12 landmarks of Seattle’s future
by Knute Berger
We've got the Space Needle, the P-I Globe — even a historic sewer line in the Arboretum — as current official Seattle landmarks. But, what about the future? What standouts of our current built environment might one day deserve landmark status? What will survive, assuming we don't blow our icons to kingdom come like the Kingdome? I asked some local experts — architects, scholars, designers, preservationists — to suggest some possibilities, then added a few ideas of my own.
1. The Bullitt Center (2013)
Our era is going to be known for pioneering "green" buildings, so assuming we're not entirely underwater due to global warming, an obvious pick is one of the newest additions. Whether it saves the planet or not, The Bullitt Center, designed by Miller Hull, is already famous as a symbol of 21st century sustainability, touted as "the greenest commercial building in the world" and a harbinger of "performance-based design."
Photo: Bullitt Foundation
Its association with the famed Bullitt family and Earth Day founder Denis Hayes will also help justify the case for landmark status. It doesn't hurt that it's built to last at least 250 years, around the time people will catch on that climate change is "real."
2. Koolhaas Downtown Library (2004)
Love it or hate it, the Rem Koolhaas library is an icon of its times as the very concept of libraries is being reinvented. It is one of the few public buildings in Seattle that tourists come to see, more popular perhaps than the books within. It has been compared to a Rubik's Cube, an airport terminal, a greenhouse. In 30 years, will it still be a library? Probably not. Architecture critic Lawrence Cheek says by the time it becomes landmark eligible, it'll be ready for adaptive re-use. Cheek wonders if it'll be an "experimental agricultural facility for propagation of new Japanese maple." An indoor pot farm is more likely.
3. Chapel of St. Ignatius (1997)
UW architecture professor Jeffrey Karl Ochsner says that despite a Washington State Supreme Court decision that makes it difficult to landmark religious structures, a stand-out candidate would be St. Ignatius Jesuit Chapel at Seattle University. Designed by Bremerton native Steven Holl, the chapel is famed for its play of interior light, a place of meditation, prayer, and inspiration even for secular Seattleites.
Photo: Flickr user Jules Antonio
4. REI Flagship (1996)
A local outdoor gear cooperative that became a national retail sensation, REI's flagship store is notable for its attempt to bring the outdoors indoors, including its famed climbing wall. It's as if the lodge, the outfitter, the mall and the mountains have become one. Designed by Mithun, it embodies the Northwest outdoor ethic with recycled building materials, and it walks the green talk — in hiking boots, naturally.
5. Amgen Helix Bridge (2004)
This $10 million pedestrian bridge to Amgen's Seattle Helix campus over Elliott Ave. looks like a spiraled DNA molecule. It's a gorgeous piece of thematic design and engineering that reflects one company's research and more broadly Seattle's bio-tech aspirations. It also raises a question (are you listening WSDOT?), which is: Why do so many of our major bridges fail to inspire, excite and intrigue? As a member of the Seattle Design Commission told the Seattle Times about the Amgen bridge, "For something as potentially mundane as a pedestrian bridge, this is absolutely setting a new standard."
6. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation HQ (2011)
When Bill Gates builds something, it can only be contained by a campus or two or three (see Microsoft). The NBBJ-designed Gates Foundation headquarters is global in impact (a $36 billion endowment), restrained in its presence on the ground near Seattle Center, and manages to convey high-minded transparency and corporate casual at the same time. The boomerang buildings are distinctive — especially when seen from above — and its open work spaces and green features are a model of workspaces for early 21st century knowledge workers. The campus also has contributions from significant others, including the Olson Kundig Visitor's Center. Global reach, Gates connection, place in history, top local architects, it hits on most landmarks criteria.
7. WTO Convergence Center (1999)
Structures associated with historic events can be landmarked, and my nominee is the building at E. Denny Way and Olive (420 E. Denny) on Capitol Hill that was once the "convergence center" for the WTO protests. The building was the go-to place for planning the historic demonstrations, making puppets and training protesters in non-violent direct action. It's now a Downtown Dog Lounge, but in the future maybe it can become a museum dedicated to Turtles and Teamsters.
8. Boulders at Green Lake (2004)
Photo: Johnston Architects
When I was on AIA's Future Shack jury a few years back, we were really impressed by a North End multi-family residential project that clustered nine tall homes on a lot that previously had two, built a backyard commons area and artificial creek and embraced both density and nature. That was the Boulders at Green Lake project by Johnston Architects, which Seattle's resident wise man Gordon Bowker suggests might be "Anhalt for the 21st Century."
9. Costco #1 (1983)
In an unassuming warehouse in SoDo — little more than a big box with a hot dog stand — Costco launched a revolution in retailing. We still think about it as a place to buy stuff cheap and in bulk, but the self-service, Costco-style warehouse experience has changed the way people shop. The company, founded on the credit cards and savings of Jeff Brotman and Jim Sinegal, did $97 billion in sales in 2012, making it one of the world's largest retailers. With likely redevelopment pressure in SoDo, the first Costco is already a potential historic site. [See correction and elaboration on this item in Comments section below.]
10. Olympic Sculpture Park (2007)
Ever since settlers began reshaping Denny's island (it was flattened and surrounded by landfill to become Pioneer Square), Seattle's waterfront has undergone transformation. The Seattle Art Museum's Weiss Manfredi-designed "garden" dramatically transformed a chunk of the old industrial waterfront into a great park for art. It also opened up creative possibilities for the future with its dramatic z-shaped connections over road and rail, it's greenswards and "natural" beach and its overall aesthetic impact. As critic Trevor Boddy wrote in the Seattle Times, "The Olympic Sculpture Park has everything this city holds dear: ecological common sense, green spaces galore, gritty industrial edges, a synthesis of public and private, all-but-guaranteed views of the Olympics or Rainier and a Rolodex full of famous sculptors' names. Only a Kurt Cobain memorial draped in Gore-Tex could possibly make it all more Emerald City."
11. The Cobain Bench (1994)
Speaking of Kurt Cobain, we don't need a Gore-Tex memorial when we have the Viretta Park bench, the unofficial "de facto" graffiti-covered shrine to the late grunge rocker.
Photo: Flickr user Etsy Ketsy
Maybe it should stay unofficial — it's less about a specific object than a rite — but in terms of a local object that people from all over the world seek out, it's right there. Some other Seattle music scene possibilities, as suggested by author Charles R. Cross, include the Crocodile, the Central Tavern building, Jazz Alley and the Mural Amphitheater. The Terminal Sales Building, first office of SubPop in 1988, is already a city landmark (1989).
Another music-related candidate is Paul Allen's EMP, the Frank Gehry-designed museum at Seattle Center. Built as a tribute and concert space, EMP is an homage to Jimi Hendrix and a shrine to Northwest music, with a Sci-Fi museum added. People love or hate it, but it does have one thing required of a landmark: durability. Peter Blecha, the original senior curator at EMP, remembers an editor from Architecture magazine touring the space in 2000. After reviewing its blueprints and schematics, he remarked, he'd concluded that because of its shell and, presumably, its 400 tons of structural steel, EMP will probably outlast every other building in Seattle. The Blob might just be our Great Pyramid, the last thing standing that defines our Puget Sound civilization. Who'd have thought?
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