When William “Bill” Bain Jr. began conceptualizing Pacific Place in the mid-1990s, Sixth and Pine was a quiet corner among scattered storefronts in a city mostly known for its aerospace and lumber industries. The back of the five-story retail space the architect was planning would face a near-empty lot.
“What should we put back there?” Mr. Bain’s colleague David Yuan remembers someone saying. “A laundromat?”
But long before companies like Amazon began booming within the city limits, Mr. Bain envisioned Seattle as a bustling urban hub for emerging industries.
“He said, ‘A laundromat? That’s short-sighted,’” Yuan said. “He knew that part is going to grow.”
Mr. Bain was right. Decades later, Pacific Place is at the center of designer outlet stores and restaurants.
“He taught me to take the long view,” said Yuan, who worked with Mr. Bain for 28 years. “To not just think about the present and to design to the present.”
The 88-year-old Seattle architect died June 8 surrounded by his family, but not before leaving a trail of influence mapped through the city.
Mr. Bain, who was born in Seattle in 1930, briefly left to earn a degree in architecture at Cornell. His colleagues said the rural landscape of Ithaca, New York, was the perfect setting in which to envision a bigger, urban Seattle. When he flew home to visit, he saw a quietly evolving city teeming with potential.
He served in the Army Corps of Engineers before returning to work at his father’s still-new design firm, NBBJ, in 1955.
Mr. Bain spent more than 60 years at the company, helping turn the small firm into what is now an influential global powerhouse. He designed some of Seattle’s most recognizable buildings, among them Two Union Square and the Washington Mutual Tower.
He saw his hometown’s population swell by 50% from the 1940s to the 1960s, and collaborated with Minoru Yamasaki, a famous architect credited with conceptualizing the World Trade Center, on designing the Seattle Center and Rainier Tower.
Those projects laid the groundwork for one of his most recognizable projects in the 1980s: Two Union Square, a 56-story skyscraper in downtown Seattle. His colleagues said the skyscraper was meant to honor the city’s geography between Puget Sound and the Cascade mountains.
“His sense of civic duty was making sure that buildings last and have a timeless quality to them … that they’re great places to be in and walk around years from now,” said Yuan.
As Seattle began to emerge as a technological hub for entrepreneurs and big thinkers, Mr. Bain sought to build a city that could keep up with the seemingly outsized effect of the technology industry as it continued to grow.
“He was not just interested in the building, but in the sites around the building. And how to make a great city, not just a great building,” Yuan said.
Mr. Bain was also keenly interested in keeping the bones of historic Seattle intact. He led the restoration of the Fairmont Olympic Hotel and the Paramount Theatre, two buildings that were Seattle icons before he was born.
“He was very visionary in saving cultural icons,” said Susan Jones, who worked with him at NBBJ. “He understood the importance of layers of history.”
While his flagship legacy will be his buildings, those who worked with Mr. Bain also remember how his architecture merged with the streets and threaded isolated buildings together through a network of walkways sidewalks and sitting areas.
In the 1990s, Mr. Bain was one of the few people who saw downtown Seattle as a residential area. He moved his family to a mixed-used building of his own design on Pine Street called Marketplace Tower.
Jones, who lived in a quiet building across the street, said it was rare to run into her neighbors. Though grocery stores and amenities were nearby, she said her neighbors thought it was safer to take a car.
“The vibrancy of the streets, the growth of Seattle in so many ways is part and parcel to the nurturing way he revitalized the downtown,” Jones said.
Mr. Bain is survived by his wife, Nancy Bain; sons David Hunter Bain, John Worthington Bain and Mark Sanford Bain (and his wife Anuschka Bloomers); and grandchildren Tesla Bain and Atom Bain.
No plans for a memorial have been announced.