Along the banks of the Willamette River in Oregon City, a vision is taking shape to reconnect Oregonians with one of the state’s most spectacular — and hidden — natural treasures: Willamette Falls.
Oregon City, Clackamas County, Metro and the State of Oregon have teamed up to help transform a former industrial site into an iconic destination, beginning with a public riverwalk. The partners are working with a world-class design team: Snøhetta, Mayer/Reed and DIALOG, chosen last year in a competitive selection process that drew proposals from around the world.
The designers’ work is founded on the Willamette Falls Legacy Project’s four core values and informed by site visits and research, discussions with stakeholders and the input of thousands of community members gathered through numerous public engagement efforts since the project began.
The team’s riverwalk design ideas will be introduced this fall at a community event and on the project’s website, rediscoverthefalls.com.
This week, Carol Mayer-Reed of local design powerhouse Mayer/Reed tells us about her inspirations for the project. Last week, we talked with Michelle Delk of international design superstar Snøhetta.
Willamette Falls is your favorite waterfall (clearly!). Describe your second favorite waterfall in the world.
I’ve always been attracted to moving water in all forms; I grew up on a river and in all seasons experienced firsthand its energy and many moods.
I’m especially passionate about the abundant natural waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest; our incredible parks and forests were a factor in my decision to come here decades ago.
Since then, I’ve spent time exploring as many as possible. So that makes it very difficult for me to choose a “second favorite.” I love them all!
I do have to say, of all my travels outside the Northwest, Iguazu Falls on the border of Argentina and Brazil remains one of the most exotic and most memorable.
Tell us about a past project you worked on that was especially meaningful to you.
I continue to be impressed with the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade and feel that it has made a significant contribution to the urban fabric of Portland. It was opened to the public in spring, 2001. It proved to be successful from day one and has endured over the last 15 years.
We worked on the Esplanade’s design for six years prior to its opening. We maintained a vision, weathered difficult decisions and kept faith that it would one day be worth all the effort, despite the many challenges and lessons learned along the way. I observe its constant use from my downtown office window.
As its designer, it gives me great pleasure to know that the Eastbank has truly been embraced by our city and enjoyed by thousands. It remains an important part of many people’s daily lives.
You’ve designed a lot of parks and public spaces. What do you think is the key to designing successful public spaces?
While there are many challenges and responsibilities of these urban projects, we remain optimists and see many opportunities in every public space we design.
We understand that few public spaces stand alone and their connections are as essential as any given project.
We are keen observers of context and try to understand how our design assignment is connected to other places.
How can our projects be a catalytic force that enables something else to happen in the urban fabric? At times, design feels like a well-considered, intriguing game of chess; we’re always keeping an eye toward what is outside the boundaries of a project. Urban waterfronts and other linear project types are by nature especially dynamic and catalytic.
We examine how projects might have potential for influence beyond the site’s boundaries. For example, Mayer/Reed’s design for The Rain Garden at the Oregon Convention Center has contributed locally to the Lloyd District. Its approach to stormwater management expanded a growing movement throughout the city. Now, a dozen years later, it has become a national and international model for artful, green infrastructure.
What are you most excited about on the riverwalk project?
Three aspects excite me most about the Willamette Falls riverwalk: its past, present and future. The stories of the falls and its natural and human history make it unique among the many projects we’ve worked on. Almost everyone we talk with has ties to and an appreciation for the place.
I first laid eyes on the falls in 1978 and hoped that one day I would be in a position to alter its future. So personally, this is very rewarding indeed.
The present post-industrial state of the Blue Heron site stands at the ready to be transformed into something that is, at times, hard to imagine. Yet it’s a very complex, captivating site that’s ripe with possibilities.
We gain additional knowledge with each visit, whether experiencing the capricious temperament of the falls or crawling on bedrock beneath the dark, cavernous industrial platforms. Difficult and innovative things have been accomplished at this place before.
We expect the future riverwalk will reveal rich, sensual experiences that are guaranteed to delight and surprise all who visit. We see this incredible moment in time to restore critical habitat and create an entirely new layer of history at this special place.
And beyond the site, we expect to see many changes in the communities on both sides of the river. The project is truly one of those catalytic moments!