dissecting urban space, architecture, cultural meaning and myth through the act of walking (in used shoes) and narration in chinatown/oldtown - portland, oregon



Northwest corner of the building - intersection of SW Broadway and Madison
1. Entrance to the Narratorium. An opening at the end gives a glimpse at the Federal Building. As one rises up the stairs, the body eventually rises up enough to get a glimpse over the wall to the left to further orient one's self in the context of the city. To the right, a marble wall is introduced half way up nd begins to lean away from the hallway to give the sensation of an invitation.
2. After turning the first corner, the body has risen more and more of the context of the city is given. The opening in the wall also allows for sounds and smells from the city to permeate into the entrance sequence.
3. At the second landing, there is a large opening at a scale similar to the human body that allows one to immerse themself in the view towards the bell tower of the church in the Park Blocks.
4. After rounding the back of the back of the second set of stairs, another set of stairs becomes visible as does a glimpse into the buidling through a glazed preforation in the wall. This is the first major hint of the glass and steel light well that penetrates the center of the building. At the first landing above this view is a door that leads into the living area for the resident story tellers.
5. After cresting the final stair set, the rooftop becomes visible. An area for the public and the institution to program as needed. The light well becomes evident and omnipresent.
6. A staircase leads down into the building, alongside the light well.
7. Here, on the third floor, are the living quarters of the resident story tellers,a studio space for a resident artist and a private library for the residents.
8. This is another view of the third floor living quarters. The public has access to the circulation spaces for these areas so that there can be encounters between them that aren't prescribed.
9. After making one's way down to the second floor, there is another corridor that leads further into the building. This corridor as a marble wall, that begins to compress the circulation space giving the visitor a feeling of suspense - this wall is vertically connected to the canted wall in the first portion of the entrance sequence. Although this time, it is providing a different feeling.
10. After the final portion of the entrance sequence, the bottom of the light well is revealed. It illuminates a pit where the act of story telling commences. The light also provides warmth, while the pit provides a space where people sit around, facing each other, telling and listening to stories - like at a campfire.
Section cut through Northwest corner, looking Southeast.

Section cut West to East - left to right - looking North.

Section cut South to North - left to right - looking West.
The blue numbers on the plans correspond to the numbers next to the descriptions of the experiential drawings above.


The Pit

I presented by book/map to the Old Town Chinatown Neighborhood Association this afternoon. They were a really nice group of people. This particular gentleman thanked me for having my main character be a homeless person. He was really cool. He was wearing a beret with a peacock feather that was about 2 feet long and his beard was about the same length. That made me feel good because I already felt a little weird presenting a story about a homeless alcoholic to a group of people that take alot of pride in their neighborhood. I've come to believe that they truely embrace the diversity of their neighborhood. A couple of other people thanked me for gifting them a piece of art for and about Old Town. I had a planned speech written out but as usual with planned speeches (for me), as soon as I started talking, my brain becomes jello and I wing it. I think it went well though.

I worked on some threshold moments tonight. I need to flesh this building out in the next few days. We have 8 more days until finals. Ouch!

Here's a new perspective/collage of the auditorium area...

OK it's 4:23 am, I'm going to bed. It's been a long day.


entrance to the Narratorium

I'm thinking about this idea where a visitor to the Narratorium has to go through a significant series of thresholds to get to the auditorium - just as one would have to hike into the campsite to reach the campfire. As one walks through the forest, glimpses can be found through the trees to orient yourself to where the campfire is. This collage/perspective is at the entrance, starting up the stairs. The "campfire" is not yet visible.
After ascending the stairs, the "campfire" - or light well - is fully visible and a ramp spirals down the side of it. At the bottom is the seating, which is situated in a circular fashion.


sketchbook entries

new splint!

I think I am turning into Darth Vader. How awesome is that?


the campfire concept

the power of a campfire to engage a group of people around a myth is the concept for my narratorium. What is it about the campfire that lends it that quality? The light, warmth, dancing colors, the circular orientation of the participants, the way the background becomes a dark void? With this spatial study, I am begining to investigate these qualities in an architectural expression. Here, the background is framed by wooden slats, which reference the forest beyond the campfire circle and the ambiguous nature of the backdrop. A skylight would project a spot of light in the center of the floor.


