Artists in Residence
Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works designs a permanent home for the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art.
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 4/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
SINCE ITS INCEPTION in 1995, the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA) has fulfilled its mission—bringing experimental works directly to the community—by mounting temporary installations and performances in vacant warehouses throughout the city. Although this nomadic existence bestowed a certain renegade aura befitting a cutting-edge cultural institution, the lack of a permanent exhibition facility began inhibiting PICA's development, particularly its visual arts programming. Luckily, a generous offer came from the advertising firm Wieden & Kennedy, a PICA supporter who saw the potential for creative synergy between the two organizations. Wieden & Kennedy offered the fledgling institution 8,500 sq. ft. in a reclaimed icehouse it had recently acquired for the agency's new headquarters and, in a stroke of largesse, waived the rent for the first three years.
Architect Brad Cloepfil, principal of Allied Works, was enlisted to conceptualize PICA's new home. "We wanted to give PICA an identity as a place, but to do so with a very light hand," he explains. "It was important to create an intention that would allow for an open reading as the organization grew." The design is a deliberate departure from the raw, industrial spaces where PICA had previously staged exhibitions. "Throughout the 20th century, contemporary art defined itself and its politics via found space," explains Cloepfil, who instead desired "to transcend the obvious."
The site's existing post-and-beam structure is downplayed throughout the series of rooms, which includes a 3,500-sq.-ft. gallery, ticket office, and workshop on the lower level, and administrative and resource areas above. In the double-height gallery, Cloepfil obscured the original timbered ceiling and columns with clean Sheetrock planes to create "a large shuttered box" within the warehouse core. "We had to address how to renew the single, primary exhibition space for every installation," says Cloepfil. They also had to accommodate a range of media—from video art to large-scale sculpture—and somehow work in additional display surfaces, since the corner space had wide expanses of 12-ft. windows. Cloepfil's solution was to design two-part sliding walls along the east and west, with finely tapered edges that appear paper-thin. The moveable partitions allow artists and curators to reconfigure the space as desired by altering points of entry, annexing adjacent rooms and corridors, and modifying the flow of daylight from behind. The ceiling gently slopes upwards toward the southeast corner, creating a triangular aperture that filters an additional sliver of brightness. Dramatic and subtly shifting light effects "become the life of the space," says Cloepfil.
A flexible plan was also required for the resource room, a 700-title multi-media library that doubles as a community salon for events and lectures. As an alternative to bookshelves, the architect devised "a hovering plane of information" for displaying publications and periodicals: a U-shaped neoprene countertop that seems to levitate off angled steel rods (a playful homage to the timbered columns). Like the gallery, the resource room's user-friendly design encourages intellectual exploration and creative dialogue.
Cloepfil concludes that the facility "is a first, modest architectural step in defining what PICA is about"—an ever-evolving forum for new ideas and inspirations. Credit is extended to project architect Lorraine Guthrie and to design team member Jeff Lee.