Design  

Design Inspiration from our Modernist Roots: Bill Fletcher’s Story

October 1, 2019
The construction industry has transformed since Bill Fletcher founded our firm in 1956. Although the way we practice today has kept pace with the evolving nature of our profession, there is a certain irony in the fact that the more change occurs, the more often we are reminded of the foundational values Bill held true. Read on for insights into Bill’s design philosophy which still inspires the work FFA does in the 21st century. His is a story worth re-telling.
 
The mid-century homes Bill designed use the strong geometry and deft use of proportion inspired by the prevalent progressive style of architecture at the time, International Modernism. He also built on the work from the 1930s and ’40s of pioneering Northwest Modernists John Yeon, Pietro Belluschi, John Storrs and Van Evera Bailey.
 
Bill employed the precise geometric proportions of Mies van der Rohe and embraced structural innovations such as folded concrete-plate roofs. He made sure that his clients would be able to enjoy comfortable, warm modernism that was responsive to the environment of the Pacific Northwest and the lifestyle and needs of his clients. The sentiment of designing warm and welcoming environments for the user is a present-day core value at FFA.
 
Wood was typically his preferred primary material for both the structure and finishes of his mid-century homes; he occasionally integrated steel and masonry elements into house designs from this era as well. Careful site placement ensured these residences would capture the often elusive natural light so common in the Pacific Northwest, taking advantage of amazing views, and blending into the landscape.
 
Bill’s work was often enhanced by fine art, and by his own love of jazz, being a drummer with a drum kit ready for use at any time in the trunk of his car. He was an avid supporter of the city’s most progressive artists, collecting works form Carl and Hilda Morris, Louis Bunce, and Lucinda Parker.
 
His intense passion for the built environment and bringing meaning to art and architecture throughout his career is obvious in the constructed work that is present throughout the Pacific Northwest. An important contributor to the development and refinement of Northwest Modernism, he created works of architecture loved by their owners and occupants to this day.

ORIGINS & CAREER OVERVIEW

Born in 1925, Bill was a third-generation Oregonian whose grandfather was one of the founders of the Multnomah County Central Library (the iconic downtown building Bill’s firm had the honor of restoring shortly before his death in 1998).

His somewhat circuitous path toward architecture began following time served in the military when he enrolled in Cornell University’s specialized military math program in the 1940s. After completing his math degree, he set out for the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts where he majored in architecture and graduated in 1950.

Bill started his career as William L. Fletcher, Architect, designing some of Portland’s most avant-garde modernist houses of the 1950s and ’60s.

As the size and complexity of projects increased in the 1960s and ’70s, Bill and his firm (Fletcher Finch Architects) worked on commercial projects that included the Bank of Tokyo, the Beaverton headquarters for American International Forest Products, and the original Black Butte Golf Course Condominiums.

Curt Finch, Bill Fletcher, Dale Farr and Hal Ayotte
Bill, 1960
Black Butte Ranch Golf Course Condos (1970s)
Goldsmith Residence Exterior (1960s)
Rex Hill Winery – Lee Kelly Sculpture (1988)
Portland’s Bank of Tokyo (1966)
Ruel Residence (SW Portland)

“There’s a scale and dignity to his small buildings in particular. He really liked to know the people who would be using them.” 

Lee Kelley, artist and long-time friend of Bill’s

“His walls are covered floor to ceiling with art. Of any architect in town, he has been the most supportive of artists.”

Laura Russo, art dealer

Fletcher Residence, Portland West Hills

“He was really ahead of others of his generation. He was just plain serious about modern architecture. He lived it.”

Richard Ritz, Portland architect and historian

Instead of being semi-retired and knocking off the occasional project, Bill was working right up until he died, and, really, he just kept getting better.”

Dale Farr, retired FFA Principal

Frisbee Residence – Dunthorpe
Clough Residence (Mid- 1950s)

See if you can spot a few of Bill’s foundational design principles in FFA’s continuing work over the years (below).