One major reason for the quality of the architecture is that to a great degree the zoning code dictates building shape. Which is why we end up with so many squat buildings that fill up the lot. More flexibility on height could allow more flexibility on building shape, how the building relates to the street, and the possibility for ground level public spaces.
Right on, Dominic.
Not used to hearing the word "affordable" in conjunction with housing in Seattle. I guess that's where the "-ish" comes in. "-ish" as in "affordable as it's going to get".
And I wholeheartedly agree about the random steel beams tacked on to (seems like) every single new mixed-use project. That shit's got to go.
try talking a developer into taking a chance on innovative design.
they do everything in their power to avoid
1. paying an architect.
2. design review.
3. listening to their architect's ideas if they have to employ one to get through design review.
it is the Architecture of Fear. every decision is the chain is made to minimize risk - yesterday the PI called it "haute-bourgouise retrotecture".
bullseye. at least your examples don't have gabled roofs & "craftsman detailing".
Balconettes must be made illegal!
Someone explain to me why I would first want to buy an apartment (and that is what a condo is boys and girls) for $300K plus that looks like shit?
Agreed. Balconettes = useless + ugly
@7 - because your other option is a better-looking $2 million condo? Typically, there has been a relationship between income inequality and architectural quality, and most of us would rather live in duller homes under non-Dickensian conditions.
#7, that's the problem in a nutshell. Builders knew the demand was great enough that they could get away with building the crap that lines out city streets, and people would have to buy them (and #5, I doubt it's the "architecture of fear", it's the architecture of profit).
you have to admit the lofts at 12th and pike are pretty badass though. huge windows, huge draperies and still some street level retail space. it reminds me of Playtime by Tati.
Mr. Cheek, if he learned a thing as author of a book on Frank Lloyd Wright, should be writhing in exquisite aesthetic torture every time he exits his home and regards the Seattle cityscape.
Tragically, for a city that once mustered decent homages to prevailing international architectural trends (Smith Tower, Seattle Tower) and -- more to the Wrightian point -- managed to squeeze out a few notable examples of a more organic architecture (Canlis, Ellsworth Storey cottages), we are today confronted with the subjugation of genius to the (developer) mobocracy.
The mixed use buildings chosen by Mr. Holden to illustrate his point illustrate mine, as well: we are a city that is rapidly becoming a reflection of post-WW2 European infill, and in the worst possible ways.
Because of this, I call Seattle's prevailing architectural style -- defined by Easter egg colors, balconettes, corrugated steel cladding and pressboard -- "Low Rotterdam."
I also count Rotterdam as an organic twin to Seattle because our weather is similar, we are a harbor city, and we seem to have weed for sale at every corner.
A year after arriving in Seattle, I rode a train through the redeveloped docklands area of that Dutch city (the same region that gave birth to Rem Koolhaas and others). Steel cladding, irregular but intriguing window banding and placement, unornamented facades and dynamic application of exterior color were the traits that repeated enough to establish a clear and pleasing design vocabulary for the region.
A few years after that journey, our city's newer construction led me to state to friends that we were directionally embracing the Rotterdam style, but from an execution standpoint, we had failed -- and still fail -- miserably to equal its ability to capture the imagination, other than the imagination one might undertake to picture themselves in another city altogether.
Low Rotterdam's grossest abrogrations of creativity and dignity are with color and material.
While the shape of Seattle's new buildings is relatively standard (no Niemeyer acrobatics here, aside from the I-dare-you-to-knock-me-down parlor trick that is the Rainier Tower ), the colors are straight out of the Pottery Barn colorwheel, and the materials seem chosen by spinning a wheel, or picking choices out of a hat.
What else could explain the hideous condo/apartments/whatever at 12th and Howell (pineapple lamps?!?), the Press apartments (how many exterior claddings can fit in a Volkswagen?), or that execrable and oft-maligned brick turd that sits at the intersection of Broadway and Roy?
Some developers have even figured out how to ruin the beauty we once had in our buildings. How about that preserved terra cotta fascia on the Cristalla? Where has the concept of historic preservation ever suffered a less successful outcome?
Other examples of Low Rotterdam, large and small, exist all over town. Ballard, Fremont, Wallingford and, of course, Capitol Hill, all fester with these architectural abscesses.
