A Master Architect of the Pacific Northwest
Most of Terry's residential clients and a few commercial clients as well, have seen fit to leave his architecture alone for the most part. This, despite changing lifestyles and tastes in interior finishes and furnishings, which have led to renovations and remodels of varying degree. Many of the architects commissioned for these remodels have been great admirers of Terry's work, so they did all they could to preserve the original architecture while accommodating the needs of the homeowners.
We are thus able to use recent photographs to illustrate houses that were designed and built in the 1960s. Shown here is the house Terry designed for Philip and Marvell Stewart, who were great admirers of Japanese houses. This design idiom appears in the post and beam construction, sloping peaked roofs, and orientation out to views of the garden and Puget Sound.
Those problem budgets
One cannot research the career of an architect working at the level of Roland Terry without running into some controversy. Terry has detractors: disgruntled former partners, disappointed clients, others not enamored of every building he has done.
Over the years critics have noted that Terry often found it difficult to hold the line on a budget. However, like any architect intent on doing good work, Terry didn't want to limit the possibilities for a project. If his designs called for the most expensive materials or applications—particularly when he knew the clients could afford the extra cost—he wouldn't hesitate to specify them.
Another "problem" was Terry's penchant for endlessly reworking details and even major elements in a design, leading to delays and budget overruns. However, as Thomas Veith pointed out in Shaping Seattle Architecture: A Historical Guide to the Architects, "it was this constant refinement of detail and the integration of other visual arts that gave Terry's work its unique character."
Whatever problems Terry may have engendered with his idiosyncratic approach to running a business, he managed to get dozens of exceptional projects designed and most of them built. He left a legacy of distinct and memorable buildings, many of which are still occupied today.
His Colleagues Remember
Allen Vance Salsbury. who worked with Terry on different projects over a period of decades says: "His designs always had elegance, for he took the raw materials of the Northwest and presented them in a refined way. He has great style, and I admire his work a great deal."
According to Michael Cunningham, who worked for Terry through much of the 1970s' period, "He worked without limits, using rough materials in sophisticated ways. His interiors were always dramatic, but never at the expense of being livable. When he designed the building, he designed the insides as well; and he always tied the building to the site."
Jim Mayeno began working with Roland Terry in 1953 and worked as his "right-hand man" for over twenty-five years. He describes Terry's modus operandi: "He had great design sense, and a great feeling for proportion, and he knew interiors really well, so his places are very livable, with a wonderful sense of color."
These voices from Terry's associates underline the consistency of Terry's design philosophy over the long span of his career. Though he created dozens of buildings and never really repeated himself, he always worked with the same attitude: design everything down to the last detail, so that it all fits together, fits into the site, and is comfortable and livable. He shaped the view of the mountain, yet he also chose the color of the stones in the garden and the upholstery in the living room.
The rich originality of his work, imbued with Zen-like clarity and a Palladian sense of proportion, earns him a lofty spot in the pantheon of Northwest architects.
Justin Henderson is an architecture and travel writer in Seattle, Washington.
This article was excerpted from Roland Terry: Master Northwest Architect with permission from University of Washington Press.