November 10, 2023  •  Leave a Comment



This week, begging your indulgence, I'd like to present one old image that I rescued from the archives, accompanied by an extended rant about having to adapt to yet another new technological wonder I didn't really want. This photo was taken 13 years ago, when I went to take a look at a new park in Downtown Portland. Director Park is a beautiful example of many things, including design, philanthropy, one family's strong bonds, and a rare public triumph over corporate greed that used to characterize the small world of Portland's urban experiment.

This image is my first attempt to struggle with my new version of "Lightroom" that I finally purchased, much to my dismay, last week. I have been doing just fine with Lightroom 5, which is not even the newest version, Lightroom 6, that Adobe made before they decided to not sell it to anyone anymore. Like some other software companies, Adobe hit upon the idea that they wouldn't sell anything, only "rent" it. Old codgers like me naturally resisted the idea that I would now be forced to rent a new version of software when the older version still met all my needs. I succeeded in avoiding this new "tax" until I had to purchase a new laptop this year. Of course the new Apple miracle would not support the relic Lightroom software, except it did. Until it started to psychiz-out a few weeks ago, and even I had to admit that maybe this "professional" had better not wait until the whole thing came crashing down. The learning curve that I had avoided for nearly 15 years reared its ugly head, and now had to actually pay attention to all of those remarkable "improvements" that I had not seen any need for heretofore.

Of course I will get used to it, but let's just say that is hasn't been a picnic. As Fran always says, it's only "intuitive" to the idiot that designed it. Tools that I have used for a decade are now hidden four layers down, and I must say that this old dog is pretty frustrated. Not to mention that this "book learner" is now faced with the fact that books on software have gone the way of the dinosaur. God willing, if I live another ten years I will have to pay Adobe more than $1200.00 to not own their product, assuming that the price doesn't go up, which of course it will. I have had to violate the only correct economic advice I have ever taught Benjamin - to resist subscriptions or any other recurring payments at all costs! Of course the $10.00 a month  will not break me, and since it is a business expense, all of you are pitching in 3 bucks or so, but it's the principle of the thing! Why? Why? Why?

Director Park is yet another example of how well the urban design of Portland as a "miniature city", composed of a grid of very small 200' square blocks, can be adapted to create pocket parks that enliven the cityscape. Since our blocks are so small compared to most American grids, it is easier to 'leave one out" without destroying more economic growth than Portland can afford to lose. There are numerous examples of this strategy around Downtown, since it has been employed almost since the grid was first laid over a virgin Old Growth forest by the city's founders in 1850. This idea started with the original Park Blocks, was employed to set aside parks, one for men and one for women, at the center of municipal government, and then became the genesis of Portland's "Living Room," Pioneer Courthouse Square in the center of Downtown. It can even be a windfall for developers who are smart enough to listen to urban designers.The Pearl District's series of one block parks that skip along through the new district allowed eight blocks to drastically increase in value because they all now were adjacent to a new public park. Thus two dozen blocks of condo towers were now elevated in value by giving up three blocks to the neighborhood, and to the rest of the city.

Director Park exists in it's present form because of corporate greed, and the overwhelming desire to provide parking in the heart of Downtown despite Portland's efforts to sustain and expand mass transit. The "powers that be" decided that the best use of one block surface parking in the midst of some of the most valuable real estate in Portland was to erect an exceedingly ugly 10-story parking garage. No matter how the architects tried to dress up this pig, the problem of course was the appalling idea of a new parking garage in the first place. This block was adjacent to not one, but two existing 4-story underground parking structures underneath two of Portland's newest towers!