Cities deserve the architecture they get. I'm just wondering what kind of karmic payback we are suffering to have gone from the derivative but impressive Seafirst Headquarters (Seagrams Lite) to that god-awful new Wamu building, which looks like a chromed-out Burberry gift box -- its silver horizontal and vertical banding barely containing a tweeker's fugue of beige cladding, blueish tinted glass, HVAC vents and so much else. One can almost taste the methamphetamine in the back of one's throat by simply staring too long at the structure.
Like any kind of change, the population will have to speak up about, refuse to buy into, and otherwise agitate around these new projects. That means attending design meetings, reading up on the subject, and establishing personal criteria for what YOU think looks good.
All of which sounds like work. So I'm not holding out much hope we'll be leaving our Low Rotterdam morass anytime soon.
Will the last talented Seattle architect please throw out the pus-yellow Hardi-Plank?
Boo fucking hoo. Mediocre architecture is what made America great. For every "great" Seattle building in the past, for every Canlis and every Seattle Tower, there were a thousand mediocrities, and many of those mediocrities are now charming landmarks of Seattle's urban landscape. Architects and architectural critics are always so puffed up. Great buildings are determined by their uses, not their design standards.
"Great buildings are determined by their uses, not their design standards."
That's a load of shit. Great buildings are designed so well that they allow for great uses, while at the same time affording their inhabitants an elevated sense of being.
In other words, I might have a poached egg for breakfast in any building in the world, but if I was eating it in Philip Johnson's Glass House, it might be that much more of an exciting experience.
It's also a little bit of design rules too. The city makes developers build "open space" that is almost always some odd shrubbery or misplaced fountain, and that shit is almost always fucking ugly.
The AIA panel says Seattle knows how to do better. Mr. Holden suggests our hands are tied because we need to keep our housing affordable-ish.
Since our housing is not even affordable-ish after years of design banality, does that make us doubly stupid, or am I missing something?
@12 - "that execrable and oft-maligned brick turd that sits at the intersection of Broadway and Roy?" - thank you for bringing up that one, lest we forget (and we shouldn't). It epitomizes everything that we lament about mediocre architecture in this city. Note to Weber + Thompson employess: hang your heads in shame.
Quit cheerleading for replacing delapidated houses with shit condos. Houses can be, and routinely are, fixed up nicely.
Condo developments that look like crap now certainly aren't going to look any better in 20 years.
Cato @7 -- Why own a condo rather than rent an apartment? Some people are truly happier renting given the choice so more power.
On the other hand, the 30 year fixed mortgage was and continues to be THE best economic tool for building the middle class. The ability to finance your child's education or your retirement on the equatitiy you gain over time has created a profound systemic change.
In a place like Seattle the housing market may level out for a year or two but in the long run prices will go up again. Someone who bought a little house for 300K 4 years ago can now turn around and sell the same house for 500K. That's me! That 200K in equity could be cashed out in an emeregency (say if we had a major medical need in our family), it could be used for a number of things.
Things you should NOT use your homes equity for; trips to Europe, new cars, flat screen tv, etc. Equity should be treated like a tresure not to be squandered.
But that is something that home owners have that renters don't. It's a much stronger web of financial security. It is well known that condo values are not as high as sf homes.
bullshit. Other cities have far stricter restrictions on what developers can build and what it looks like. There's absolutely ZERO reason why Seattle can't get tough on developers who refuse to build attractive, functional buildings that benefit and enhance the neighorhood that surrounds them. If you don't believe me, go take a trip to Vancouver and Portland, two cities that actually practice intelligent city planning.
Econ Geek: your friendly GED-equipped mortgage broker since 2005.
Ha! Affordable housing will never come to this city.
Before the holidays I had an email exchange with Mr McIver on the city council (you know the guy who says he's interested in affordable housing and who is the head of the housing committee next year...yeah that one) about strengthening the landlord tenant laws in the city and helping make housing affordable by limiting the number and types of "fees" that rental agencies seem so fond of in this city.
He responded with free market rhetoric and basically told me that it's not his job to make sure people aren't being exploited.
@22, I had the same response from all the City Council members I have written to dealing with tenant laws. None of them are willing to deal with it.
Funny how in liberal Seattle the City Council believes in "free market" ruling business practices for something basic like housing.
if it's any consolation, most of these buildings are so poorly constructed they're coming down sooner rather than later!
@ 22 and 23
When the next census comes out (in 3 or 4 years) it will show that there will a majority of renters in Seattle for the first time (yes?).
