The Gorilla in the Square

The new farmer’s market buildings should be in harmony with City Hall AND Town Square

By Otto Poticha

Recently, I attended the Eugene City Council work session and was very disappointed with what was presented as the suggested designs for the Farmer’s Market Building, the new City Hall and the shape and siting of the buildings and open space.

The proposed market building is too high and too attention getting. As it now stands, it is in direct competition with our new City Hall. It is like a gorilla standing in the square and beating its chest saying, “Pay attention to me.” 

This is not appropriate. The market should be a lower and more modest building. Its primary urban planning role should be to mold and share the open space of the site and help direct attention to the new City Hall. Along with satisfying its own needs, its job is to contribute to an assembling of a “still life,” a collection of buildings and spaces into an orchestrated piece of civic art.  

The danger of focusing so exclusively on one project at a time is that you lose the balanced sense of the whole. This market structure, on the proposed site, should be low-slung and very open, an understated pavilion in the park. The present overall scheme lacks this needed and balanced orchestration. The present market building is more of a drum solo when it should be a contributing member of a string quartet. Schemes like this tend to happen when buildings that share the same site are designed one at a time and primarily focused on their own interests.

This market building has a major overall site role and responsibility to play, not just to sell its own product.  It should not have a back, especially to West Park Street. This building should be open and participate with the entire Town Square, be a connector to the Town Square, West Park Street, the central open space and all the adjacent buildings.

The proposed building is just too “fat” and too “tall,” more of a boat showroom than a farmer’s market, and it consumes too much of the site. It has parallel corridors on both sides of the internal central sales booths. That is like having a corridor next to a corridor. The corridors shown on the east and west sides of the booths could be outside and under cover. Without duel corridors the inside booths could have a closer relation with the outdoor booths. During the market times the sides could be open to the square and West Park Street and engage both.

The City Hall needs to be the major statement for the north blocks, not the market! The early massing and studies for the City Hall lack connection and tend to isolate the park blocks from the Hult Center, the conference center and the rest of the city. All new buildings must be shaped to do more than just satisfy their internal functional needs and uses.

We need more than a bland “office building” called City Hall at the north end of the Town Square. The new City Hall’s Council Chamber requires expressive architectural attention to showcase the building’s special meaning. This can be achieved as a separate structure, an attached structure or as a distinct and understandable portion of the building mass that creates identity, understanding and pride for our citizens and visitors.

Designs that a community can understand, designs that convey a message and a spirit is what will generate pride and community support. 

I have made a request to the mayor and City Council that they appoint a “Town Square Design Commission.” 

The Commission’s role would be to work with the retained design team and assist in the design development of the Town Square project’s architecture and urban design planning. The membership of this commission would be comprised of design professionals from the community that represent all of the necessary disciplines to make this project appropriate and a success. The Town Square project is just too important to be left to “pizza and post-it public input” and badly needs a further round of professional criticism to make it all that it can be.

Otto Poticha has been a practicing architect in Eugene for 57 years with 50 awarded design projects throughout the U.S, England, the Netherlands, Chile, Brazil, Caribbean and Japan. He spent 55 years teaching architectural and urban design at the University of Oregon.