Legacy Project

The Portland Building

Portland, Oregon

A Postmodern icon

The competition-winning Portland Building – controversial because of its bold forms, colors, and ornament – has been considered the first built building associated with Postmodernism and is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While Michael Graves himself did not use the term Postmodern, he placed great importance on the legibility of the building through its composition, exaggerated forms, and color. The classical organization of base, middle and top, as well as the large columns flanking the central entrance, create a grand sense of order for this municipal structure.

Civic identity: art in architecture

To reinforce the association with Portland’s history, Michael invented the mythical symbol of Portlandia. The idea originated with the city seal where a mythical “Lady Commerce” presided over local land and sea. Michael thought the name was “simply too dull,” and Portlandia was born! She was rendered as a large copper sculpture by the artist Ray Kaskey – the second largest copper sculpture in the world after the Statue of Liberty – shipped to Portland by barge along the Willamette River, and placed above the front door.

Project Lead

Michael Graves, FAIA. Also involved: Patrick Burke, AIA, Karen Nichols, FAIA

Professional Credits

Original Associate Architect: Emery Roth. Renovation Architect: DLR Group. Original Design-Build Contractor: Pavarini-Hoffman


Portland, Oregon (Americas)


365,000 SF

Completion Date

1982, renovation 2020


National AIA Honor Award, Henry Hering Memorial Medal (for Portlandia)

Revival as a modern workplace

The Portland Building, a design-build commission, was constructed on a shoestring budget and deteriorated over time, in terms of both its infrastructure and its use as an effective government workplace. The local office of DLR Group, assisted by the Graves firm, proposed a dramatic overhaul, which opened to acclaim in 2020. Presented at the AIA National Conference, the renovation sparked fruitful debate about historic preservation of structures of that period, many of which were built of less durable materials than their predecessors.

Competition Sketch
Portlandia Statue
Facade Detail

Legacy Projects

At Michael Graves we create design that clients dream of. We not only care about what we create we care about who we create it for.