Book Illustrations

The Book/Map

After exploring the neighborhood for awhile, walking up and down the streets, I came up with this vessel for a narrative that came out of the experiences and places that I encountered. My character, having little self control, is able to have control over the reader - in the way that the book is experienced/operated. The idea of the scroll came out of the historical context of Chinatown.
The path that takes place in the story is important to the protagonist - as he experiences these places daily. If the reader follows this path, they walk in the shoes of the character, thus becoming the protagonist. Then, the former protagonist becomes the antagonist in his own way.
The frame comes from reclaimed IPÊ (a Brazilian hardwood) tongue and groove flooring; the dowels are recycled from a previous studio project and the scroll is canvas.



Manifesto for a Narratorium

A Narratorium is a place to tell stories, myths and legends. Long lost is this art. The act of story telling exhibits a history that is unmentioned in history books. It is the personal note to the bigger picture; or even a personal note to a picture never taken. The contents of these stories are rich with context and fulfill an occasion for retelling of the events that occurred in the community and abroad; or the myths that surround the same.

People visit a narratorium because they are intrigued by the stories of others. The story tellers are people who have interesting and significant stories that add value to the community and history. At the narratorium, these people can come together and interact in a place that is deemed for this common purpose.

The stories can have a plethora of tones and topics. Story tellers can go off on tangents or stay focused. The freedom in narration is what makes story telling different than many of the arts. It can evolve or change due to the vibe of the conversation and content.

An indoor auditorium will be the main space and attractor for the Narratorium. This space will be appropriate in size to the act of storytelling, while also architecturally supporting this act. The auditorium could also act as a gallery space for supporting material.

The narrations may find support in the other arts: musical, sculptural, graphical or even multi-media in their retelling. The support could come in a reactionary articulation or even a parallel telling of the same or similar event – a theme if you will.

The accommodation of both indoor and outdoor spaces for interaction is very important. The power of the campfire to engage a group of people around a myth is legendary. (ha!). A fire pit in an outdoor space would be interesting to advocate this activity. As well, an area for an open-forum debate would greatly add to the vibrancy of the Narratorium. A garden space, for contemplation and meditation, would make a great compliment to the loud nature of an open debate.

I would like to incorporate an archival area to record, store and give access to a wide range of stories and myths. These stories could be told by people in communities from all over and video/audio taped. Visitors could have access to these stories within a viewing area where an archivist has amassed a collection and made it available for the public.

I would also like to have a component that reaches out to the community through the education of school children. Teaching children the value of the stories embedded in their cultures through their elders and the importance of learning and passing on those stories. This could be a position that the archivist could take on unless it was deemed to be a more important role that would require a full time position. Then a community outreach coordinator would be necessary.

The Narratorium could act as its own living, breathing entity with living space built in. The people involved would have the ability to live in a place that is vibrant and interesting while contributing to its own myth. Residents could be invited to come from all over to spend time here – telling their stories and handing down their folk tales. These people would need places to sleep, eat, as well as a place to think, write down thoughts, contemplate and possibly decompress from the daily activities associated with the responsibilities and complexities of the resident program. As well, other artists that are in support of the story telling could be invited to live on this community.

The director of the Narratorium will need a place to conduct business, as will their assistant, the archivist, the curator, the community outreach coordinator, and the resident storytellers. The A/V specialist will need a workspace and a storage space to keep various machines needed in the function of the Narratorium.

The Narratorium should be in contact with a community of narratoriums around the world and work with them on lecture tours and the constant evolution of the idea to what a narratorium should be and what its role is within the community.

This idea of a narratorium, as a civic device and institution, is a new idea that will evolve as this studio moves forward in discussions and debates. Hopefully we will be joined by people in the community in this confabulation about the space involved in telling as well as listening to interstitial journal entries and near mentioned apologues of war heroes and activists.


A Call to Arms

Like terracotta soldiers protecting their Emperor, they wait to be called into duty. They are hidden away in a secret place; find them and hear their stories. They talk of a town built on the stumps of history - there were trap doors and people's dreams were abducted.

myth or fact?

