Whidden & Lewis

Pietro Belluschi

Zimmer, Gunsul Frasca (ZGF)


A. E. Doyle

Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM) - Portland

Portland Architectural Heritage

Although Portland began as a tiny pioneer town dwarfed even by neighbors like Oregon City and Vancouver, the city has amassed a collection of great buildings representing each era from the late 19th century going forward. What’s more, Portland can boast a continuous line of architectural talent that has influenced a succession of generations. Memorial Coliseum is an indelible part of that tradition.


The city’s first great firm was probably Whidden and Lewis, which designed a host of buildings still standing today and, like the Coliseum, listed on the National Register: the Romanesque style Gilbert Building (1893), the Renaissance Revival-style City Hall (1895), and the Georgian Revival-style Arlington Club (1910).


In the early 20th century, architect A.E. Doyle and his firm became Portland’s designer of choice. Doyle, who got his start working for Whidden and Lewis, designed beloved landmarks like Central Library (1913), the Benson Hotel (1912), and the Meier & Frank building (1909) that offered streamlined evocations of historic styles.


Beginning in the 1930s, Pietro Belluschi, who first worked for Doyle, brought Portland into the modern era (alongside greats like John Yeon) with beloved buildings like the Portland Art Museum (1932) and the Equitable building (1947 - called the world’s first modern office building for premiering the glass curtain wall after World War II), and many churches.


When Belluschi left Portland to become dean of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s architecture school in 1950, he sold his firm to the acclaimed international partnership Skidmore, Owings and Merrill while working as a consultant. Through its Portland office, which for its first six years was Belluschi/SOM (then renamed simply SOM), the firm would take Belluschi’s passed torch and create some of the city and state’s enduring and most acclaimed modern architectural works, including Memorial Coliseum (1960), the Standard Plaza (1963) and the US Bancorp Tower (1983) in Portland, as well as Autzen Stadium (1967) in Eugene.


One of Belluschi’s disciples, Robert Frasca, went on to become a partner at what is currently one of the city’s leading firms, ZGF Architects, with whom Belluschi also consulted. In the 1980s, ZGF established itself with neo-historic landmarks like the KOIN Center (1984), and later in the 1990s and 2000s became acclaimed for bringing engineering prowess and extensive use of glass to large-scale architecture like the Portland International Airport canopy (2000), the Oregon Convention Center (1990), and the Doernbecher Children’s Hospital (1998).


The world’s greatest and most beautiful cities are collections of great architecture from each generation. Memorial Coliseum stands along with Belluschi’s Equitable Building as the foremost example of mid-20th century modern architecture in our city.