The 2000 census had renters to homeowners at about 48% to 52%. No doubt that will have shifted in 10 years.
Perhaps then renters will have enough voting power to force issues to be dealt with.
In the meantime "thaumaturgistguy," would you be willing to post those e-mail exchanges with your elected official?
Is that your standard, Jubilation? Any building that's not as exciting as the Glass House doesn't deserve to be built? Should all houses cost $10 million or more?
By the way, the Glass House, like everything that old fraud Philip Johnson has ever done, is a hopeless piece of shit from a functional standpoint. No one wants to live it that. The crappiest block of "townhomes" in Ballard is far more livable.
The failure of modern architecture in residential construction is embarrassing (to the architects) but it ultimately doesn't matter. Fifty years from now we will be scrambling to discover who designed the buildings that interest us, which will absolutely not be the ones we thought were interesting today.
Right now the hot things in Seattle and elsewhere across the country are Craftsman houses. Most of these houses, including most of the best examples, were built from a kit, designer and builder unknown today.
It's hilarious hearing you people complain about these buildings you know nothing about. The imaginary time and imaginary place where ordinary people's homes were designed by famous and talented architects DOESN'T EXIST, NEVER EXISTED. And most importantly, SHOULDN'T exist. These are luxury products, intended for and made possible by the superrich. Vernacular architecture has always been best. Frank Lloyd Wright can suck my balls.
They're too long for Slog. I fear Dan would reprimand me, and we all know what a sadistic streak he has. ^_^
After work I will post a link to them for you.
Dominic's mistake is that he lauds poorly designed, cheaply constructed shit for bring affordable housing to Seattle.
What it is in fact is poorly designed, cheaply constructed shit that is being sold for as much as the market will bear.
Developers and real estate people have no interest in affordable housing, save when a token effort allows them a zoning variance or tax break.
Michael Strangeways @ 20. Actually there's a great reason why Seattle can't "get tough on developers." Washington state has some of the most libertarian, land-owner friendly property rights laws in the U.S. Many of our existing zoning rules and height-bonus-exchange-for-affordable-housing programs (which still allow for these fugly-ass buildings) are already in a legal gray area. It would be pretty to live in Paris or in a time when labor and natural resources were cheaper, but we don't. We live in Washington now.
And, Napoleon: Mwah! See my previous posts on incentives to build affordable housing. But I regretfully guarantee you, it'll be ugly, which, again, bums me out.
@26 (abandoning fears of Dan yelling at me)
-as requested by “I am your mother”, a correspondence with Richard McIver:
Dear Mr McIver,
As my representatives in the city council and the head of the Head of
the Housing committee for next year I would like to introduce myself to
you. My name is __________ and I moved here to Seattle about two years
ago. I live on Capitol Hill and work for ______________.
In my life I have lived all over the country from tiny towns to large
metropolitan areas like the city of Chicago. In all of my travels I have
found Seattle to be the place that I would like to settle down and stay
for many years.
Since I intend to stay in Seattle I feel that it is time that I involve
myself in the political process of the city government and bring to your
attention something that I would like to see changed in the practices
and habits of landlords in the city. I am a renter and have been for
many years in different places. Considering the housing market’s
condition in this city, despite the woes in the rest of the country, it
looks like I will continue to be a renter as there is no possible way I
can afford housing in my neighborhood even though I make decent money at
a state job. That issue is something that I believe the market will
correct in time and we can see the coming of it in the housing slump
occurring throughout the country. In the meantime though I am a renter
and have to deal with that reality.
I have observed that tenants are frequently taken advantage of and are
repeatedly fleeced by rental companies in small and large ways that are
surprising to me. Rent in this city is already out of control and people
have to pay a high premium to live in not so premium housing. Then
landlords add administrative fees, non refundable portions of deposits,
application fees, and a bevy of other little costs that eat away at
already burdened incomes and line their already fat and bursting pockets
that have been filled with inflated rents for sub par buildings.
Examples of these costs exist in my own experiences and in ads that are
posted numerous places like craigslist.com and other rental sites. They
- Exorbitant background check fees reaching as high as $75
dollars, when only a credit check should be required. Credit checks
almost never exceed $25-$30.
- Unexplained non-refundable portions of deposits or high
“administrative fees” just for becoming a new renter in a
building. I have seen these reach as high as $300.
