Floor plans of the loft-style units are completely open, with only the bathrooms enclosed. The units on the second through fourth floors run front to back, wrapping around a compact core housing an elevator, stair, and shafts. The fifth-floor units have private roof terraces off the mezzanine level and a spiral stair to an additional roof deck. This layout allows the upper units with a two-story loft layout to use west-facing balconies, taking advantage of dramatic city and mountain views.
Miller Hull: A Reflective Practice
Commentary by J.M. Cava
In the 1980s, the influential thinker and educator Donald Schön used the environment of an architectural design studio to study educational methodology. He coined the term "reflective practice" to describe a practitioner (or group) who understands that his or her "expert" knowledge base is continuously changing from one circumstance to the next. The reflective practitioner therefore constantly reevaluates the process with the undertaking of each new enterprise. It must be understood that this is far removed from the ubiquitous corporate "mission statement," which reconciles profits with customer satisfaction.
Though much debated over the years, the essence of Schön's idea is clear: in a society where a profession that serves the public (such as architecture) is subject to intense and sudden shifts in cultural ground, one must perpetually "reflect" on the status of the work and the means of its production. Thus the practitioner retains an awareness of such cultural shifts without being drawn into them. Schön referred to this as "reframing" a problem, suggesting it as the most successful means toward the realization of innovative attitudes and approaches.
Kenneth Frampton first applied this notion to architects when he suggested that such an architecture practice might successfully resist the pull of two antithetical poles currently dominating the profession: "celebrity" firms that consider architecture a means of personal expression akin to the fine arts, and "service" firms that accommodate basic building needs for profit.
The Pacific Northwest firm of Miller Hull is an archetypal example of a reflective practice, as evidenced by the nature and structure of their office. Remarkably, in this age when narcissistic "starchitects" dominate the press, Miller Hull achieves a poetic architecture that is both profound and comprehensible. By employing a vocabulary inclusive in character, they seamlessly close a gap frequently encountered in American public architecture: that between an inscrutable architectural syntax and the people it was created to serve. Thus a Miller Hull building is comprehensible to its users yet uncompromisingly innovative in spirit and form.
Because their values derive from fundamental design principles, advanced technologies in their work never dominate as stylistic effects. Instead, they are employed as a part of a larger strategy to more deeply connect people to their place of work or home and, more importantly, to one another and to the landscape/ cityscape they inhabit.
As Miller Hull shifts its attention to the design of larger public buildings, the firm's long-established skills at creating powerful and distinctive private spaces gives their public work qualities of scale and comfort so often lacking in projects of this size. For, in some way, every successful building hat accommodates humans contains attributes of the concept of "house." Firms that produce public work without ever having mastered the making of houses all too often end up designing buildings that, though well-constructed and aesthetically orderly, lack scale, character, and a sense of well-being.
Miller Hull's private residences of the past 25 years are recognized worldwide as masterpieces of regional modernism infusing tradition with contemporary design and technology. This prelude to the firm's current focus on public buildings has clearly served them well.
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The Miller Hull Partnership is an architecture firm in Seattle, Washington. Founding partners David Miller and Robert Hull, both raised in Washington, have explored the development of two dominant themes in America's western regional architecture: the need to establish a defined place within the landscape and the art of rational building. In 29 years and with over $200 million worth of completed projects, the firm's work base is composed of a diverse assortment of project types, including schools, higher education facilities, nature centers, community centers, mixed-use buildings, laboratories, corporate offices, and innovative and affordable residences.
J.M. Cava is an architect and architectural writer in Portland, Oregon.
This article is excerpted from The Miller Hull Partnership: Public Works by The Miller Hull Partnership, copyright © 2009, with permission of the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press.