Seattle by Design

From neoclassical buildings to art deco skyscrapers to cutting-edge glass spheres, Seattle’s roots shine through in its architecture.

The Center for Wooden Boat’s new Wagner Education CenterPhoto Courtesy: Melissa Kaserman

1. Modern Craft

Background: The late Center for Wooden Boats founder Dick Wagner was a boat enthusiast who once rented out vessels from his floating home. Today CWB restores vessels and offers free Sunday sails to honor the city’s maritime heritage. Designed by architecture firm Olson Kundig, CWB’s new Wagner Education Center houses exhibit space, classrooms, and a boat shop.

Details: The education center’s simple palette of wood, steel, and glass mimics the materials found on a boat, while the structure draws inspiration from historic boatbuilding facilities.

Location: South Lake Union; *1010 Valley St;

Inside The Spheres at AmazonPhoto Courtesy: Melissa Kaserman

2. Urban Oasis

Background: In the heart of Amazon’s sprawling campus in South Lake Union, three conjoined domes appear otherworldly in the cityscape. Meet The Spheres, steel-framed orbs encased in 2,643 panes of glass. Inside, more than 40,000 plant species from 30-plus countries fill the space with greenery, providing a new take on the typical urban office building.

Details: The Spheres’ 50-foot-tall Canyon Living Wall features tiny epiphytes (or air plants) that don’t require any soil. To tour The Spheres, reserve a spot on an Amazon HQ Tour or during a Saturday open house; book in advance as both fill up quickly.

Location: South Lake Union; 2101 Seventh Ave;

3. Color Collision

Background: What happens when you ask legendary architect Frank O. Gehry to design a museum that evokes rock and roll? A fusion of color, shape, and texture that is as provocative as it is thought provoking, even two decades after it was first built. The Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) captures that creative spirit inside and out, with rotating exhibits that examine all facets of music, fantasy, film, and more.

Details: Designed to look like a smashed guitar from above, MoPOP features 21,000 aluminum and stainless steel panels that reflect light differently from every angle, meant to remind viewers that culture is constantly in flux.

Location: Seattle Center, *325 Fifth Ave N;

4. Hidden Gems

Background: Walk by the Arctic Building (built in 1916) and Cobb Building (1910), and look up. You’ll find unique decorative touches that not only add personality but also tell a story about the buildings and Seattle’s roots.

Details: The Arctic Building’s terra-cotta walruses give a nod to the structure’s original purpose as a club for businessmen who prospered during the Klondike Gold Rush. Meanwhile, the Cobb Building’s Native American ornaments on the 10th and 11th floors honor the city’s first inhabitants.

Location: Downtown; 700 Third Ave (Arctic Building); 1301 Fourth Ave (Cobb Building)

5. Postmodern Reading Room

Background: The faceted steel-and-glass structure of Seattle Public Library’s central branch offers a dramatic departure from the rest of the city’s rectangular buildings. Architects Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Ramus designed it to look like a stack of floating platforms, earning it a spot on the American Institute of Architects͛ list of 150 favorite structures in the United States. Inside, the library houses 1.45 million books and media titles, plus a four-level book spiral.

Details: The exterior glass can cover 5.5 football fields, with stretched metal mesh sandwiched between layers to help reduce glare and heat on surfaces in direct sunlight. Take a self-guided cell phone tour (206-686-8564*) to learn more about the building and its interiors.

Location: Downtown; *1000 Fourth Ave;

6. Art Deco Detail

Background: A holdout from Seattle’s art deco era, the Exchange Building (completed in 1930) was originally built to house the Seattle Stock Exchange. Today its 23 floors serve as commercial office space, but dazzling art deco details remain as a reminder of its place in the city’s history.

Details: The front doors on Second Avenue feature classic art deco elements: colorful stained glass, bold geometric shapes, and ornate detailing.

Location: Downtown; 821 Second Ave

*Visit Seattle Partner


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