Portland Finally Has Architecture Worth Arguing About

Portland will finally have a street of public architecture worth talking about, caring about and looking at.

A rendering of the Fair-Haired Dumbbell building.

Every year, architect and developer Kevin Cavenaugh gets a little postcard. And every year, the postcard comes with a little medal on it.

"Congratulations!" it says. "You win ugliest building of the year…again!"

The guy behind Beaumont's Ode to Rose's building, East Burnside's garishly red Rocket building, and Kerns' Bauhaus-style food mall the Zipper is used to this sort of attention. But he expects it's going to get a lot worse this year, when his Fair-Haired Dumbbell buildings are completed on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Burnside Street—one of the most visible street corners in Portland.

For five months after construction is finished, a team of artists on scaffolding will paint them according to a design by renowned Los Angeles artist James Jean.

The roofs and all eight walls will be covered in a rainbow of blooming abstractions that look for all the world like the Day-Glo cell organelles of a junior-high biology book—mitochondria and ribosome and endoplasmic reticulum, an explosion of obscure and colorful biology.

"It'll be hated as a building, I promise," Cavenaugh says. "There will be people who write me letters every year. I'm OK with that. I'm tired of mocha-colored, vinyl-windowed boring. I can't change the fact that the streets are gray and the sky is gray. But the buildings? That I can change."

The Fair-Haired Dumbbell—yes, it's named after a person—will join two other new landmarks along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. One is the many-angled, knife-edged Yard skyscraper at the east end of the Burnside Bridge, colloquially known as the Death Star. The other is the twinned and steel-backboned Inversion +/- sculpture at the edge of the Morrison Bridge, standing as a ghost of buildings that were there before.

All three are hated and loved in equal measure. Together, they begin to create something Portland has pretty much never had: a street of public architecture worth talking about, caring about and looking at.

When the Dumbbell's colorful design was first unveiled at a City Council meeting, Commissioner Nick Fish asked Cavenaugh a question he has heard many times since then: "Is that what it's really going to look like?"

"I said, 'Yeah, my goal is to make small fender benders in front of buildings,'" says Cavenaugh, laughing. "After that, one of my partners pulled me aside. They said, "Maybe we shouldn't let you talk at meetings anymore."

Welcome to Reasons to Love Portland 2017

1. Portland Is Telling Donald Trump That He Won't Get Away With This
2. We're Rich! Portland Has The Nation's Fastest Growing GDP
3. Here's How Far Portlanders Have Ridden in the First Six Months of BikeTown
4. We're Very Happy That Portland Bartenders Can Finally Drink on The Job.
5. When the Snow Hit, Portlanders Saved Lives By Volunteering at Homeless Shelters
6. At Long Last, Portland Has The Kinky Coffee Shop It's Needed
7. A Selected List of All Portland's Recent Number 1 Rankings
8. Move Over PCT: You'll Soon Be Able to Mountain Bike From Washington to California
9. Oregon Has The Nation's Cheapest Weed. Thank God.
10. This is the Best Ski Season Mount Hood Has Had Since Obama Was a Senator
11. Nobody Snowdays Harder Than Portland
12. Portland Finally Has Architecture Worth Arguing About
13. Check Out This Crazy New Recording Studio in a Former Library in Deep Southeast
14. Weed Delivery Will Begin in Portland Any Day Now
15. In Portland, You Never, Ever Need To Call Domino's
16. Portland Is Home to the Most Liberal College in America. No, Not That One.
17. There's A Forgotten Wonder In Oregon City. It'll Soon Be Revealed
18. Portland's Blazers Bootleg T-Shirts Are Lit
19. Portland is Metal AF
20. ILOVEMAKONNEN Moved To Portland. No, For Real
21. Sorry, Donald, We Won't Help You Deport Our Neighbors.
22. Portland Now Has a Patriarchy-Free Social Club and Workspace
23. Oregon is the New Truffle King of the World
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25. In Portland, You Can See Every Movie Nominated For an Oscar in the Theater
26. Portland Art Museum is Tapping into the Legacy of Arguably Oregon's Greatest Artist
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