Neverbuilt Portland State | Imagining the past futures of Oregon’s largest university

By Madelyn Miller ::


Neverbuilt Portland State currently on exhibit in Millar Library. Source: Madelyn Miller

The “neverbuilt” is a term describing building and design projects that were never realized, or were realized but in a compromised state. My first exposure to the study of the unrealized came when I started working at the Portland State Architecture, Engineering, and Construction Archive (AECA) in June 2016, while developing an exhibit that told the stories of PSU’s more ambitious (and ultimately failed) projects.

If you’ve ever set foot on the Portland State campus, you know it has a less than consistent aesthetic. The original academic buildings loom over Broadway like mid-century prisons, the historic housing buildings bordering the park blocks crumble and sag under a century of use, and the newer buildings to the east promise that Portland State really is as modern and sustainable as the brochures and tour guides claim. For each of these buildings we see every day, there is an unrealized design sitting in a box in the basement of the University Services Building, waiting to be rediscovered—which is exactly what the Neverbuilt project hopes to do.

Some of the school’s neverbuilt spaces includes a domed telescope on the roof of the Ondine Residence Hall, a student housing and elementary school complex on 11th and Market, about a half dozen additional parking structures, a television studio, and, inexplicably, an academic building that stretched over I-405 (we haven’t been able to find the structural calculations for that one). These projects track the ambitions and evolving identity of Portland State as it grew from a two year college to the largest university in Oregon, telling the story of a school that never quite knew what it was, but was determined to find out. These projects and more are currently on display in Millar library, in the display cases by the elevators.

The idea of a neverbuilt exhibit came out of a twitter discussion between AECA archivist Bryce Henry and archivists from Portland City Archives, the OHSU Historical Collection and Archives and the Multnomah County Records Center, each archive being home to countless projects that never came to be. This summer, “neverbuilt” narratives from each archive will be travelling around the city in one mobile exhibit, telling the story of a Portland never built but not forgotten.

Neverbuilt Portland State will be on display in Millar library until the end of March. The dates and locations of Neverbuilt Portland are to be determined.