The Portland architects who designed the Mark. O. Hatfield United States Courthouse has come out on the side of people over property.
Principals with Bora Architects released a statement Thursday, July 31, saying they were "speaking up" for the Black Lives Matter movement that has spurred more than two months of nightly protests outside the courthouse on Southwest Third Avenue.
"The real story is not about a manmade structure we helped build. It is about the very lives of Black citizens that we have a desire to defend, protect, and speak up for — and the movement that is relentlessly pleading to have this story heard," according to the firm's press release.
The façade of the 16-story federal courthouse was damaged early during downtown protests in June 2020. It has been covered in graffiti and boarded up for weeks. Federal agents have been posted at the building since July 4. A reinforced fence was built to keep the public back.
Since then, focus of the nightly protests has shifted from Multnomah County Justice Center next door to the federal courthouse, which became ground zero for a battle of pepper balls, rubber bullets, batons and tear gas on one side and fireworks, paint, water bottles and projectiles on the other side.
The courthouse's upper story windows are broken and new spotlights pointing to the street were installed two days ago. The fence was reinforced with concrete barriers on both sides this week, just as Department of Homeland Security officials said the agency's forces would hand over security of the courthouse to Oregon State Police.
Bora Architects' statement said the firm supported the peaceful protests that have been held nearly every night. Violence outside the courthouse usually happens late at night or in the early morning hours when smaller groups engage in running battles with federal agents.
"Bora supports the peaceful protesters who are bringing to the forefront the issue of systemic racism and the fact that throughout history, Black lives have not been treated with the dignity, value and worth they deserve," according to the statement. "Acknowledging this fact and our own part in contributing to these systemic shortcomings, we therefore stand in solidarity with those who have been protesting racial injustice outside the courthouse — a symbol to them of the ways our government has failed to protect and stand for the Black community."
Not 'standing by in silence'
The Mark O. Hatfield U.S. Courthouse opened in 1997, replacing the 1933 neoclassical Gus Solomon Courthouse on Southwest Main Street. It was designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates and Bora Architects (then known as BOORA).
The Oregonian noted at the time that the tower "…Provides an elegant diagram of modern justice — part theater, part machine. With the choreography of a hospital surgery room, the key actors — the defendant, the judge, the jury and the public — move through this building on separate paths, assembling only for the performance of the trial."
The marble lobby has lately been a staging post for federal forces, while snipers with lasers use the balconies to target people in the street for non-lethal munitions.
"Yes, we are architects who design and champion the built environment; but the even greater story and our more vital mission as humans is that all people should have equal rights, and that when we see a disregard for these rights, we cannot in good conscience stand by in silence," according to Bora's statement. "That is the real story. The real story is not about a manmade structure we helped build. It is about the very lives of Black citizens that we have a desire to defend, protect, and speak up for—and the movement that is relentlessly pleading to have this story heard."
Notorious trials at the building in recent years include those of Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the would-be Christmas tree-lighting ceremony bomber, and Ammon Bundy and six others for taking over a federal wildlife refuge in Eastern Oregon's Harney County in 2016.
At about 5:30 a.m. Thursday, July 30, Portland police cleared and closed Chapman and Lownsdale parks in front of the federal courthouse and the Justice Center. (The parks were last closed on July 16.) Everything, including graffiti, was removed from the park. Graffiti and other marks remained on the federal courthouse behind the fence.
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