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May 09, 2014

Portland’s modern master: Pietro Belluschi.

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Burkes-Belluschi House (1948) by Pietro Belluschi. Photo by Sally Painter.

“I was born with a natural sense of proportions, of materials, and a sense of how to go about designing,” said architect Pietro Belluschi (1899–1994), whose work is being celebrated this weekend with a six-house tour hosted by Restore Oregon.

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Ressler House (1949) by Pietro Belluschi. Photo by Drew Nasto.

Born in Italy, Belluschi came to the U.S. to study at Cornell, earning a degree in civil engineering in 1924. He took only one design class in college, but that was enough to infuse him with a love of architecture. After graduation he worked at an Idaho mine for a year, before being hired by a Portland design firm. “They gave me a job even after I told them that I’d had no experience in architecture; I had only and interest in it,” said Belluschi in an interview for the Archives of American Art's Northwest Oral History Project.

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Sutor House (1938) by Pietro Belluschi. Photo by Jack Bookwalter.

Still new to the job, Belluschi had a lucky break when his boss was accused of hosting orgies (worth noting: this was in 1927) and driven out of town. “I was completely unprepared for it, but I took over the design department,” he said.

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Sutor House by Pietro Belluschi. Photo by Jack Bookwalter.

Belluschi’s first projects included the gothic-style library at Reed College and several multistory commercial buildings. In the late 1930s, he embraced modernism, a shift that he claimed was unintentional. “We weren’t thinking much about Architecture with a capital A,” he said. Rather, the architect explained the change as being the natural result of his search for the simplest solution to a problem.

“We were sensitive to the environment, to the trees, the configuration of the soil, the beautiful scenery, the wind and the sun,” he explained. By exploring these elements and being mindful of how a structure and its landscape merge, he made modern architecture.

The Sutor House (1938) in Portland, is considered by many to be Belluschi’s best work and an iconic example of Northwest regional modernism. Described by architectural historian Henry-Russell Hitchcock as "easily among the very finest in the country," this house showcases the architect's celebration of natural materials, including spruce, fir, cedar and slate.

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Burkes-Belluschi House by Pietro Belluschi. Photo by Sally Painter.

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Burkes-Belluschi House by Pietro Belluschi. Photo by Sally Painter.

Equally notable is the Burkes-Belluschi House designed in 1948. This home was where the architect lived and worked until his death in 1994. Today it is the home of his son Anthony - also an architect - and daughter-in-law Marti.

In the span of his career, Belluschi designed or contributed to more than 1,000 buildings, including the Portland Art Museum (1931); the Equitable Building (1948) in Portland; the Julliard Building (1969) at Lincoln Center in New York; and the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Assumption (1971) in San Francisco. In 1950 he became the Dean of the School of Architecture at MIT.

 

EVENTS
The house tour is sold out, but tickets are still available for:

Friday, May 9, 7PM
“Living in a Work of Art – the Architectue of Pietro Belluschi”
Presentation by Pietro Belluschi’s son Anthony
Location: Portland Art Museum
Tickets: $15  

Sunday, May 11, 2PM
“Radical Restoration: Saving the Houses of Pietro Belluschi and Frank Lloyd Wright.”
Hosted by DoCoMoMo Oregon
Location: Marylhurst University
Tickets: $10-$15

 

DWR is proud to be a member of Restore Oregon, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of Oregon’s historic buildings, bridges and neighborhoods. Restore Oregon is a statewide partner of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Belluschi quotes courtesy of Archives of American Art's Northwest Oral History Project.

Comments

What a wonderful tour. Sorry there wasn't enough time to see all the sites, but the ones we saw were incredible.
Thank you for limiting ticket sales. Homes were never crowded.
Doris Threloff

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