- Exorbitant and unnecessary cleaning fees. In my current
building I was charged a $250 “Venetian blinds cleaning fee” that
everyone who moves into that building is charged for the service of
having the blinds clean when you move out. Why can’t I just clean the
blinds myself with soap and water? The same thing could be said for
carpet cleaning costs. Dirt accumulation in carpets is normal wear and
tear on a building and those types of costs should not fall to a
- Non refundable pet deposits. Why must someone be punished
financially for choosing to have even just one animal companion?
Obviously if the animal damages an apartment or ruins a carpet then a
refundable pet deposit could be forfeit, but the standard practice of
most landlords is to simply charge you for the fact you own a cat or
small dog regardless of whether they cause any harm or damage to a unit.
If you add all of these up one could potentially be looking at
something like four to five hundred dollars that will never be seen
again just to move into a unit. Add a requirement for paying the last
month’s rent up front, which occasionally happens, and suddenly
renters have to come up with twelve to sixteen hundred dollars on top of
what you will pay for your first month’s rent, a third of that you
will not get back. Many people simply do not have that kind of money
In my opinion this amounts to nothing more than bribes that renters
must pay to landlords. The money these rental companies make off of
tenants in the bubble market of Seattle is considerable and to burden
renters with these further costs is simply greedy and unfair.
Of course the issue of high rent is governed by the economy and the
market, but I think that there are small, helpful changes that can be
made in the rules and regulations governing landlords and tenants that
will benefit renters immensely and help ease the financial burdens
placed on them. If the Landlord Tenants Laws were amended to include a
prohibition against fees of an unreasonable nature, such as those
mentioned in this letter, and non refundable portions of deposits that
would go a long way to balancing the rights of tenants in this city
versus that of rental companies.
Cities that are considered to be of international caliber and
metropolitan invariably have strong laws protecting renters even if it
is not to the direct benefit of the companies and corporations that
lease to them. This can be seen in cities from New York to Chicago and
even many cities abroad which go to great lengths to protect renters,
while also balancing the financial needs of landlords who must pay for
upkeep and maintenance. In my experience renting in other metropolitan
cities I have never seen rental companies get away with tactics that are
employed legally here in Seattle. Please consider revising and adding to
the Landlord Tenant Laws to alleviate the burden placed on tenants and
redress some of the inequality that exists in the housing market of
Date: Fri, 21 Dec 2007 11:46:52 -0800
> From: Richard.McIver@Seattle.Gov
> To: _________________
> Subject: Re: Landlord Tenant Laws
I received your thoughtful letter regarding the fees that some
landlords charge new tenants. Certainly a number of the examples you
cited sound excessive, although I don’t remember having received other
complaints about this sort of thing. Quite frankly, these kind of
charges remind me of those we see from a number of the large banks.
I don’t think I can agree with you that non-refundable deposits for
animals should be outlawed. I’ve been a landlord and what the
landlord considers to be damage is often quite different than what the
tenant may think, and even small animals can do a lot of damage (i.e.
urinating on carpets). Just as landlords have the right to decline to
rent to tenants with animals, I think it is not unreasonable for a
landlord to charge extra for permitting that.
While I agree that a $250 Venetian blind fee is excessive and
unwarranted, I’m not sure it is the role of government to weigh in on
all the various fees that different businesses impose. I generally
prefer to see the marketplace control against excessive fees. I realize
that the rental housing market has gotten quite tight over the last year
or so, although prior to that it was a renters market (although still
not cheap). In a tight free market, business can charge more, while
conversely the landlords sometimes have to offer free rent or other
kinds of incentives to get tenants. Short of compelling evidence of a
problem, I don’t believe I am ready to champion the type of
restrictions you suggest.
Richard J. McIver
Seattle City Council
Quit your whining. Seattle is one of the very few cities that is not experiencing a huge depreciation in values like the rest of the country. The primary reason is that property owners recognize that Seattle is still in a growth period and we are not headed for a huge decrease in value but rather a period of stagnation in values. Lowering rents simply because whiners say it should be done would not make any business sense at all. The lowering of rents would put owners at a disadvantage in leveraging the loss of property value increase during the next few years of stagnation in property values. Plus there is a demand for rents. So who cares if some whiner can't pay rent and leaves. The owner will find a new renter fairly quickly. If the city council listens to you we will crash the housing market. What do you propose? Rent control? In this market no owner would go for it.
