Lincoln Barbour

AIA Components across the country are engaging their communities through Centers for Architecture. Tim DuRoche—writer, musician, nonprofit leader—talks about his experience at the Portland Center for Architecture.

I’m the director of programs for the World Affairs Council of Oregon. I’m also a writer and a cultural advocate. Because I work in the nonprofit sector, I’m focused on the intersection between culture and education, and am very interested in the public realm and how we cultivate and nurture our civic ecology. “Rethinking the practices of urbanism is involved in creating a place in which people can talk to each other,” Richard Sennett once noted. If we forget how to talk, it’s difficult for us to embody the public realm.

I’m also a jazz musician, and I think these seemingly disparate arenas have a lot to do with each other. Jazz is a highly democratic art form, deeply concerned with participation and community, where risk and collaboration and individual voice are highly valued.

My experience at the Center for Architecture is multitiered. I performed with a trio there for the opening of last year’s Portland Architecture + Design Festival. I went to a panel discussion there as part of TBA [Time-Based Art Festival]. I’ve gone to AIA Committee on the Environment presentations and First Thursday art openings. I remember an Oregon Humanities talk with Jim Leach, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Alison Carey, of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It was a really wonderful use of the space because it was more of a community event. They were talking about “public-ness” and the role of the humanities in a democracy. It was a fantastic way to address some of the broader values the AIA hopes to embody.

What is so exceptional about the Center for Architecture is that it is on the street level and open to the public. It’s a more democratic bridge for people to understand the work of the AIA. That it’s the oldest building in the Pearl District—and was renovated as a LEED Platinum project—says something. I think its scale is wonderful. It’s not overly “architectury.” It’s a humble space. It represents the human scale that Portland traffics in so well.

By holding regular programs—everything from meetings about potential urban design projects to artist-driven conversations about place, and films about design—the center has amplified the awareness of how/where design intersects with our lives. When communities have an engaged citizenry that understands the benefits of good design and its importance to the public interest—and sees a stake in its process and outcome—we all win. As told to Brian Libby.

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