Thus began an almost typical Portland battle royale. I was one of almost 300 citizens who showed up for a public meeting with their pitchforks and testimony. I was one of the usual suspects, and one of the few architects who could engage in such a fight without threatening potential Downtown clients, since of course my outrage was only matched by my lack of business acumen. The only real contribution I made to the debate, based on my overwhelming architectural experience, was when I "innocently" pointed out that the slide of the beautiful professional rendering of the proposed building had somehow left out the title of the drawing - "Nordstrom's Parking Tower" - which let the cat out of the bag. We were giving up a block of Downtown to park cars for a department store whose front door already let in more people every day than anywhere else in town except perhaps the Central branch of the Library. The ultimate irony was that Nordstrom's downtown store, the most successful new free-standing department store in the nation, had been built adjacent to Pioneer Courthouse Square, which had replaced an ugly two-story parking garage in the center of Downtown!

Philanthropy then entered the fray when one of Portland's richest families, the Schnitzer's, engineered a deal to buy the block and donate it to the city for another one-block park, which coincidentally would stand on top of four stories of underground parking that would connect with the existing lots on the adjacent blocks. The park would be named for the other branch of the family, the Director's, complete with a fountain that honored schoolteachers like Mom.

This image and it's variants show the other main feature of the park, a four-story glass pergola that takes up half the block and supposedly answers the question of an identity for an urban hardscape of brick and stone and water, while providing some protection for visitors on most of those days when Portland "sunshine" - in other words, rain, is making an appearance. The pergola is certainly a grand architectural statement, a very well-detailed mass of overlapping glass shingles that covers nearly a half-acre without blocking the occasional sun. I don't really know how well it does block the rain, since it is four stories above the street and our rain is often accompanied by wind, but there you go. Parks throughout history have frequently contained "follies" and is this is ours, so be it. The park has always been well maintained, and "programmed" to make up for the fact that Americans have little piazza experience. It is even one of the few places in Portland where mere citizens can move the chairs around!

The photographic problems with pergola, at least for this photographer, relate to its size, its "hollowness", and its surroundings. The structure's size makes it hard to take in the whole thing without diminishing its actual stature - the usual "wide angle" problem. It is also very hard to photograph a "space" whose boundaries are so porous - open sides, and a glass roof, don't provide much spatial definition. Two dimensional images have a hard time defining three dimensional space. Photographers like myself often avoid this problem by concentrating on the details, since we know that you can only really experience the space by actually being there. But the pergola really suffers by the fact that Paris is not across the street, just some admittedly banal Portland towers and older storefronts. The surroundings of this urban space are just not that inspiring, so its openness seems to work against it, at least in photographs.


I tried to deal with this "problem" by concentrating on the glass roof itself. I took this image while walking down the stairs at the adjacent four-story above-ground parking garage(!) which provided this elevated view. I have already cropped out most of the edges of the pavement, but the surroundings are still too apparent for my taste. My solution was to mask out the surroundings and drastically reduce the exposure with brushes and gradient masks; increasing contrast and brightening up the pergola roof itself further highlighted the structure, my real subject. I also straightened the columns since I am an anal retired architect, but you will notice them too in the finished variant.


Much better, at least for me, but then my prejudice against "sickly" green struck again, so I reached for the magic of black and white. As it is, the image only contains one real color besides that green, the light wood Glulam beams, and I don't think I'll miss them too much either.


Now we have a picture! The lack of color highlights the details and the shadows on the beams. In my opinion, the dark black surroundings actually look more "realistic" in black and white than in color, since they are just another aspect of the abstraction inherent in a black and white image. Since I have removed so much of the context already, it was time to crop some more and get an even closer look at the roof.

                                      WILL GETTING EVEN CLOSER IMPROVE THE VIEW?

The square crop now makes this image all about the glass roof, with just a little touch of black space thrown in at the top for contrast and to ensure the viewer that this roof doesn't extend to infinity and beyond. What is funny is that the green tint doesn't bother me as much now that I'm closer, and the overlap of the shingles has become even more intriguing even though I still don't see they keep the water out.

                                       BLACK AND WHITE IS JUST FINE, THANK YOU.

But I still like the black and white version a little better, but maybe that's just me. It is my image, after all. Of course I now have to learn a number of "marvelous" new ways to convert my images to black and white. It is really weird to have to learn yet another version of 21st Century software in order to explore black and white imagery that dates to the 19th Century. Have a good week.