We asked local architects and interior designers — along with readers, via Facebook — to share their votes for downtown Seattle’s most beautiful building.
We asked local architects and interior designers — along with readers, via Facebook — to share their votes for downtown Seattle’s most beautiful building. The verdict: There’s a lot of beautiful, and beautifully varied, architecture around here … and walruses are awesome.
Pacific Science Center, 200 Second Ave. N. (Minoru Yamasaki)
• KYLE GAFFNEY
“One of my favorites! Designed for community, information and education, in addition to exploring and pushing innovative approaches in materiality, detailing and constructability, all in one project.”
• AMY JANOF
“The fountain court, with its floating terraces and iconic arches, sends my imagination soaring today just as much as it did decades ago on elementary-school field trips. It’s civic architecture at its best — emotional, inspiring and poetic.”
• MIKE LA FON
“It felt like I visited this weekly with my parents. The central pavilion of the Pacific Science Center, with the arches and shallow pools, the outdoor spaces, felt so utopian to me as a child, like I was entering the future, and even now the proportions of the space and arrangement of the buildings seem to reference an attitude of stateliness, of ‘essentialness,’ that is so tied to the aspirations of the city back then. It’s not really quintessentially Seattle to my mind, but seems to aspire to some universal ideals that are simultaneously naive and unabashed that you can’t help but admire.”
• JILL RERUCHA
“Part of its beauty is that it reflects the attitude and optimism of the period. Contributing to the collection of structures built for the Seattle World’s Fair, it captures the optimism of the 1960s and the promise of man’s limitlessness. Seattle was becoming ‘The Aerospace City’; the country was racing to put a man on the moon. The Space Needle is also stunning in its contribution to the city and its symbolism of the era. But I picked this complex not only for its meaning to the city but its architectural experience. I kind of like the ‘space between,’ not the Cartesian stand-alone building. The Pacific Science Center is a weaving together of experiences … reflection, water, sky, shadows and soaring cathedrallike arches and facades.”
The Arctic Building, 700 Third Ave. (A. Warren Gould)
• TIM HAMMER
“The iconic terra-cotta walruses that adorn the facade of the Arctic Building were a really cool and unexpected sight to see. I Googled ‘Seattle Walrus Building.’ I was rewarded with some fantastic stories about Seattle’s Gold Rush days and the historic Arctic Club. … As a whole, I find the building less than exceptional, but the walruses and, more important, the backstory, have caught and held my fancy.”
• JEFF PELLETIER
“The facade is beautifully detailed and has these gorgeous walrus tusks on them that are something that just wouldn’t be done today. The building, while formal, has these playful elements and just makes me smile every time I see it.”
• ROBERT SWAIN
“Its power for me is the Beaux Arts premise to the age of discovery, Seattle as the jumping-off point and provisioner of wilderness exploration — and now, as we tragically watch the decline and potential loss of the Arctic and its wildlife, this building’s beauty reminds us of what we’ve lost. The handsome terra-cotta walruses are particularly stunning, as they exemplify my many wilderness encounters with extraordinary wildlife.”
Olympic Sculpture Park, 2901 Western Ave. (Weiss/Manfredi)
• MATTHEW COATES
“While there are MANY fabulous buildings in downtown Seattle, one of my absolute favorites (and one that is often overlooked) is the Olympic Sculpture Park building. … This building is a fantastic piece of architecture. Its beauty is subtle yet powerfully elegant and evocative; the way it is integrated into the landscaping is brilliant. It moves you, almost launches you, into the experience, and is therefore an extension of the sculptural artwork itself. No doubt this was the aim of the architect. I love it!”
• MIKE MORA
“The stainless-clad pavilion is one of those ‘I wish I’d done that’ buildings for me, and the complex as a whole is breathtakingly well-executed. It is architecture, landscape, hardscape, urban design and art all at once, and it is a clinic in design discipline and depth.”
• TIM RHODES
“This series of planes, walls and experiential art installations just north of Pike Place Market is a wonderful addition to the Seattle cityscape. At once a park, a transition between neighborhoods and a vivid enjoyable connection, the Olympic Park is a place and a building at the same time. Walking the park and lying on your back, looking up at its life-size stainless-steel tree on a sunny summer afternoon, is meditative.”
