Famed Norwegian Architecture Firm Snøhetta Signs on to Design the James Beard Public Market

The Oslo-based architecture firm will bring a global portfolio of complex urban projects to the long-delayed public market at the west end of the Morrison Bridge.

By Randy Gragg November 10, 2014


Snøhetta's design for Norway's national opera house turned a once-elite institution into a beloved public space.

The National September 11 Memorial Museum at the World Trade Center. The Bibliotheque Alexandria in Egypt. The redesign of public spaces in the chaos of New York’s Times Square. Snøhetta, the Oslo, Norway-based design firm, is renowned for its prowess in transforming challenging problems such as these into elegant, dynamic spaces embraced by the public. And now, the firm will take a shot at one of the highest-profile ideas for Portland’s future—the James Beard Public Market—on one of its most nettlesome locations: between the coursing lanes of the Morrison Bridge’s western ramps. 

Led by cofounder Craig Dykers, Snøhetta will lead a three-day design forum for the Beard market December 10–13, including a series of invited meetings with market stakeholders and the public. In March, Dykers will present Snøhetta’s ideas to the broader public.

“Craig and his team think the site is great,” says Ron Paul, long-time leader of the Beard market initiative, of Dykers’ visit to the site while in Portland for a lecture. “It was amazing to watch them interact with the space. They were all over it taking photographs and asking great questions.”

The James Beard Public Market, as a concept, has aspired to a half-dozen city sites since Paul began the effort over a decade ago. Backed by civic patrons and real estate magnates Pete Mark and Dan Petrusich of Melvin Mark and Associates—and seeded with funds from the Portland Development Commission and the Oregon Legislature, among others—the market became the lynchpin of a 2012 purchase deal with Multnomah County, which currently owns the three-acre bridgehead site and leases it as a surface parking lot. Mark’s winning proposal featured a 17-story high-rise office tower between two public market wings. The $10.5-million purchase agreement expires next July.

Across the street from Waterfront Park, but surrounded by circling on- and off-ramps, the complicated, two-wing market proposal has little in the way of the direct, walk-by access prized by retailers. But Snøhetta has proven culturally and physically tangled sites can yield highly transformative results. The firm received international attention for its design for a new opera house in Oslo, where it reconceived a building normally known for pomp into a tiered architectural landscape that has become one of the Norwegian capital’s most popular public spaces. Snøhetta’s newly christened interpretive center for the events of September 11 garnered critical reviews for being a gesture of quiet intimacy and highly crafted beauty among the supersized surroundings of the 9/11 Memorial, the new World Trade Center, and the PATH transit center. The firm’s redesign of public spaces in Times Square promises to tame that space’s tangle of one-way streets, traffic islands, and bike lanes.

Snøhetta is a multi-disciplinary collective that includes architects, traffic engineers, landscape architects, and other disciplines. The firm is known for its unusually extensive public outreach—particularly among the elite ranks of globe-hopping architectural firms.

“Our strength,” reads a statement by the firm, “is our inclusive working methodology and values of human interaction and social sustainability.”

“We are excited to partner with the local team for the James Beard Public Market, supporting the revitalization of Portland’s rich history of public markets,” said Nicolas Rader, project director and director of San Francisco operations at Snøhetta. “Given the world-class quality of the city’s food and agriculture, this new market serves the local community while also expanding its reach to a regional, national, and international audience. Snøhetta hopes to draw from the cultural and environmental knowledge of our partners in Portland and offer our international experience designing public space and fostering human interaction to make the James Beard Public Market a truly unique community space for the city of Portland.”

A July economic feasibility study on the market by EcoNorthwest pegs the market's price tag at $30 million. But Ron Paul, who has almost single-handedly kept the market idea alive for a decade, says that number is merely a placeholder until Snøhetta's work is complete.  The current concept, as designed by local architect Paul Jeffries and SERA Architects, features stalls and tables for 90 vendors, teaching kitchens, and event spaces. If Paul is successful in his ambition to open the market debt-free in 2018, the projected sales, according to EcoNorthwest, could reach $27.9 million, spinning off $4.6 million to support operations and educational programs.

Portland’s first public market in the 1940s rose on the banks of the Willamette River mere blocks away, but quickly failed due to high rents and inaccessibility (the onetime waterfront highway, Harbor Drive, ran like a moat between the market and the city). The patchwork of parking lots along present-day SW Naito Pkwy attest to the waterfront’s continued challenges as a retail environment. “As a catalyst for redevelopment of the waterfront,” Paul says, “what is better than a public market?”

Snøhetta's work joins two other recent Portland commissions of noted international architects, breaking the city's decades-long, near-singleminded reliance on local firms. The Portland Japanese Garden is completing a design for a major expansion by renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. Portland State University is at work on a new business school by German- and Boston-based Behnisch Architekten.


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