SERA Architects & City of Portland: Helping Out City Hall


It is the only building to ever serve as Portland City Hall. As it approached its 100th year in 1995, City Hall was declared a dangerous building, in need of safety improvements and compliance with seismic rules. The question: Should the building be saved?


Anticipating public skepticism about investing in the building, the architects given the job of renovating City Hall added CFM to their development team. CFM was asked to create a strategic plan on how to communicate the value of the project to the public – and even to some city officials. Criticism occurred as the project ran over budget, in part due to a tight labor market and unexpected costs associated with renovating a building with un-reinforced masonry walls.


With only a shoestring budget, CFM met the criticism head-on with a straight-talking fact sheet and other materials that established the relative value of renovation versus starting over with new construction. The materials talked candidly about cost overruns and explained why they occurred and what was being done to mitigate other costs. Working with the architects, CFM stressed visual dimensions of the newly renovated City Hall.


Once City Hall was complete enough for tours, CFM pushed people into the building for sneak previews so they could experience the new look that included restored light corridors, which showered the previously dark interior of the building with rays of natural sunlight. Public opinion turned in favor of the project. Today, Portland City Hall is a point of architectural and civic pride.