GROWING UP IN the Pacific Northwest, I thought architecture came in two flavors: Craftsman bungalow and midcentury ranch. It was only after moving to Los Angeles — where can you find a Spanish hacienda, an English cottage and a French château all on the same block — that I encountered the full architectural breakfast buffet.
Sprinkled among these historic homages were buildings that had no precedent: the early modern work of Irving Gill, Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard Neutra and Rudolph Schindler; the next wave of Harwell Hamilton Harris, Gregory Ain, John Lautner; and the midcentury work of A. Quincy Jones (University of Washington Class of ’36), Craig Ellwood, Pierre Koenig and many more. Why hadn’t anyone told me so many different things could be done with wood, stucco and glass?
It didn’t hurt that the museum I was working for at the time was on a collecting binge, snapping up anything to do with The Bauhaus, Russian Constructivism, Italian Futurism and any other -isms you can think of. My job promoting these acquisitions and exhibitions was a crash course in the history of modern design. Even after I transitioned into the entertainment industry, I remained fascinated with the drama of architecture.
I moved back to Seattle to find a simpler life as a writer and novelist. What I didn’t find were many books on local Modernism. There were a few biographies and photographic tributes to the weekend mansions of tech millionaires, but nothing on the old stuff. Maybe because most of that old stuff was simple — designed to blend in — and by now hidden behind tall trees and overgrown rhododendrons. But behind all that greenery is some terrific architecture. The Asian-infused pavilions of Gene Zema. The machine precision of Keith Kolb. The Wrightian organics of Milton Stricker. The high style of Roland Terry.
No Seattle architect of that underdocumented era shined more brightly than Paul Hayden Kirk. A little research told me he was the most-awarded and
-publicized architect of his era. Touring his houses and medical clinics showed me why. If the story of Northwest Modernism were to be told, it should be through the work of this midcentury master.
“Paul Hayden Kirk and the Rise of Northwest Modern” (PaulHaydenKirk.com) tells the story of a remarkable architect and the times in which he lived. The cast of characters in this drama includes several remarkable women who influenced and promoted Modern architecture at a time when few had the opportunity to create it.