Seattle Celebrates Architecture Week
Bassetti and his long-time and new friends assembled at a long table in a private room at the Olympic Four Seasons Hotel. Together, they asked the question that Bassetti has been answering, in his own way, for these four decades: how does an architect serve his home town?
One idea: spot underdeveloped sites in significant locations and bring resources—public or private—together with good design. Several voices called for renewed commitment among architects to tackle the problems of homelessness, problems that continue in boom times.
Others said it is up to architects to take the long view of the built environment, to look outside the circle of the consultant-client relationship.
They can look to their own circle for mutual support and guidance, with Bassetti as a lifetime example. They can also look to "Action: Better City" and Roger Gula.
Gula leads the revived activist group that Bassetti founded over 30 years ago during the post-Worlds Fair push for progress. Gula was at the table, urging architects to come together and find new agendas for a desired future in Seattle.
In Pioneer Square, Bassetti Architects hosted an office full of schoolchildren for one afternoon of Architecture Week. The younger ones colored in plans of their own schools and then made puzzles out of them.
The older ones had several activities to choose from, including envisioning a new school based on a collection of photos and their own drawings. Students got to try the newest CAD programs and see how sample boards are put together. Many wrote on special boards, proclaiming their visions of the ideal city. AIA Seattle will present the boards to the mayor.
Modeling New Environmental Paradigms
Out on Pier 56 is the new home of one of several large design firms that has strained the seams of its existing office in the last few years and set out in search of space.
For Mithun Partners, the move to the waterfront was the second in a decade, having earlier moved from the suburbs to downtown Seattle, bringing along a refocused set of values at each step. Now employing over 100 people, the firm fills most of the pier in an open plan with good views of the bay and the Olympic Mountains.
With a new home over the water, sustainable design gets top billing. The firm has had a chance to stretch the definition of the word in a handful of REI flagship stores, beginning here in Seattle. For Architecture Week, Mithun CEO Burt Gregory presented a seminar on new standards for building with the lowest possible impact on the environment.
His case in point: the Puget Sound Environmental Learning Center across the bay on Bainbridge Island, the project of Debbi Brainerd and her husband Paul, inventor of desktop publishing.
The 255-acre PSELC campus will sit lightly on a tract of undeveloped land that includes a large pond and ample wetlands, immersing students of many levels in environmental education.
The project, to be completed in 2003, is designed to link ecology, education, and the arts. It includes the "living machine," a tertiary wastewater treatment system displaying the natural purification process.
In his seminar, Gregory covered the concepts of erosion and sediment control, embodied energy versus used energy, integrated energy management systems, and the ABCs of indoor air quality. Attendees were introduced to the LEED standards (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) now used to certify levels of environmental responsibility in large construction projects.
In the new office of Mithun Partners, model-making has taken precedence, with a large room dedicated to the production of scale models for study and presentation. This emphasis on the use of physical models represents and interesting trend among design-oriented firms who are also cultivating the latest technology.
This trend is reflected in "Ideas in Form4," this year's installment of an annual exhibit of scale models at the office of the Seattle Architectural Foundation in Rainier Square, for Architecture Week. This year, visitors were able to survey models of the city's new justice center and the new federal courthouse, both by NBBJ.
In the meantime, working models of Seattle's new Experience Music Project, designed by Frank Gehry, were on display at the Henry Art Gallery at the edge of the University of Washington campus, along with an exhibit called "Frank Gehry Studio."
Directions for the Future
All of these, along with this year's awards program, reflect an ever greater interest in the process of making architecture.
An audience of 800 filled Benaroya Hall for the awards event. The turnout and the sense of enthusiasm brought to the program reflects a town still very serious about a sense of purpose and achievement in architecture.
This presents a fine contrast to similar programs in other urban centers, where design architects are more focused on publishing than on peer recognition.
This year's awards truly brought the program into the 21st century, with all submittals made and displayed on the Web. AIA Seattle's Web site got a record 100,000 hits on the first day they were posted.
The design awards themselves were divided into three categories. In addition to the usual crop of built works, there were two awards for not-yet-built projects: the new downtown Seattle library, designed by OMA (Rem Koolhaas) with LMN Architects; and an addition to the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, also by LMN.
The jury for the design awards included Craig Hodgetts of Hodgetts + Fung, Los Angeles, known for "urban scenarios" in several U.S. cities; Joseph Valerio of Valerio Dewalt Train Associates, one of Chicago's foremost architects; and Marion Weiss of Weiss/Manfredi, New York, designer of the Women's Memorial and Education Center at Arlington National Cemetery.
