretive for this representational work.

In the drawing, one hallway separates the apartments on each side.

One side has patios.

This shows the patios framed and covered so weather won’t stop progress.

When it’s done, the framing wood and cover ends up in a recycle pile.


The scope of the building lies somewhere between not so big and huge. Only an artist takes control of the space, light, and material.

The hallway evolves from see-through framing, to skinned with oriented strand board, to something we all recognize.

At first it looks like something from a bad dream.


It’s easy to feel claustrophobic in such a hallway.

Until it nears a finished state, a sense of ruin prevails.

Will it ever be finished? Portland has a few unfinished projects, like the weird freeway ramps to nowhere on the eastside Marquam Bridge. Credit the canceled Mt. Hood freeway.

Once all the dust settles it feels like it’s been here all along.


Keeping Portland Weird might be the rage, the draw bringing in new people, but housing is key.

At one point in construction, building up looks the same as tearing down with so much gear scattered all around.

The Portland aesthetic informs a style that fits the surroundings instead of standing out like low-bid projects with shapes and color schemes pulled from a hat.

Take away the initial outrage neighbors have at feeling invaded by high density housing and you end up with the sort of building you can point to and say, “I remember when this was a bare lot.”

The arrival of well considered architecture adds to the city; a deserted mud slick in winter and weed patch in summer not so much.

How have new buildings been received in your neighborhood?

About David Gillaspie
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