8 Portland Municipal Services Building

Portland, Oregon
Michael Graves, 1982

Michael Graves’s Portland Building. Photo Credit: Michael Graves & Associates

As he planned the Portland Building, architect Michael Graves played with many ideas for incorporating classical references that could take this civic building beyond the modernist box. Photo Credit: Michael Graves & Associates

The influence of classical forms became a strong theme in Graves’s work in the 1970s and 1980s, as he adapted this iconography into a new visual language of postmodernism. Photo Credit: Michael Graves & Associates

Portland Municipal Services Building

For more than 100 years, American civic buildings embraced the form of neoclassical temples. Then the modernists pushed back with sleek, stark boxes. But in 1982, the formerly modernist architect Michael Graves fired a resounding shot in the postmodernist revolution with his Portland Building.

Graves lived and studied in Rome in the early 1960s, and the influence of the classical architecture he encountered there – especially the heroic, ornamented facades of civic buildings – can be seen in his postmodern work.

With the Portland Building, by embracing color, classical iconography, and even a sense of playfulness, he didn’t just break the rules of modernism. He gave major momentum to a building style that became widely known thereafter as postmodernism.

Like his fellow modernist Robert Venturi, Michael Graves wasn’t necessarily trying to coin a style. But his work for many years thereafter became synonymous with the postmodernist movement. The Portland Building was so influential to postmodernism that it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2011.