To Whom It May Concern,
I learned two weeks ago of the passing of Dave Scott, professor and director emeritus of the WSU School of Architecture. Dave Scott had a big impact on design and designers throughout the Pacific Northwest and at Washington State University. For decades, I have heard his friends, colleagues, and students sing his praises. Dave had stepped down as director but was still teaching thesis when I started in the program in 1991. In my third year, he retired and I never had the pleasure of attending his studio. But it wouldn’t be the last time I would cross paths with Dave’s legacy as a thoughtful architect and educator.
In 2008, I designed and built an A-framed, cedar shingled dollhouse of a chicken coop for my wife, Carrie. I named it the Chicken Sedan because, unlike a coop (coupe), this had four doors. I was working at YGH and, at the urging of Joachim Grube and Roger Yost, I submitted it to the Portland AIA Awards. To my pleasure (and some architects’ ire) it won the People’s Choice Award.
A few weeks later, I received a congratulatory call from a friend, AIA Fellow, and former Campbell Yost Grube employee, Doug Benson, who informed me that this was in fact not the first time that the Portland AIA had presented an award to an animal abode. More than thirty years prior, a cat’s house had been awarded a special citation at the Design Awards.
Doug wanted to tell me the story in person so we met for lunch. He brought a copy of the original paperback program made for the 1975 Portland AIA Design Awards. In this program was a project by landscape architect Michael Parker titled ‘Miss Molly’s Cat House.’ The house was a 55 gallon drum, painted and turned on its side with a board inserted as a floor. It was held up by pieces of old, wrought iron, ornamental railing. A brass eagle was perched over the entrance.
The project description states:
“Miss Molly is a year-old female cat who has made her permanent home among the remnants of what was once an obsessive effort to preserve and extend the use of several houses in the architectural history of Portland. It is supposed that during the early months of her life she lived among the artifacts strewn about the grounds. Symbolically, the origin of Miss Molly’s house came from the decay and clutter that abound the site. It is appropriate that the resources . . . available from the site, the spirit of the original efforts for preservation and extended use, and the mechanical capabilities of the present should contribute to the resolution of this project. Not to be neglected . . . rather to be exploited is the element of fantasy . . . a quality for human response that has been deserted too frequently . . . abandoned in the quest for monumental architecture . . . to be justified in the esoteric dissertations that enhance the image of initiators, and the egos of the authors of design. This simple structure provides simple shelter for Miss Molly who is capable of extending infectious expressions of affection . . . and whose total life will be experienced among the relics of one man’s ruined dream of preservation. Miss Molly’s Cat House is a renewal of dignity . . . in spirit and in reality, minute in physical scale, but incorporating the spirit of the original restorative efforts . . . and then it too will be abandoned to fall into decay.
“The site is within the remains of what was intended to be an outdoor theater. A semi-circular wall of concrete, embellished with arch forms and niches defines the perimeters of the space. Surrounding the site from above are a 90 year old Sycamore, and several specimen of Japanese Maples. A low-growing mat of Morning Glory near the house is the prominent element within the space. There has been no alteration to the site to accommodate this position. The representations of abandonment and decay surrounding the structure remain as they were left by others . . . .”
Miss Molly’s Cat House was an in-situ metaphor for what was happening in design and construction in Portland at the time. It was intended as a referendum upon rampant demolition and development; a dissenting opinion and a warning to a design community so focused on the pursuit of its vision and the accolades to follow that it was disregarding, even destroying, its own heritage.
Apparently this message struck home. Miss Molly’s Cat House was awarded a special citation from the jury, whose comment read:
“Although not built for human use it is a profound message and a lasting symbol of man’s efforts to dignify the environment. Poetry was created with simplicity through the use of utilitarian elements. An inspiration for our ever-increasing task for building rehabilitation. A physical solution that transcends building and becomes architecture.”
The juror who wrote the response, and who addressed the crowd that night in 1975, ensuring that this project received the attention it deserved was none other than Dave Scott.
I finally connected with Mike Parker (which is another story altogether!) and he filled in the details:
The jurors’ review was the previous evening at the Forestry Center before the awards banquet at the Benson Hotel. At the end all was quiet and Dave gave comments to end the evening. He was talking about community leadership and ended with the comment, “And I think some of that leadership is in this room tonight.”
I didn’t challenge Dave but added my observations about Portland architects after being in practice for 16 years. I talked for less than ten minutes but went down the list of my observations about how Portland architects don’t stand up to be counted on critical issues related to historic preservation and critical planning issues.
When I was in high school I worked at Central Drug Co. on SW 4th and Alder. Sometimes I delivered prescriptions to nearby downtown buildings, some of the buildings demolished by the Goodmans to create more parking lots. Eric Ladd was saving some of the significant houses from demolition and moving up to “The Colony” as it was called up SW 20th south of SW Jefferson. He would run out of money and attempt to protect the houses.
There was no concern by the AIA about preservation until there were projects with fees attached. In 1975, I think this was the first year for the category in the awards for ‘Preservation and Extended Use.’ I thought the relics and failed efforts by Eric Ladd were the appropriate site for Miss Molly’s Cat House.
Because I’d entered “A weekend Residence for Charles Dawg” the previous year, rules for submissions were changed. I was an affiliate member of the AIA and we couldn’t submit an entry. The new rule was adopted specifically to prevent entries from becoming controversial or embarrassing to the AIA. Only member firms or corporate members of the AIA were eligible to submit in 1975.
I explained to Will Martin [designer of Pioneer Courthouse Square] what I wanted to do and Miss Molly’s Cat House was “Entered by Will Martin” a corporate member.
After the evening at the Forestry Center and my remarks, there were no comments directed to me, critical or positive. No one was speaking when we left the building. It was as though someone had thrown a blanket on their party.
The next evening on Saturday I reverted to my ‘old uniform’ of a dark suit, vest, white shirt, and polished wing tip shoes to attend the awards banquet. I did not receive a favorable greeting from anyone and was isolated. There was a remark from someone, “What are you doing here Parker?” I remember responding with “I came to get my trophy.” I went up to the bar and only Dave Pugh (SOM partner) and I were standing there.
Dave’s comment was, “I heard you really shook the troops up last night.”
My response was, “That wasn’t my intent.”
He answered with, “If what I heard you said was true, they should have heard this a long time ago.” I was pleased with his endorsement.
Al Beard and his date were sitting at the same table with me. Beard’s remark was, “You don’t think you are getting an award do you?”
I wasn’t concerned about an award because the remarks I made the previous evening were sufficient to make my point. When the awards time came both SOM and ZGF received ‘special certificates.’ There was polite applause. Then came the remark from Dave Scott, “The third certificate is awarded to Michael Parker for Miss Molly’s Cat House.”
I remember being surprised because of the criteria for the certificates for SOM and ZGF. The banquet room burst into clapping, foot stomping and whistles. It was more like the end of a winning game than an architecture awards banquet. I remembered hearing a remark, “You got ’em Parker!”
Speaking from my own experience at WSU Architecture, both as a student and now as an advisory board member, I think Dave Scott may have left a lasting imprint on the program, even today. I always felt like the faculty had a mission to foster a perspective unfettered by convention and instill a sense of responsibility, leadership, and critical thought, tempered with humor. I see those characteristics in many of my fellow graduates and hope that such a legacy will live on at the School of Design & Construction.
So, to the teacher I never knew, cheers and thank you…