Architecture Tour: 9 Essential Seattle Buildings
Unlike, say, Chicago, Seattle’s roster of architectural marvels can be digested in one swiftly paced day. So get moving!
Is the Seattle Public Library the greatest building in America?
Rem Koolhaas wasn’t the city’s first choice as architect for the new Seattle Public Library (too unproven), but his vision compelled: a glass-clad repository of printed (!) books accessed by a spiral walkway that brought strolling patrons in contact with all points on the Dewey Decimal scale. To enter is to feel the weight, and wonder, of knowledge, the importance of tangential thinking, the totality of human ingenuity. In his pitch, Koolhaas argued that Seattle was “at a transitional moment when it has to decide to become a real city, or a real metropolis, or not,” its downtown at the time “important, but, if I may say so, also fairly boring.” He envisioned something entirely new: in a corporate downtown, “one element that is undeniably public.” So he built it. —John Burns
8 Other Essential Seattle Buildings
Rainier Building (Minoru Yamasaki, 1977) The Beaver building (so called because its tapered base looks gnawed away) was designed by local boy Minoru Yamasaki, who also designed the World Trade Center. Both buildings share the same new formalist façade, but this one’s playful base lightens the mood a bit.
EMP Museum (Frank Gehry, 2000) When the legendary architect created this Experience Music Project for Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, he was fresh off designing the Guggenheim Bilbao, which must have sapped his creative juices. This blob-like building is widely considered one of the master’s great misses: the NY Times summed it up by saying it looked like “something that crawled out of the sea, rolled over, and died.” And not in a good way.
Olympic Sculpture Park (Weiss/Manfredi, 2007) The site of a former oil transfer facility was utterly transformed by some ingenious engineering and the display of master works by Richard Serra, Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder and Claes Oldenburg.
Arctic Club (A. Warren Gould, 1916) One of Seattle’s best-preserved beaux-arts building, this was originally the HQ of the Arctic Club, a fraternal order of men who made their fortune in the Klondike. Now a hotel, it’s a great place to grab a drink and look for the stylized walrus heads that occur throughout the property.
Seattle Art Museum (Robert Venturi, 1991; Allied Works, 2007) Visit not for the dated original by Venturi (whose work has not aged well) but for the addition by Portland’s Allied Works, designer of the soon-to-open National Music Centre in Calgary and fast rising architectural stars on the world stage.
The Tracy House (Frank Lloyd Wright, 1955) The master built three houses in Washington—all later-period Usonian, meaning no attics, basements or much ornamentation and typified by the heavy use of blocks. Of the three, the Tracy is occasionally open for tours, or you can drive by at 18971 Edgecliff Dr. SW, Normandy Park.
Chapel of St. Ignatius (Steven Holl, 1994–97) Bremerton-born, NY-based Holl is known as an architect’s architect, and this minimalist yet warm approach to a house of worship on the U.W. campus suits Seattle to a T.
Museum of Glass (Arthur Erickson, 2002) Tacoma is a bit of a hike, but well worth it to see Erickson’s airy ode to all things blown. Make sure you walk the Bridge of Glass, which Erickson designed with famed glass artist Dale Chihuly.