John Storrs' death last Sunday sum- moned memories of an era when the Northwest style of architecture was a living, breathing thing. During my architecture phase as a reporter, I had the good fortune to interview a number of exponents of the Northwest style. Of all those architects, Storrs was the most fascinating artist and man.
Pietro Belluschi, the icon of that era, nailed the contradiction within Storrs. "He's a strange individual, because he's so husky and somewhat bumbling; but it's the architecture of a very sensitive and talented person."
Two buildings - the Lodge at Salishan and the Portland Garden Club - are Storrs' ticket to immortality. I hear that Salishan's current owners have corrupted the fabric of that immortal building. I well remember the experience of entering the lodge for the first time. Like so many of Storr's buildings, the Lodge at Salishan was comfortable for the user and considerate of its surroundings. It was an unassuming presence in the coastal landscape.
Many architects try to create a supercharged atmosphere in their buildings - hence the building becomes an object, not a setting. Both Salishan and the Portland Garden Club reveal Storrs as a designer of settings for human activity. "I always hoped my buildings would have a quality of repose," Storrs told me in 1975.
Phil Thompson, who worked for Storrs before starting his own firm, put it another way. "John has enough of an ego that his buildings don't stand up and say, 'Here I am.'"
Storrs was a large presence. At about 6-foot-4, he expressed himself with an operatic bearing and a resonant baritone speaking voice. He could be utterly candid. We had barely gotten to know each other when he told me about the ending of his first marriage.
He was strong medicine, and not for the fainthearted. "He's very perceptive about people's character - tells them about themselves, not vindictively," said Chuck Scroggin, who worked for Storrs. "He has never liked phony people, and he ferrets them out and chops them down verbally. The enemies he's made are on that score."
The architect found the perfect collaborator in his second marriage, to Dr. Frances Storrs, an eminent dermatologist who has practiced and taught at Oregon Health Sciences University. Fran was John's match in stature and force of character and a focused complement to his romantic side.
The buildings we inhabit affect our mood. That is why architecture is more than an academic pursuit. We are affected by our built environment more than we realize. Like the insulting programming on television, we take bad buildings for granted, as though that is what we deserve.
For the casual visitor, the most striking and comfortable thing about John Storrs' buildings He was strong medicine and not for the faint-hearted. are their human scale and the placement of windows. Being inside them makes us feel good. The window placement in too many contemporary buildings fails to capture the environment outside. In some startling examples, buildings turn their backs on views beyond their walls.
Storrs showed architects and the rest of us that there is a human element in the equation. He was a phenomenon on every level. The memory of his buoyant spirit and the inspiration of his architectural legacy are a treasure.