Lost in Construction
October 2, 2008, 9:26 am
Filed under: Architecture, Seattle, Urban Architecture

Maybe we’re on crazy pills but most of the buildings here in Seattle seem to exhibit a more interesting architecture during construction than they ever do when completed.  A recent walking tour through downtown revealed a dozen or so new buildings going up; each of them demonstrating authenticity in built-form, engaging relationships between shadow & light, gratifying structural patterns and a raw honesty of assemblage.  Even the construction orange safety netting adds a pleasing component of color to a primarily gray skyline.

[photos by BUILD llc]

But the track record suggests that when these buildings are finished, most of those qualities will get covered up with a bland and diluted envelope.  It could be argued that this is just the nature of construction, that the assembly of a building’s skin is very different from the assembly of its structure and that it is counterintuitive for the skin to reflect the structure.  This might be true to some extent, but it doesn’t seem to be a limiting factor elsewhere, take for instance The Manchester Civil Justice Center by  Denton Corker Marshall and recently covered by 2modern.

[photo courtesy of Denton Corker Marshall]

The finished form expresses transparency and light, attenuated steel frameworks contrasted against the massive shearwall, tectonics and expression of floor-plates.  The final product seems to stay true to the nature of how the building was constructed.  In our opinion the finished architecture is authentic, exciting and inspiring.

We propose that the beauty and the engaging forms are already there in most buildings, that they’ve been there all along.   Whether the final product is exciting or dull – the opportunities for good design were already built in by the very nature of construction itself.  The problem is that, as architects, we continue to cover these qualities up.


3 Comments so far
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The “dull envelopes” in Seattle, or most of America for that matter, can largely be attributed to insurance measures and lawsuit prevention. The fact of the matter is that Europeans take greater risks with their building and subsequently get greater results.

Comment by Keyser

Was downtown today for work and heard the symphony of construction going off in the background but to your point nothing nearing completion really caught my eye until I had to find a parking spot near the sculpture park. Its a shame a city with an abundance of architectural talent lacks a truly visionary skyline.

Comment by lou

Keyser- you raise an interesting point, but it seems like we (Americans) are failing miserably at water intrusion anyway with the dryvit crap out there. Why not just go for it with some sexy glass envelopes? I understand the liability concern, but it just seems like we haven’t set a very high bar to clear for creating better looking completed buildings.

Comment by Samuel

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