A City Full of Modern Residential Buildings

I just returned from a trip to Seattle, Washington.  My first reaction, as I rode the rail line in from the airport was. “I want to move here.”  I was responding to the committedly modern residential buildings in the neighborhoods we were passing through.  As we explored the city in the next days I was delighted.

The First Building Boom

Bell Apartments, Seattle, WA

Seattle had an economic boom in the early twentieth century that produced some lovely Richardsonian and Gothic masonry commercial buildings in the downtown that had been decimated by the great Seattle fire in 1889.  However it was in a real slump in the 60’s and 70’s when some of the worst urban redevelopment was foisted on American cities.  Its next population expansion fueled by the high-tech field corresponded to a second take on modernism by American architects in the late 80’s, 90’s and into this century.  The

cities population grew 10% between 1990 and 2000.


Infill Residential

The solution to this rapid growth appears to have been to replace single-family houses with six story multi-family buildings.  The story limit may have resulted from Seattle codes that allow five floors of wood frame over a commercial ground floor.  In any case the resulting scale is very pleasant and sits easily with the remaining houses.


1111 E. Pike
Olson Kundig Architects
Seattle, Washington


1990’s Modernism

The new infill residential buildings follow a common pattern.  The first five floors are very glassy with metal or panel cladding.  The sixth floor sets back and is even glassier.  A large flat roof extends out as a canopy protecting from the Seattle rain.  I have to say that in a week I felt no rain and wished I had brought sunscreen but I understand this is not typical.  The roof extensions felt appropriate to the climate.

Future Modern

By the end of our stay I was still delighted by this pattern but hoping that the next wave of residential buildings brings some new ideas.  With Seattle’s willingness to experiment I think that they will change or evolve into something equally delightful.