It's something to watch, but maybe not something for the highest defcon level.
There are a number of things in play with the prospect of demolition, but one factor that so far has not got sufficient attention is the deployment of the buildings on the superblock.
|North State Hospital Campus|
I'm just talking about how they are set in two-dimensional space on the block. How you might arrange them on board game surface.
|Half of Belluschi's Breitenbush Hall - A shallow strip, super wide|
and a good distance from the sidewalk across a lawn
I want to suggest this could be a near-fatal defect for several of them.
The Radiant City as Parallel
|Sketch for housing project, circa 1922 - Le Corbusier|
The most famous expression of these ideas was Pruitt-Igoe, a spectacular failure and now demolished.
|Pruitt-Igoe housing project - via Wikipedia|
But it is interesting that the mid-century building Eola Hall shares the same building type and form! Mid-rise tower on a park.
|Eola Hall on north campus of State Hospital|
(via University of Oregon)
Building Masses set on Parks Don't Work very Well
A major problem with buildings set away from streets on grassy parks is that while they might look pretty, they are less safe and inviting. They lack circulation and eyes and ears.
|Dome Building in the fall|
It may be that the current site configuration is less safe than an adjusted one with meaningful blocks of new construction. I'm pretty sure it's less inviting.
The single response to the State's RFP (somebody should publish at least its outline so that it can be debated more publicly, hint, hint!) generated a concept that may not have enough housing and would have too much car-dependent campus:
Salem Community Vision visualizes adaptive reuse of the buildings into maybe another exciting adaptive reuse project like Edgefield (McMenamins Edgefield in Troutdale) plus a higher education campus, and some senior housing. The recreation area (park) at the northwest should be retained. The wonderful trees should be preserved. There is room for low rise housing carefully sited in the trees at the north east portion of the site. One building on Center Street could have small neighborhood shops, restaurants, and small businesses. An incubator for entrepreneurs is needed, and there is room for that. The center could well become a neighborhood center and one of the attractive places to visit in Salem like the Willamette Heritage Center. [from SCV]It seems unlikely, though, that "small neighborhood shops, restaurants, and small businesses" would thrive in buildings so far away from the street. This could be like the Eugene pedestrian mall fiasco, something that looked wonderful on paper but turned out to have real circulation problems.
The Civic Center, Pringle Plaza, and the Millrace downtown are definitely less active and inviting because of gaps to the sidewalks and edges - even though the path system on paper looks like a wonderful place to stroll.
|Millrace Park, the Civic Center, and Pringle Plaza|
lack activity because they hide from the sidewalk
This fact about the way these buildings are located internally on the site needs much more consideration, and from here looks like a near-fatal defect on many of them. Reusing the embodied carbon in buildings is always the greenest solution of course, but these buildings were never knit into an urban or neighborhood fabric, complete with internal and external circulation patterns. And they will need lots of work and hazardous material abatement. One person with knowledge has noted that all the windows on the Belluschi building would need to be replaced, every one of them, because they were locked and immovable for security reasons.
Another Asylum Restoration
Some have appealed to the example of Traverse City. The Village at Grand Traverse Commons is a fascinating project, with many parallels here.
|Our restored Kirkbride asylum building in winter|
(The walnuts are dying from "thousand canker disease")
Process, not Demolition, is the Problem
A year ago, neighborhood advocates suggested that the planning process was neither very public nor very robust.
If resisting a demolition at the State Hospital is a maneuver to get a better public process for an orderly sale and development, that might be a good thing.
But if folks are really wedded to the current buildings and site map, well, they should give that more thought. Digging in on preserving all of the buildings may reduce the likelihood that any one of them will be a great success.
In a slightly different but still related context Jeff Speck says, "Pick your winners," and I suspect that means being ready to cull some of the lesser buildings at the north campus site.
(For all notes on the OSH North Campus see here.)