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Friday, April 6, 2007

Three Quick Things

posted by on April 6 at 12:36 PM

The King County Court House:

By John Ruskin:

The architect is not bound to exhibit structure; nor are we to complain of him for concealing it, any more than we should regret that the outer surfaces of the human frame conceal much of anatomy; nevertheless, that building will generally be noblest, which to an intelligent eye discovers the great secrets of its structure, as an animal form does, although from a careless observer they may be concealed.

Comment One: Before arriving at the core of Artwalk activity, I passed the King County Courthouse building and again felt myself pulled into the debate that has been with us since the century that experienced a tremendous transformation in building materials, the 19th century: Is architecture that hides the actual structure of a building being dishonest? And if so, is this a bad thing? For me, the answer for both questions is a solid yes. And King County Courthouse is one such example of this dishonesty. From top to bottom, the building speaks not a single truth. It’s engaged Ionian columns, the useless balconnets, and, worst of all, the massive Palladian windows which make the top two floors look like one floor (the lower, long columns play a similar trick on the ground floor).

What you see on the surface has no relationship with the internal system. The surface doesn’t express or articulate the actual structure. The two are divided. If this bulk had some unity, then the King County Courthouse would look more like this. It’s a shame that a building whose function is the administration of justice has an architecture that does nothing but tell lies.

In Freeway Park:

From the “Desire Issue”:

My Loverís Window. On another June night, we were underneath the monstrous Freeway Park, on a street called something like Bubble Place. The involved traffic roared around us. Not far from where we stood and kissed and groped, was a strange window (maybe the strangest window in all of Seattle) which, from the parkís artificial waterfall, one can see the traffic on I-5 rush by. Looking into this window is like watching your sleeping loverís dream from a discovered window under her hair. The thing that dreams in Freeway Parkís window ó which is yellow, cracked in certain parts, and situated in a small recess over which water flows like transparent waves of hair ó is the city itself. The city dreams of traffic streams.

Comment Two: On Wednesday I went to Freeway Park to look at my favorite opening in all of Seattle. The opening looks down at the traffic rushing by on I-5. Because of the artificial light in the echoic tunnel, and also the blend of the artificial waterfall’s sound with the sound of the traffic, the scene looks unreal. I wanted to see this unreality again but couldn’t because of a resident madman. In the image above, the madman is just beyond the concrete block, pacing back and forth, talking to himself about things that only himself can understand. I left the park without looking into my magic opening.


From volute O, “Prostitution, Gambling”:

“If it is the belief in mystery that makes believers, then there are more believing gamblers in the world than believing worshipers.” Carl Gustav Jochmann.

Comment Three: I found this abandoned poker set on a bench that’s separated from Chapel of St. Ignatius by a parking lot. Gambling and God? But the chapel, is not really about God, it’s about design and distortion. Like the King County Courthouse, the chapel is dishonest, and in the space of that dishonesty—the dishonesty of what it is really about, as well as a dishonesty between surface and the structure—we shall find the marked card of the architect.

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I appreciate your reading of this building from the perspective of someone living in Seattle in the 21st century, but I totally disagree with it.

The exterior surface of any building is dishonest. The way that buildings have been constructed for many many years now involves so much more than structure and walls. There are cavities inside of walls which conceal insulation, mechanical and electrical systems, etc, etc...

The point is that no building is "honest". They are complicated, like people, and present faces that are hopefully true their time and meaning to the people. When this building was constructed, an image of proportionality, scale, symmetry, and organization was probably important. The composition says something about the program that it houses. And it may not be how I would have responded, but it is appropriate.

The relationship between structure and the expression of that structure in the facade of a building is important. But to say that the two ought to be directly related is a little simple-minded.

Posted by Jeff Dunn | April 6, 2007 1:59 PM

Not to mention the fact that the courthouse was not a unified design. It was originally a four story building.

See here:

Just writing stuff is fun, research can be fun too!

Posted by tiptoe tommy | April 6, 2007 3:14 PM

By that honesty logic, computers should be in transparent boxes, designed to be opened like a door, with a handle. The operating system would not sport a desktop like the one we have, but it should be filled with indicators of temperature, CPU and RAM use by process, logs, disk use, network addresses. The processes themselves would be clearly identified, and each have their own log and access to config files. Web would not exist; we would have gopher, telnet, chat programs, image search programs, file transfer programs, etc. Email would be accessed with telnet; we would have to enter the actual commands email software sends to the server. No unwanted information would come and fill the space because their arrival would be clearly identified and it would be just to easy to filter spam, porn and ads. ".com" addresses would not exist: we'd only have ip addresses with numbers. There would be no such things as "frontends", so most programs would be command-line programs. Usage would require heavy knowledge; you would have to tell your computer everything it uses, so it wouldn't hide you which driver it uses.
Everyone would have to be computer geeks. Fortunatly, not everybody runs self-made unix distros.
Do I want to feel like I'm in a construction site when I go to the library? Not really. Do I want to feel every day the oppression of huge ugly concrete pillars making me feel like an ant? Not really. I guess architecture and construction geeks surely like it, just like I love hacking linux distros, but buildings are also for end users who sometimes wish they were in a more humane environment.

Posted by Mokawi | April 6, 2007 3:37 PM

Ak, tiptoe tommy beat me to it. The KC courthouse had floors added to it as the county's needs expanded. It was designed that way.

Would your opinion change if the original south entrance was restored?

Scroll down to see the old picture at:


Funds approved to research restoration of original courthouse entrance

The King County Council re-designated $104,000 already appropriated to the Building Repair and Replacement Fund to assist in the analysis of redevelopment options for the south entrance of the King County Courthouse.

When the courthouse building was constructed in 1916, the main entrance, with a sweeping staircase made of white marble, was located on the south end of the building, facing Yesler Avenue and adjacent to City Hall Park. In 1967, the south entrance was converted into a loading dock and entrances were built on Third and Fourth avenues. The marble that was part of the entrance remains in place, covered by cement.

As recently as 2001, the county considered what it would take to re-open the south entrance, restore its majesty and bring vitality to the city park, but those plans were shelved by the Nisqaully earthquake.

Retrofitting the courthouse has been the primary issue since the quake, but with the completion of the project, the focus has returned to the south entrance.

Posted by him | April 6, 2007 4:34 PM

Too long for me, Charles.

Posted by Sean | April 6, 2007 4:37 PM

Architecture should not be built clumsily. The result of the courthouse has led to many problems. The area is an eyesore. Perhaps it is not the homeless people who make that area unpleasant, but the damned looming courthouse. This is why everything around the building has fallen into disrepair, for the building vanquishes people's spirits, and causes them to stumble drunkenly. Also, the building inside is equally hellacious. I have been there and everything is gloomy.

Posted by Billy | April 7, 2007 3:43 PM

to architecture! the cause of and solution to all life's problems.

Posted by homer simpson | April 8, 2007 8:00 PM

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