oregon historical society
A new building proposed for the Oregon Historical Society on its current downtown Portland site, including a historical museum, library, film archive, education and administrative departments.
The impulse for the design was to make the dry historical museum experience more meaningful to contemporary Oregonians. Towards that end this proposal abandons curated exhibit space. Instead, the full museum component is transformed into an “open storage” archive of the permanent collection. This archive is organized by location - all the parts of the collection which pertain to a particular place are grouped together. A visitor may browse across locations or find their own home, utilizing their familiarity and interest in their own home to engage with other cultures and historical times.
The architecture of the building is intended to reinforce the experience of separation-then-reconnection. Entry is via an internal street-level courtyard buffered from the surrounding city. Using street-level grade as a metaphor for the here-and-now, visitors depart their contemporary lives, either ascending to the museum or descending to the library. Extending the experience of separation, the museum is housed within twelve abstract metallic cubes, screened from direct exterior views. Within these rooms passes the continuous archive structure, offering an approachable construction of tactile rammed earth, made of the soil of the Oregon’s various regions. Separated from the here-and-now by the abstract architecture of the cubes, the visitor circulates up into and through the archive structure to find locations that are of interest. The last room is empty, and serves to collect visitors back to the museum floor prior to exit. This room offers the only direct exterior view, down busy Broadway St, serving as a reminder of the here-and-now at the end of the museum-going experience.