In Memoriam: Robert ‘Bob’ Frasca 1933-2018
Bob Frasca, prominent Portland, Oregon architect and co-founder of the firm Zimmer Gunsul Frasca (ZGF), died January 3. He was not originally from Portland, but he created, and contributed to, modern Portland as well as any of its native citizens. He designed some of the more iconic high-rise buildings in the downtown neighborhoods as well as many projects in the surrounding area, the state, and the world. Beginning with the first ESCO Headquarters Building (1966) his work in Portland includes Tom McCall Waterfront Park (1975), the Multnomah County Justice Center (1983), OHSU’s Vollum Institute (1987), Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (1992), Doernbecher Children’s Hospital (1998), the Oregon Convention Center (1990 / 2001), PSU’s Maseeh College of Engineering & Computer Science (2006)… to name but a few in the central city core.
If one looks to the surrounding region and states a longer list of well done architecture includes: Portland International Airport Terminal Expansion (1975); master plan and multiple buildings constructed on the Reed College campus (1989-1998); Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Phase I, Seattle, Washington (1993); California Science Center (1998); Ronald Reagan Federal Building and Courthouse, Santa Ana, California (1998), UC Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, Davis, California (2008).
Searching further we find an even longer list which includes: Children’s Hospital, Denver, Colorado (2007), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Conference Center, Salt Lake, City (2000), U.S. Department of State, New Consulate Compound, Istanbul, Turkey (2003); Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, New York (2005).
There are at least two common qualities in the projects named here. First, all have received a major award of recognition from civic, governmental, and design institutions. Second, if you ask those who have worked with him, Bob Frasca is cited for his collaboration and vision. To paraphrase words from one of his last interviews he said, “It had to be beautiful and it had to be right for the place.” The 20th century saw a great many stars of architecture, but Bob was not one of them, meaning he did not seek the limelight or demand the last word. If anything, he wanted his work to have a positive effect on its surroundings, and maybe if luck would have it, to transform a community. Bob was engaging, and quietly confident in the abilities that not just he, but his client would bring to the project. It is perhaps why, after a day of what Bob believed to be an “interview”, the representatives of the Church of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City simply shook his hand and asked, “When can we start?” The contract agreement came later.
Considering the arc of his career, Bob Frasca should be considered a modernist architect and perhaps a northwest architect. Regardless of style or movements, Bob focused on the details that fit and served the client and community. Returning to his first work in Portland, we see an essay in these themes. The ESCO Headquarters Building is a 5,000 square foot, one story gem of architecture. Its original open office plan, fully glazed walls looking into two simply landscaped courtyards, and trim details grounded in the modernist movement all speak to a beauty and economy that Bob put into every one of his designs. That the little headquarters building still stands and delights folks in our community is the testament to Bob Frasca’s legacy. Thank you, sir, for the many years into the future that we will enjoy your buildings and remember you.
Join the Oregon chapter and architectural community in Honoring the Legacy of Bob Frasca:
Sunday February 11th, 2018 | 4PM
Reed College, Kaul Auditorium
3203 SE Woodstock Boulevard
Portland, OR 97202
For questions, please contact Liz Thatcher, ZGF at 503.863.2246