all photos © Josh Oakhurst & Owen Carey




Co-consultant with Peter Maradudin of First Circle Design to design the lobby spaces in the Gerding Theater at the Armory, home of Portland Center Stage in Portland Oregon.

“The Gerding Theater at the Armory is located in the heart of Portland’s fashionable Pearl District. The recently renovated, 115-year-old building is the only building on he National Register of Historic Places and the first performing arts facility in the country to receive a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum rating for sustainable architecture. The building’s interior is a sophisticated combination of urban contemporary and classic industrial with exposed brick and basalt walls, polished concrete floors, skylights and a three-story vaulted ceiling exposing the historic, old growth Douglas fir bow trusses. A dramatic curved, open staircase leads to the Mezzanine level, underneath a contemporary chandelier of 184 tiny 15-watt light bulbs that create the effect of stars of fireflies suspended in mid-air. A 22-foot “fire wall” of flickering lights placed behind 70 individual panes of amber glass cascades down the back wall of the main lobby, giving the illusion of candlelight in a grand cathedral.”
(from PCS brochure)



from: Voices of the Armory: A Chronicle of the Transformation of a 19th Century Icon Into a 21st Century Theater, 2006, p. 154, 160
The wonderful thing about the Armory and our assignment “to create a theatrical space” is that the building is already brilliantly theatrical and innately compelling. It’s the kind of space we are both naturally drawn to, that gets our juices flowing — the raw materials, the scale, the shapes and how they reveal themselves, the textures, patinas, and grit, marked by many different human uses over time.  It’s a thrilling building, and a thrilling prospect to participate in creating a new space in which people will gather in the 21st century.  

The building was stunning to begin with. In its pre-renovation form it was: dirt floor, cavernous, sweeping overhead trusses, old brick, stone and mortar, outside turrets and towers, arched entrances, mysterious apertures — gun ports, windows, and who knows what — a combination of solid mass and air. We wanted to maintain the connection to and augment these very theatrical and sensuous elements for the new incarnation of the building. Essentially, we didn’t want to ruin a great thing.
In looking at other buildings that inspire us, we found that a large percentage of them were sacred spaces — the Hagia Sophia, Matisse’s Vence Chapel — or former industrial spaces that had been transformed for new uses in art or culture. There is a sense of holiness and meditation about these spaces, and a rough and elemental quality to the materials and geometries.  We were drawn to the ways light functions — glowing votives and pendant fixtures.  We felt that the Armory, though it had never been used in this way, had some of the qualities of these sacred spaces, and we wanted to emphasize these features.
We aimed to create a space that acts as a transition from the everyday world to the world of art. Everything in the lobby spaces should help support people’s active engagement in the imminent theatrical event — to shift the focus, the brain waves, even the breath and heartbeat, in preparation for being part of the audience for a live performance.  
By the time we were brought into the project, the building — including most of what’s in the lobby spaces — was already designed. We concentrated on adding specific features and offered a variety of layouts for the different levels. We advocated for exposing more of the original Armory walls, more raw concrete, and mechanical elements (duct work, electrical hardware, etc.) in as many places as possible. Drawing on the way light played on the elemental materials in the building, we devised a large-scale “chandelier” using all raw materials — bare light bulbs, sockets, electrical cord—which hang on an elliptical metal structure from the ceiling.

We wanted to help facilitate the needs of Portland Center Stage, and to implement ways in which the different community “stories” could be told in unique and interactive ways. We hoped to introduce features that would engage people in a dialogue with the building, with the theater, with the community and most important, with each other.
All loftiness aside, we want the space to be fun and alive and beautiful and thrilling; we hope that people will be excited about the building and want to spend time there.