Is this really the 'ugliest' building in Seattle?
When I started looking into the King County Administration Building, one thing became clear- people have STRONG feelings about it. And by STRONG, I mean, well, people really seem to hate it. And though, I usually dig deep and find a bit of affection for even the most aesthetically challenged piece of architecture, I can understand those who find this hulking modernist mass to be overpowering and maybe even authoritarian. Honestly, the design (or more importantly its scale and treatment of the street) is a tough sell for a government building.
That being said, I must admit- I still find this blocky edifice pretty compelling.
Located near Seattle's Central Business District and Pioneer Square, the administration building was designed by Harmon, Pray and Detrich (with Roland Pray taking the lead), just one of a number of government and corporate buildings designed by the local firm during the middle of the twentieth century. Completed in 1971, the structure does seem unusual, its distinctive geometric facade both intriguing and unsettling. Critics often cite the design's sealed facade, intimidating entry plaza, and lack of human scale as evidence for failure, and it is true that a feeling of suspicion or dread is really the last thing you expect (or desire) from a government building. Yet there is something, dare I say, candidly rebellious in the building's patterned skin, a hardened relic of modernism pushing the boundaries of style (does the exterior remind anyone else of Herzog & de Meuron?). Maybe the building was just an attempt to modernize and elevate the mundane tasks of government administration, maybe the design is just a gutsy display of aesthetic acrobatics.
Now nearing its fiftieth year, the so-called "ugliest building in Seattle" remains in place, outliving many of its modernist brethren. Plans to demolish the structure more than a decade ago failed, while a major redesign has yet to materialize. Ugly or not, the King County Administration Building's tectonic exterior is as interesting as it is challenging, a jarring visual artifact that just might deserve a second look.
You can read more about Roland Pray here.
Image at top:
I, Jmabel [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)
or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons.
5/31/2018 02:53:58 pm
You are exactly right, the skywalk is so strange. But I still find the building itself completely fascinating. Thanks for reading!
6/2/2018 07:46:01 am
When I first moved to Seattle in 1987 it seemed that I was alone amongst my colleagues in admiring this building for its boldness in its design and location. The skywalk is the one element that draws people’s attention to the overall composition and negative reaction to its aesthetics. Once inside the building you notice a modern gem under a rigorous exterior shell. Like all architecture you must experience the entire building rather than judging on aesthetics alone.
6/5/2018 11:29:41 am
You are exactly right, and I don't believe the term "ugly" is a productive way to frame any conversation on architecture. Unfortunately though, in terms of preservation, the public perception of whether a building is "beautiful" or not often determines whether it will be preserved or demolished.
6/5/2018 11:30:31 am
And thanks again for reading, Rick!
7/13/2018 10:47:57 pm
I think the Power Control Center for Seattle City Light is a closer interpretation to what I would have expected from Rand...but I don't find the building ugly..I find it formidable. Perhaps, being a government building, one would want those who pass it to feel it's influence.
7/14/2018 07:41:10 am
Yes, Roland Pray's (Harmon, Pray, and Detrich) Power Control Center is yet another great example of the city's distinctive brand of modernism. The concrete landmark is a bit more expressive than much of his (and the firm's) more restrained corporate and institutional work, and maybe due to its scale and reference to the buildings of the 1962 World's Fair, more approachable. Thanks for reading!
11/17/2021 05:43:19 am
What an exquisite article! Your post is very helpful right now. Thank you for sharing this informative one.
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