Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 9.13.07

Design Interplay
Historical buildings can be worked into redevelopment

Castelvecchio, Verona
Venice University

Within a commonly accepted framework — one that produces lucidity and not anarchy — we can manipulate the nuances of scale and style, of texture and color and of character and individuality, juxtaposing them in order to create collective benefits. In fact the environment thus resolves itself into not conformity but the interplay of This and That.

— Gordon Cullen, The Concise Townscape, 1959, p. 12.

Far too much, the West Broadway historic preservation discussion is shaping up to be an either/or tug of war. Too black and white, either restore/reconstruct entirely or completely wipe it away. In talking about the ShawMed and Taco Time buildings — amongst many other buildings, perhaps — neither alternative does responsible justice to our community.

To me, when it comes to built environments, the fragment, the segment, the trace is often much more fascinating than is the whole. In the incomplete palpable there is mystery and something is left to the imagination.

Maybe the Taco Time building was the first brick commercial building in Eugene. Wouldn’t keeping and incorporating some of the brick walls be a natural thing to do? Wouldn’t incorporating some of the rusticated stone facade, hammered stone lintels over doors and windows, or some of the stone belt courses give us everyday and vivid insights into building patterns of 1898? I find it interesting that this building is an exact contemporary of the vanished old Lane County Courthouse and is in the era of old City Hall — and that pyramidal tower-topping roofs culminated all three buildings. Not in the category of preserving, but perhaps a contemporary interpretation of the pyramidal roof could appear, once more, on the street corner, enlivening the architecture with a hint of a Eugene building design pattern. Indeed, inclusion of any one, two or more of the original building elements could greatly animate any new matrix.

The ShawMed building is potentially even more interesting to me because not only do we have fragments of Spanish Baroque/Moorish design, but we have an exceptionally well-executed and completely intact interior by Will Martin, Portland architect, when he designed the building remodel into the Norm Thompson store in the mid 1980s. The interior is an unusually complete and magnificent revisiting of Neo-Classical architecture of England of about 1800. Work based on deep design understanding and beyond creditable execution warrants preservation. And that this structure was the original Farmer’s Market carries enormous weight in community value. And, with its incredible intricacy, the exterior featuring of detail done in 1929 would be amazing architectural color brought to light, tantalizingly so in fragmentation.

Buildings are going to be restored because their state of bygone days is well-preserved. Others are going to be built from scratch. I think our community life downtown should also have the enrichment of buildings which are not either/or but are both/and. These are a vital part of the “collective benefit” of which Gordon Cullen speaks at the beginning of this piece. That benefit is townscape. That ought to be our townscape downtown, too!

The visuals I include here are good illustrations of fragmentary incorporation of old places into new, and vice versa. This is a hallmark of the architecture of Carlo Scarpa, whose work has enormously inspired me since I first visited Italy in 1970.

The picture showing the equestrian statue balanced on the concrete precipice is of Castelvecchio, Verona. This a Medieval castle left largely intact and married with new elements to create a Medieval art museum. This illustrates the compositional success of fragmentary preservation in concert with new architecture. This illustration may relate closely to the nature of architectural incorporation of portions of the 1898 brick Taco Time building (p .82, Carlo Scarpa, Taschen, 1993).

The prostrate doorway is at the entrance to the Architectural Faculty of Venice University. This displays unusual transformation/transposition of a Classical doorway into a planter and reflecting pool that is an optical illusion. It illustrates a strategy for transporting interesting architectural detail into new contexts. Extant fragments of the 1929 market (ShawMed) could be reinstituted as an interpretation of the original market exterior or used as architectural “anecdotes” used extensively in the new development. In addition, or alternately, castings could be made of details and their uses multiplied (p. 168, Carlo Scarpa, Taschen, 1993).

Scott Wylie, M.A., is a Springfield artist and designer. His website is