Urban Architecture Series: Seattle

by Jennifer Wang

Profile

Architecture in Seattle is artistically inspired by the nearby mountain ranges and oceans, and throughout the years, has continued to place an emphasis on aesthetic.

Background

Metro Population – 2,895,300

Cost of Living – 23.1% above national average

Unemployment – 4.8%

Climate – mild, temperate

Geography – Seattle is built on the Puget Sound, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean. The city center is embedded in striking natural landscapes such as the Olympic Peninsula forest, Washington Lake, and the volcanic Cascade Range.

City Layout – The city is built around Pioneer Square, the historic district that was once the original Seattle settlement. In modern day, Pioneer Square is surrounded by numerous districts such as the government district on Capitol Hill and Seattle Center, the site of the 1962 World’s Fair which now features Seattle’s museums and distinctive public spaces.

Notable Affiliated Organizations – Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon

Buildings

The Space Needle
1_SpaceNeedle.JPGThe Space Tower in original paint.

During the Cold War, every decision the US made was to compete with the Soviet Union, so when the 1962 World’s Fair arrived in Seattle, private financers raced to make Edward E. Carlson’s space-age concept sketch a reality. In the span of a little over a year, a 605 feet-tall tower was finished with a center of gravity merely 5 feet above the ground, held down by a 5,850 pound concrete foundation. The tower was built to withstand winds up to 200 mph, and has withstood an 6.8 M earthquake.

Benaroya Hall2_BenaroyaHall.jpgBenaroya Hall at night.

Sometimes considered an urban lamp in Seattle’s nightlife, the Benaroya Concert Hall takes up an entire block of downtown Seattle and features two concert halls and a large separate retail complex. The concert halls are housed as separate spaces inside the building, lined with rubber and other sound canceling materials to silence city noises A traditional box-shaped theatre contrasts an expansive round lobby overlooking multiple Seattle landmarks and cityscape.

Seattle Tower/Northern Life Tower3_NorthernLife.jpgSeattle Tower’s lobby and a gold leaf map of the Pacific seen in the back.

The Northern Life Tower is the figurehead of Art Deco architecture in Seattle, stylized by a massive, sturdy exterior, and highly decorative, lavishly furnished interior. True to its style, the 27-story building’s lobby is built of patterned dark marble and ornamented with gold leaf and brass details. The lobby also features a giant brass bas-relief map attributed to Paul D. Richardson, one of the original architects. Following the turmoil of post-WWI, the massive building was commissioned to highlight America’s sturdiness and economic power, motives apparent in the tapering roof and pine-tree-like steel structures meant to mimic Seattle’s snowcapped mountains.

Public Spaces Amazon Biosphere4_Biospheres.jpgA Rendering of the completed Amazon Biospheres.

Built in the center of urban Seattle less than 15 minutes from the Space Tower, the Amazon Biosphere marks the second of Amazon’s 3-block, 3.3 million square-foot, four-building expansion. Set to open in 2018, the Biospheres consist of three domes each reaching about 100 feet tall. Inside the glass covered exoskeleton of Amazon’s office building will be a public bottom floor offering retail and recreational space. In line with Amazon’s interest in sustainability, the dome will house more than 300 plants from around the globe, including many endangered species, and will be heated with the waste heat of a nearby data storage building.

Rainier Square and Rainier Square5_RainierSquare.jpgA rendering of the completed Rainier Square with the new ‘ski-slope’ building in front of Rainier Tower.

The Rainier Tower, fittingly nicknamed Beaver Tower, was designed by the renowned Minoru Yamasaki and built in 1977. True to its modern style, the building’s bottom 11 stories curve in like a giant pedestal and do not house any office spaces. While this may make the building look insecure, the tower’s steel moment frame actually means that office spaces wouldn’t add any strength to the structure. Additionally, the unique design allows Rainier Tower to house more than 500,000 feet of office space in a quarter of a block. The extra space on the ground holds a shopping mall set to be renovated into Rainier Square in 2017. When completed, the Rainier Square project will add 58 stories on top of the existing shopping center. The ‘ski-slope’ shaped glass building is set to be built with the ‘highest sustainability standards’ and will house retail and dining.

Pioneer Square6_PioneerSquare.jpgA street in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square neighborhood.

In 1852, Pioneer Square was the first settlement to be built in Seattle, initially of small wooden buildings. After the Great Fire of 1889 destroyed much of the settlement, a reconstruction was commissioned and rebuilt in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, a revival and variation of traditional stocky heavy-set buildings dominated by arches and columns. The site was later declared a national historic district and maintains its brick buildings today. In modern times, both the neighborhood and underground have become a hub for art, music, and celebration of culture in Seattle.

Sources