Portland's Old Town has the second largest collection of cast iron buildings in the country - number one being Manhattan.


the desolate path

The cold snap from the weekend turned into a cold karate chop to the throat this morning. I decided to take a stroll down the waterfront to get my mind tuned into the idea of working on or near the water. My wellies have become accustom to the legs and vice-versa.
I started along Tom McCall Park, where the sunshine could warm my back as I took long strides down the boardwalk - long strides not only because it was cold, but also to get to the docks while there was still work available. I formed a rhythm of 3 steps per second - I know this because one of the timed crosswalks at Naito Parkway showed me the tempo. The boardwalk was all but empty, only a few joggers, four skateboarders, and one lonely guy who was making friends with the sea gulls through bribery with a bag of stale bread. I passed the many monuments that are dedicated to the facets of war and subsequent friendship.
This could have been a peaceful walk if not for the cold. The waterfront is so much more inviting than the urban blocks just to the west. As I reached the Steel Bridge, I became aware that the boardwalk didn't connect past the bridge. It forces a long detour back towards Naito Parkway and then around the intertwining ramps that connect Old Town to the Central East Side. As I made my way around them and back on track, I saw Rusty.
He was looking rather haggard, but still managed a smile as big as Texas when he saw me. I threw my arms around him and asked him what he was up to. His reply informed me that he had a rough night under the bridge because he didn't make it inside the door of the Blanchet House in time.
He was just beginning to feel his feet again and he was in a lot of pain. He needed a drink... and come to think of it, so did I.
We wandered in the direction of the hills, over to the Dirty Duck and saw that Jan was working; and she was always good for a couple of free beers in exchange for sweeping and taking the trash out... I begin to tell Dusty how I’m prone to sea sickness.


a trip underground

Continuing to chase my shadow, through the snappy chill of the afternoon, I noticed a trap door in the sidewalk - the doors wide open, like the wings of a butterfly. I couldn't resist such a bold invitation. I peered down into a dark hole with a dim, red light way down in the mouth of the abyss.
I took a cautious first step and the old, wooden step creaked loudly as I slowly added all of my weight onto it and then again as I made my way down. At the bottom of the stairs, I could make out a long, dusty corridor with stone and brick walls. The red light was coming from a hanging light bulb about 30 feet away. There were many pipes and hoses hanging from the low ceiling that made a good target out of my head.
As I reached the end of the corridor, there was a stone wall surrounding a set of thinly spaced iron bars. I began to observe an opening in the wall to my right. It was crowned with a low arch and there was more light coming from inside it. Before I entered, I turned around to look back towards the entrance I originally came from - I had the creepy feeling that I was not alone - but no one was there. I knelt into the opening and noticed a that this was not a corridor, but a room - complete with furniture and a wood burning stove. I began to hear the faint cries of a woman.

in the room and recognizing that I was alone, I opened a door to what appeared to be a closet. There was a three-tiered bed in the corner of a surprisingly larger room than I thought. The bed was really old and decrepit and there was a ladder leading up in the other corner. I backed up and opened another door, this room actually was the size of a small closet, but it had only a chair and a lantern inside it. I backed up and explored the room more, I observed several corridors leading into other rooms and some leading to dead ends of stone walls. Some of the rooms had couches and some were full of smaller wooden rooms with bars on the back walls and rusty hinges on the doors. I looked into another room that had a solitary baby carriage in it.
At this point I turned around and headed back towards the entrance I originally came in at. As I weaved my way back towards the red light, it turned off. "Crap!" I began to move faster and then I heard the crackle of broken glass coming from behind me. I turned to look back and didn't see anyone and then moved on, but faster now. I could see the light from the entrance at the street at this point and I felt relieved but not relaxed.
I looked back as I began to go up the steps and saw a woman in a white dress that appeared to be from the late 1800s. She asked me if I had seen her baby. "Sorry," I said as I ran up the steps in exactly three strides.
Once out in the street, I noticed that the sun had gone down and I walked towards the familiar neon light of Old Town Pizza - it was time to wash the dusty taste out of my mouth with some cheap beer.