The Chapel of St. Ignatius, 901 12th Ave. (Steven Holl)
• BRIAN BRAND
“It is a small building but to me one of the best in the city.”
• DAN NELSON
“The colored light tubes bring in a variety of light and color reflecting off the vaulted ceilings throughout the day. The interior finishes are simple, but the plaster texture gives the walls and ceiling a nice richness. The contained geometry works well in an urban setting. The exterior colored tilt-up concrete panels are urban in character yet have an earthiness that is reminiscent of structures that could have been built in the Basque region where St. Ignatius was born. And the bell tower with the reflecting pool and chapel create a balanced but dynamic composition as you approach the chapel.”
• GERALD REDDING
“Although it is not downtown, the closest I would come to beautiful is the St. Ignatius Chapel at Seattle University by Steven Holl. This chapel designed for worship, meditation and prayer has so much more purpose than an office, retail or museum building. I think this is what led to a beautiful expression by the architect, with its creative form and shape to play with natural light and color. The building has impacted people’s lives spiritually and emotionally.”
Fire Station 10, 400 S. Washington St. (Weinstein A+U Architects + Urban Designers)
• KEVIN ECKERT
“Perhaps ‘handsome’ would be a better word than ‘beautiful,’ but everything that building has to accomplish, and given the limited budget and challenging location, it is striking.”
• MICHELLE LINDEN
“Fire Station No. 10 is a how-to lesson for modern architecture. The building stands out exactly for its ability to blend in. Surrounded by historic Pioneer Square, it could easily stick out like a sore thumb, but instead it takes its cues from the surrounding neighborhood with a stepped massing to reflect the steep hill it sits on, a brick base pulling from the materials in the neighborhood, and big red doors giving an iconic nod to fire stations of old. And somehow it manages to do all this while still embracing everything modern — form, materiality, sustainability and transparency. All around, it is a great building.”
Seattle Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave. (OMA/LMN)
• BEN TROGDON
“The description of ‘beautiful’ for a building can be used to convey a variety of characteristics well beyond the surface of the skin. The Seattle Central Library not only has a remarkably beautiful and unique architectural steel and glass ‘skin,’ but its contextual form and public function are heroic, and its design and construction ‘story’ speaks to our present day and remains unrivaled on so many meaningful levels. I don’t know any other building in downtown Seattle that offers a genuinely comprehensive — and ‘beautiful’ — solution to the awesome challenges that such an undertaking presents. I don’t think there is any other building that not only contributes as much as this building does to its built environment and to the ‘public’ human experience, but inspires and challenges us to ‘think outside the box.’ ”
Smith Tower, 506 Second Ave. (Gaggin & Gaggin)
• HOWARD MILLER
“Favorite historic building: Smith Tower. (Favorite contemporary building: Seattle Public Library).”
The Terminal Sales Building, 1932 First Ave. (Henry Bittman)
• TOM KUNIHOLM
“What is the building that truly epitomizes the creative soul and spirit of Seattle over the decades? First, it needs to be near Pike Place Market and the waterfront. The mighty gothic-modern Terminal Sales Building, circa 1923, features a penthouse ‘head’ sitting on square masonry shoulders, with a sweeping view over Pike Place Market and out to Elliott Bay. This building type is typical of many built in port cities across the country to showcase and store goods for shipping near the waterfront. The building is not an architectural masterpiece, per se; it is really kind of a giant dressy loft building supported by massive hexagonal concrete columns with huge flared caps, but that’s what makes it so appealing and versatile. The genius of the building is the exterior skin that contrasts a massive bulk of gothic terra-cotta, brick and concrete with thousands of delicate shoji-like industrial steel sash window panes — that swing open! Having been a former tenant in the summer, I learned the importance of this fact. Located along the highly energized nexus of First Avenue at Virginia Street, the building and its exquisite annex by Carl Gould add a beautifully scaled storefront texture to that neighborhood at the street edge. It is the utility and light-filled quality of this building that have continuously made it a magnet and incubator for seminal Seattle innovators over the years with design firms, startups, indie publishing, indie music production, indie juice bars, etc. Often the ‘greenest’ buildings are the ones that manage to get things right over the test of time, keep on giving and thus don’t get the wrecking ball.”
