A History in Five Parts
An introduction to a history of PNCA's Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Center for Art and Design
UNTITLED presents the history of the 511 Building (now the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Center for Art and Design) in a five-part series exploring the characters, events, and architecture of this historic building. Enjoy. – The Editors
A History in Five Part: Part One
Persons, Places, Things
How does a building become more than a mere assemblage of steel and stone, metal and masonry? When materials interact with peoples, cultures, times, and environments, they become something greater than of the sum of their component parts. When this happens, they become a place. A pile of bricks is not a place, and a pile of bricks under a pile of metal under a pile of marble is no more a place than that first pile of bricks was on its own. Place is something intangible: a certain ambiance, a gravitas, a presence. The 511 Building has it. Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and the memorials and monuments of Washington, DC have it too. It’s defined by a combination of specific circumstances and most importantly, by people and by purposes. It’s a conversation with setting, an interaction with site.
“It has, most would agree, a presence, a stature, a significance that isn’t entirely explained by statistics of square footage or material.”
Walking down the marbled first-floor corridor of the historic Federal Building at 511 NW Broadway, you can sense the place-ness of the space. It has, most would agree, a presence, a stature, a significance that isn’t entirely explained by statistics of square footage or material. It’s a place, and it’s someplace special at that.
In just over a year, the 511 Building will be transformed into the Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Center for Art and Design, the new home of Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) and the cornerstone of an arts campus built along the North Park Blocks. It will be a new chapter for the 100+ year-old art school, and a new page for a neighborhood with a rich and varied history.
Through a series of articles over the next few weeks, we’ll consider the place-ness of the 511 Federal Building and track how this historic construction of stone and steel became more than sum of its parts. We’ll examine the 511 Building through the lens of an architect, a senator, and an engineer. We’ll see it as a stable, as a Post Office, and at the forefront of a progressive city on the furthest edge of a growing nation. We’ll peek into closets full of discarded government ephemera, and fill our eyes with corner-turning, Neo-Corinthian pilasters and drop-tile ceilings, crumbling like popcorn on an orange pile carpet. We’ll look at the 511 Building then and the 511 Building now; the 511 Building here and the 511 Building there; what the 511 Building is, and what the 511 Building has been.
We hope that you’ll look with us, because what we’re really doing is looking forward to the kind of places the 511 Building, PNCA, and Portland are going to be next.