Listen here, Mossback, City Hall speaks well of Seattle

A City Council member says the green roof, the stream, and the water for the toilets all fit the spirit of the city.
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Seattle City Hall

A City Council member says the green roof, the stream, and the water for the toilets all fit the spirit of the city.

What does Seattle'ꀙs City Hall say about the Emerald City? That's a question that occurs after reading a Crosscut article, posted by Mossback (aka columnist Knute Berger). Berger wrote that City Hall fits his dictum that no public building should be more than six stories, ensuring that public employees are within shouting range of the public. (Hate to disillusion Berger, but City Hall has seven stories, with the mayor's office occupying the entire top floor, apparently out of shouting range.)

Still, in Berger's opinion, the city now has a mayor who fits City Hall. Berger wrote, 'ꀜThe grassy roof matches his beard.'ꀝ And he also observed that City Hall is a comparatively modest structure 'ꀜthat stands ready to be recycled and composted," which is 'ꀜa wise choice for our political times."

Obviously an experienced observer like Berger is welcome to his architectural opinion. But I think he missed the mark with City Hall. In my view, the building makes a proper statement about its inner Seattle.

Take the green roof, which — sorry to disappoint you, Knute — was not an advanced warning sign that we'd soon have the first bearded mayor since the age of Chester Arthur. The roof is more of a statement about Seattle's eco-ethic. Architects for Seattle City Hall aimed for a Silver LEED and instead achieved Gold LEED (Platinum is the highest ranking). About the only thing higher than a Platinum-rated City Hall would be a recycled and unheated log cabin, relic of the pioneering Denny Party, with edible weeds sprouting in the gutters.

City Hall's green roof not only keeps the council chambers warm in winter (well, warmer than the outdoors, if you're wearing three sweaters) and cool in summer, but it also serves as a catchment for rainwater, which is siphoned into a cistern and used to flush toilets at City Hall. Far more utilitarian, one might say, than the mayor's beard.

Another feature of City Hall — one that Berger doesn't much like — is the stream that runs through it. Actually, the stream is good for several things: it provides white noise to muffle the sounds of lobbyists' polished wingtips coursing through the lobby. The stream also provides a visual connection, linking it to the fountain across Fifth Avenue at the Municipal Court. And it serves as an appropriate backdrop to City Hall's featured art — an installation that marries the city's Native American heritage to its Jet City technology. Think of paddling a native canoe powered by jet engines.

One feature of City Hall that Knute failed to describe is the mayor's elevator. In the bank that faces the 'ꀜfake'ꀝ stream, the elevator on the far right is programmed so that, if the mayor arrives by bicycle or in his chauffeured Seattle Police SUV in the underground garage, he can summon the elevator and whoever is in the elevator at the time will be hijacked for his convenience and instructed by electronic audio to take another elevator. Hey, if you've got power, why not use it?

One final word about Seattle City Hall that even San Francisco's grand old City Hall (praised by Berger) lacks, is the City Grind barista stand, manned by John (in the mornings) and Rick (in the afternoons). The stand not only dispenses the essence of Seattle on a daily basis, but it also is the best place in the building to catch up on weather reports and advanced sightings. John recently has been asking if his customers are waiting for the Zombie Apocalypse. This apparently is an 'ꀜin'ꀝ thing, not appreciated by non-Zombie fans.

John not only has the fastest barista hands around, he also remembers everyone's usual drink. It was instructive that when City Hall had a fire drill all the employees, including the mayor and councilmembers, were left shivering on sidewalks in front of the building. When they finally were allowed back inside, they were met by a security guard and by John the City Grind barista. Who, after all, wields the real power?

This was originally posted on the writer's personal Facebook page under notes.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Jean Godden

Jean Godden

Jean Godden served 12 years on Seattle City Council.