The Times Square Building, 414 Olive Way (Bebb and Gould)
• GREG BELDING
“Nestled between Stewart and Olive, the Times Square Building acts as a pivot point for the city’s street grid(s); it commands the small open space created at Fourth and Stewart with its timeless elegance and understated strength. I love this building.”
Two Union Square, 601 Union St. (NBBJ)
• STELLA CAROSSO
“When I first moved to Seattle, Two Union Square was the most compelling high-rise to me because it embodied a very nautical feel that seemed SO Seattle.”
Cristalla, 2033 Second Ave. (Weber Thompson)
• HILARY YOUNG
“I am smitten with the mix of old and new. The Cristalla site is the original home of the Crystal Pool natatorium, built in 1915. It showcased one of the most elaborate terra-cotta facades in Seattle and a grand entry pergola dome. At the turn of the century, it became the site of a new residential tower of glass and steel. However, the Italian Renaissance facade was restored, and the pergola dome was rebuilt in steel and glass to mimic the original. I absolutely love the mix of the traditional ornate facade with the steel and glass awnings above wood windows captured in dark bronze metal.”
Triangle Garage, 515 Second Ave.(Mandeville and Berge)
• ROBERT HUTCHISON
“While many (understandably) consider the Triangle (‘Sinking Ship’) Garage in Pioneer Square an eyesore, if one looks beyond the superficial, some inherent qualities begin to emerge. The efficiency of the building is remarkable … by sloping the floors counter to the slope of the site, access to each of the parking floors is achieved without the requirement for any internal ramp circulation. And if one takes the time to walk inside, you can see the remains of the bathroom tile from the previous hotel that occupied the site. Perhaps most appealing is the building’s potential for other purposes as we become less reliant on automobiles. If we made the sloping roof level a public park with restaurants and retail in the levels below, perhaps people might begin to see the building as ‘beautiful’?”
King Street Station, 303 S. Jackson St. (Reed and Stem, 1906; ZGF Architects, 2013 renovation)
• MICHELLE DIRKSE
“My favorite building in Seattle is King Street Station. As a child, I would take the train to visit Seattle, and the excitement began once I arrived at the station. With the fairly recent renovation, the building’s interior and exterior are beautiful. I love that they reflect the design of the past and also accommodate current community events on the upper floors. The King Street Station is beautiful and functional, and I’m so happy that it has been restored.”
The Interurban Building, Yesler Way and Occidental Avenue South (John Parkinson)
• RICK CHESMORE
“Originally built as the Seattle National Bank in 1892, this building’s six floors are divided into four zones of horizontal banding. Two-story-high round arches at the base are clad with the vivid color of Colorado red sandstone. Smaller round arches articulate the bays of the third through fifth floors. Buildings are mainly seen and experienced at the street level, but this building has such a beautiful composition and combination of colorful materials and historical Richardsonian details. Occidental Square and Park are located kitty-corner, so this building is experienced by many pedestrians as they pass through the Pioneer Square district.”
Most Read Stories
- Seattle-area protests: Demonstrators gather for fifth day to call for peace and change after George Floyd's death
- Coronavirus daily news updates, June 2: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world
- Which phase is your county in? And what can you do under the modified Phase 1 of Washington's reopening?
- Seattle-area protests: Police declare a riot as demonstrators gather for fourth day to call for police accountability
- King County will apply to enter a modified Phase 1 of coronavirus recovery. Here's what that means.
The Journal of Commerce Building, 83 Columbia St., and the Travelers Building, 80 Yesler Way
• JULIE BLAZEK
“I remember these buildings making a visual and emotional impression on me within the first few weeks that I moved to Seattle 24 years ago, and have always loved them. To me they embody the richness of texture, materials, scale and history that make up the uniqueness of a place’s urban fabric.”
• The Arctic Building, 700 Third Ave.
• The Exchange Building, 821 Second Ave.
• F5 Tower, 801 Fifth Ave. (formerly called The Mark)
• MoPOP, 325 Fifth Ave. N.
• Pacific Tower, 1200 12th Ave. S.
• Rainier Tower, 1301 Fifth Ave.
• The Rainier Club, 820 Fourth Ave.
• Smith Tower, 506 Second Ave.
• Downtown Seattle YMCA, 909 Fourth Ave.