In Portland, Oregon, the volume of new construction is mind-boggling. New office and residential buildings appear like sprouts in a greenhouse. They are built from different designs, but in many ways they are all similar: angular shapes with glass, wood and metal surfaces with minor superficial differences.
One building has broken out of that mold. It is in the heart of the creative Clinton/Division neighborhood of southeast Portland. “The Geode” is an unusual building inspired by the owner’s fascination with light and its impact on creative thinking. He’s a sculptor and rock climber. He’s also the developer who has expanded a single-story, 1920s era industrial building into a three-story creative community. Martin Eichinger has owned the building for 15 years. His original vision was for an inspiring work environment to enable creative people. It’s all about light. Skylights bring daylight deep into the building through the roof and the floors. Subtle angles in the windows and roof break the rectilinear regularity of most new buildings in the area. Interesting, but not terribly unusual.
The building’s distinguishing feature however, is the “light blade.” Eichinger, whose early career included creating interactive exhibits for science museums, has designed and built a 35’ tall light box that continually display animated abstract designs with 15,000 LEDs. During the day, the display is fairly subtle. Cascading shapes and waves of color flow up and down in an ever-changing array of imagery. It’s driven by proprietary software that converts any .jpg file into an infinitely diverse flood of visual stimulation.
At night, it’s a different experience. As the sky begins to darken, the intensity of the colors seems to increase, turning the vertical trapezoid into a sparkling knife of motion.
Sculptors like to create, and then solve problems. Eichinger’s goal was to create and solve a building identity problem while allowing his fascination with science and technology to go wild. A frequent visitor and exhibitor at “Burning Man,” he knows a bit about creating impact on a grand scale.
Many know Eichinger as a narrative sculptor of dynamic bronze figures. His works have been collected worldwide. His apparent shift from traditional bronze to experimentation with light has surprised some. His response is simple. “Light is where I started. It’s something I’ve always wanted to explore.” He’s been exploring opportunities to do other architectural features and monumental public art with his understanding of new technologies and his insatiable curiosity for innovative art.
In essence, his office/studio is a live prototype for his next art project. The light blade is an opportunity to watch and question pedestrians about their reactions. It’s all part of his ongoing learning process. His sculptures have always engaged viewers in conversations that go beyond aesthetics to explore how we relate as a community. Now, he is building a community around light. For Eichinger, light is so elemental that it was inevitable he would eventually move beyond reflective bronze surfaces to illuminated sculptures.
The impact of the building varies with the time of day. But as dusk turns to dark, passersby cannot help but notice and comment on the uniqueness of the building. It’s becoming a navigational landmark. It has no comparison in Portland or possibly the west coast. It's difficult to describe, but far easier to understand when you see it. No matter how you perceive it, Eichinger has created something that sets his building space apart from all the other buildings in the city.