In their on-stage conversation at the awards program, moderated by Architectural Record senior editor James Russell, the group chose to focus on "the convergence of international attitudes with regional traditions," a timely subject in Seattle.
Perhaps more than in any other year, large firms, out-of-town architects, and far-flung projects were represented among the award-winners. Hodgetts observed that, perhaps because of the lively interchange that is part of the local tradition, he saw a level of craft among the design awards entries that is very unusual in Southern California.
Honor Award Winners
Top honors went to the Bellevue Art Museum by Steven Holl Architects, the Bainbridge City Hall by The Miller/Hull Partnership, Pine Forest Cabin by James Cutler Architects, and The Brain: A Filmmaker's Studio, by Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen.
"These four buildings are expressive of the unresolved dialog among architects (in Washington) about where you are going," said Weiss.
Holl's museum, although not yet opened, promises to hold a series of spaces molded to receive and deploy natural light with ethereal effects first discovered here in his Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle University two years ago. At the same time, the building stands with compact, muscular defiance in the field of high-end shopping centers and glass towers that is downtown Bellevue.
The Bainbridge Island City Hall, by the Miller/Hull Partnership, could not be more different. It is an expansive, light-filled modern barn, housing a range of retail-style services. Bainbridge Island is a small city that has remained decidedly rural, a ferry ride from downtown Seattle.
Both remaining Honor Award winners are deceptively simple boxes standing lightly on the landscape. One is for private retreat, the other for intensely focused activity. In their simplicity and relationship with the landscape, they represent the finest tradition in the architecture of the Northwest, by architects who have helped to define it.
The Pine Forest Cabin, by Cutler Architects, is located on the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains, a few hours drive from Puget Sound. It is notable for its restraint, beautifully simple layout, and underplayed surfaces and materials—a standout in an area that is becoming riddled with timber houses and tennis courts. Jim Cutler has given his typical care to the way the building meets the ground.
"The Brain," by Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen, was designed as a personal studio and think pad for a client involved in the film industry. It is a loft-like cube, with a large focal window in the center of one side.
More Projects of Merit
Two more houses were honored with Awards of Merit: the Gosline Residence, by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, and the Roddy-Bale Residence, by the Miller/Hull Partnership. Both houses are open, rectilinear structures on sloping sites designed by masters of tradition—Peter Bohlin and Bob Hull, respectively.
The Good Samaritan Hospital and Children's Center, by Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership, a sculptural modernist composition with humane, open areas, was also recognized in that category.
Commendations for Out-of-Town Projects
NBBJ received a Commendation for the Reebok World Headquarters in rural Canton, Massachusetts, an organic glass-and-steel sculpture influenced by Peter Pran, who is now with the firm's Seattle office.
The House of Charity in Spokane, Washington, by Northwest Architectural Company, is a bold variation on residential vernacular in the region. The Turtle Bay Park and Visitor Center in Redding, California, is a luminous composition by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.
The Polson Building, a finely detailed renovation on Pioneer Square, by Mahlum Architects, also got a Commendation. So did the First Christian Reformed Church, by BjarkoSerra Architects, an all-embracing addition retaining the structure and roof profile of the original building.
Saffron, a suburban mixed-use development, by Bumgardner, is a particularly lively example of an important trend in suburban redevelopment: the creation of a dense, mixed-use center where there had been only vast tracts of single-family developments. This project received a Citation.
The Nature of Conceptual Design
And with a separate jury and presentation, AIA Seattle sponsored a competition for conceptual design, as well. The jury for conceptual projects included James Cutler of James Cutler Architects, Kevin Matthews, publisher of ArchitectureWeek, and Barbara Swift of Swift & Company Landscape Architects.
In their deliberation and their public discussion, they chose to focus on the definition of "conceptual" in architecture. Conceptual architecture is still architecture, said Matthews. As such, the idea must have a certain clarity and freedom from elements that are contradictory, extraneous, arbitrary, he said.
At the same time, all the jurors agreed that the concept had to reach a level of design that made it credible as a built project. And as architecture it must pass the ultimate test: to "grab somebody's heart," according to Cutler.
One project succeeded, a tube-like enclosure that dips down into the water on the shore of Lake Union. Stairs lead down the tube within the transparent walls, until the occupant stands entirely beneath the water. There, a cone-shaped tube leads straight up, breaking the surface and bringing the sky into view.
Entitled TransPIER and designed by CAST Design/Build, the project was the only one recognized in the Conceptual Awards category. It was fitting for the heart of Seattle—modest, magic, and completely at one with the environment.
Clair Enlow is a writer and architecture critic in Seattle and a contributing editor to ArchitectureWeek. She is a member of the Advisory Board for AIA Seattle.