Pietro Belluschi: Portland Architect
“The city is primarily a community of individuals, and each individual has a soul, so the city–and its architecture — must have a soul.”
– Pietro Belluschi
Pietro Belluschi was born August 18th 1899 in Ancona, Italy, and grew up and went to school in Rome. He graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Rome in 1922. He was accepted to Cornell University through a fellowship grant, which is what brought him to the United States. Belluschi graduated from Cornell in 1924, after which he made his way to the west coast, finally settling in Portland Oregon. He started his career in architecture at A.E. Doyle and Associates where he worked as a draftsman for the firm for a few years. His first major architectural commission was the Portland Art Museum, which was first completed in 1932 with the Ayer wing at the height of the Great Depression, and finally fully realized with the completion of the Hirsch wing in 1939. His subsequent works in Portland include the Commonwealth Building (formally the Equitable Building) in 1948, and the Oregonian Building in the same year. His career also included the design of many houses and places of worship in Oregon and across the United States, as well as public arts buildings and educational facilities such as many buildings at Reed College throughout the mid-twentieth century. In the early 1980’s Belluschi also became head consultant for Portland’s gleaming beauty the U.S. Bancorp Tower (also known as ‘Big Pink’).
Belluschi’s commission for the Portland Art Museum was a revolutionary endeavor because not only was he making a facility to house great works of art from masters throughout time, but was also creating a fully functional multipurpose facility, which was to serve the community of Portland as a whole. This design made Belluschi nationally recognized as a architectural force. The architectural style of Portland at the time largely remained in the 19th century mode of the Beaux-Arts/Renaissance Revival. His design for the Commonwealth Building was the first major high-rise to be built in Portland since the 1920s and the first major corporate tower to be built in the United States after World War II. Its distinctive sea-green tinted glass, aluminum cladding, and completely smooth exterior was unlike any other building in Portland at the time. It was the first building in the United States to be completely sealed and climate controlled due to its innovative (at the time) heating and cooling system. Belluschi also remarked on his design as a modernist expression of the future saying:
“The design of this new office building for Portland is fundamentally an expression of faith in a great future for our civilization–a faith born out of a conviction that form our modern techniques, materials, and understanding of present-day architectural problems, we are able to create not only more useful buildings, but also a new kind of beauty–a beauty which is not borrowed from the past but is our own–clean, strong, and straightforward.”
Pietro Belluschi designed buildings that, because of his modernist architectural ideals, were built to be functional and lasting. The testament to this being that many, if not all of the buildings he designed in Portland survive today, albeit under different ownership. This aspect of functionality allows his designs to survive because no matter what era they have existed in, Belluschi’s designs look clean and modern, and hardly outdated.
Pietro Belluschi died on Valentines Day 1994 in Portland, Oregon a few months shy of his 95th birthday.
Gideon Bosker, and Lena Lencek, Frozen Music: A History of Portland Architecture, (Portland: Western Imprints, 1985) x.
Meredith L. Clausen, Pietro Belluschi: Modern American Architect, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1994).
Pietro Belluschi, The Northwest Architecture, ed. Jo Stubblebine (New York: F.W. Dodge Corporation, 1953).