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Iconic Seattle Architecture

Puget Sound Chapter CSI President's Message

Posted:  Oct 03, 2016
I caught this fascinating recap of Seattle's architectural history in this month's CSI Chapter Newsletter, and had to share it for other interested parties.

Webster defines icon/iconic as - "widely known and acknowledged especially for distinctive excellence."

What is the spark of genius that propels the creative process? Does the architect set out to build a masterpiece, an "icon" of architecture, or is it that they are compelled by an inner need to create? Whatever it is, as admirers of exemplary design we are the ones who decide what is "iconic" and what isn't.

Iconic architecture can be found all around the world. Paris - the Eiffel Tower, London - the Palace of Westminster & Big Ben, Rome - the Coliseum, Barcelona - Sagrada Familia, New York - the Chrysler Building, Chicago - the Wrigley Building, Los Angeles - the Theme Building at LAX, and the list goes on. World-renowned architects have designed these buildings. All are inspired by the settings, materials, form, function, etc. - the list is endless.

What about Seattle architecture? Don't we have our own iconic structures?

We all know the quintessential Icon of Seattle - the Space Needle. The Space Needle was the brainchild of John Graham (of John Graham & Associates which eventually became DLR - a Seattle firm). Not much more needs to be said - we all know the history and the impact that building will forever have on Seattle and our skyline.

John Graham & Associates - DLR

However the Space Needle isn't the only iconic structure in Seattle - ones designed by hometown creativity. What about Rainier Square? That gravity defying building designed by Minoru Yamasaki (a University of Washington graduate).

Minoru Yamasaki - Yamasaki & Associates (UW Graduate)

Seattle's "Twin Towers" of the Westin Hotel.

John Graham & Company - DLR

What of the Northgate Mall, one of the first post-war, suburban mall-type shopping centers in the United States?

Northgate - Nations First Suburban Mall - April 1950
John Graham & Company - DLR

There is the Rainier Club - "Seattle's preeminent private club." Its clubhouse building, completed in 1904, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was the work of Spokane architectural firm - Cutter & Malmgren.

Cutter & Malmgren (Spokane)

Though this structure may not be so familiar - here is the original Seattle Public Library building.

Its eventual replacement however falls into the "iconic" building classification as well.

Rem Koolhaus of OMA collaborating with ZGF.

The Pacific Tower (formerly the Pacific Medical Center), an Art Deco tour de force overlooking Seattle from Beacon Hill.

Bebb & Gould (1933) - ZGF (1991)

The Pacific Science Center with the five arches resembling the vaults of cathedrals, Yamasaki's design was seen as a temple to science and technology, which marries up beautifully with its towering neighbor, the Space Needle.


(Both of these photos were too wonderful to exclude one or the other)

Minoru Yamasaki - Yamasaki & Associates (UW Graduate)

This building is near and dear to my heart and those who grew up in Seattle. Many have memories of photos with Santa Claus and lunches in the Tea Room. Sadly, Frederick & Nelson closed their doors in 1992. Who would have guessed that the company just kitty corner from them would remodel the building making it their own flagship store and headquarters - Nordstrom.

Remodel by Callison RKTL

The Museum of History and Industry went from the sleepy Montlake neighborhood to the bustling South Lake Union area. With the creative reuse of the historic historic Naval Reserve Armory we now have the largest private heritage organization in the State of Washington

LMN Architects

Seattle may currently be known for Microsoft and Amazon, but the company that actually put the Puget Sound region on the map is Boeing. Boeing's investment in aeronautic advancement is celebrated by the Museum of Flight.

Ibsen Nelsen & Associates

I would be remiss at not mentioning the Bi-Centennial Baby of Seattle - The Kingdome (completed in 1976). And although the building itself was a Seattle icon and many a football game/baseball game/concert was experienced there . . .

The biggest question on March 26, 2000 was where you will be sitting when the "fireworks" go off and the Kingdome implodes.


Brought to you by Naramore, Skilling & Praeger (better known today as NBBJ)

Architecture stirs us as little else can. Though we may not all agree on what is beautiful or innovative or even adequate - we can agree that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is that inner motivation, that stirring of our emotions that is the impetus to stretch the limits and create icons. Icons like these of our amazing city!


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