How is the government supposed to regulate fees in a market where there is huge demand by renters? When you have a huge pool of potential renters, you can pick and choose. So if the government mandates that certain deposits are unwarranted, the owner will just screen people harder and rent to only the cream of the crop. The whiners who are complaining now will be even more hard off since nobody will rent to them because they are a risk and the government states that we can't offset our risk with a certain deposit. So consider yourself lucky that a property owner is even renting to you
Obviously you didn't read. I was only talking about fees associated with renting, not the rent itself. I'm not talking about rent conrtol and you'll notice, if you read, that I ceded that rent is controlled by the market.
I'm guessing that you might be taking your anger out on me because you just spent half a mil on some skanky townhouse and now you're all pouty because your property value is going to go down.
Poor thing. (pets ___ on the head)
Oh Fnarf, come on now...
Nowhere did I say anything about all houses should be by famous architects nor did I say they should cost $10MM. You're jumps to conclusions rival Evel Kneivel.
But now that you mention it...
There is a rich history of great architects designing affordable housing that is both attractive and accessible to the middle-class (and, heaven forbid, lower-class) budget. The Hansaviertel in Berlin is but one example of many, many, many.
Don't give up on the day when all of us could live in houses/complexes designed by great architects -- it's simply a matter of whether they would take the time to put pen to paper...ink to draw Fallingwater was no more expensive than the ink to draw my Wallingford maison particulair.
But to your point, I'd take a well-built, pleasingly-designed residence by a PLU drop-out over the Low Rotterdam crap I was addressing in my original post.
As for what will interest us in the future, I cannot wait to find out. It is one of the few reasons I can summon to keep living.
And as for Philip Johnson and his Glass House, he ripped it off from Mies before Mies had even had a chance to build Farnsworth. Yes, Philip was a turd. But I'd still live in that house in a heartbeat, and I'd still enjoy that fucking poached egg.
Good day, sir.
How in the hell can you people whine about the seattle real estate market? It is the one of the best markets in the whole nation right now. my 15000 initial investment 6 years ago has made me $180000 in just six years. If you people are whining like this when the market is good, wait until the growth period in this city is over.
Jubilation: Fallingwater's cost isn't in the ink, fool. And the price of a house doesn't have anything to do with the cost to build it, let alone DRAW it.
Fallingwater's a shit house, anyways. The damn thing is falling apart, because of gross errors in its design and construction -- like most of Frank Lloyd Ballsack's work. Awfully pretty, but hell to live or work in for the most part.
We'll agree to disagree, Fnarf!
Its obvious one cannot win an arguement with Fnarf based on actual logic or facts- he quotes South Park!
This proves Rightness every time.
Me, I would gladly live in Johnsons Glass House, and Fallingwater is incredible. Yep, it was designed by an egomaniac, who disregarded his engineers. But so was the EMP.
And the difference is night and day.
The EMP is shit, too.
Look, we're talking about modest prole housing, not the masterpieces of millionaires. Fallingwater is not a good or interesting model for the housing needs of ordinary people. What I object to is the instant leap from "this new townhouse isn't beautiful" to "Frank Lloyd Wright was a genius, why isn't this developer hiring people him?" It's the sound of architecture students parrotting their book learning, but their book learning is entirely the study of masterpieces. Masterpieces that more often than not upon closer examination turn out to be fascism in stone, monoliths designed to crush the human spirit. There's nothing ordinary or useful or charming about it.
There is no serious reason to believe that there's a problem with the aesthetics of recent new construction in Seattle, and a million reasons why the solutions offered here to solve it -- municipal design guides, hiring more and better architects for more money -- would not in fact be counterproductive. You'd get WORSE and MORE EXPENSIVE buildings, and since developers would be less likely to recoup their investment you'd get less of them.
The only people that makes happy are the useless, pointless, unproductive hipsters who value their ratty old bars and used clothing stores more than anything else. Ironically, these hipsters have no concept of history beyond the past three or four years, so they don't even notice the passing of the real fabric of their city; only the superficial, recent, and trendy.
Wow. Those aren't reader comments--those are magazine editorials. Who the fuck has the free time available to compose a thousand-word response to a blog post that will disappear into the archives in a day or two?
That said, fairly useless balconies aside, the buildings you've pictured are artistic masterpieces compared to the shit developers build here in the Midwest. They LOOK like Seattle. They're inventive, despite what are likely very limited and prosaic constraints. Actual mixed use! Holy shit, we don't get that in Nebraska.
Come take a look at our monstrous apartment complexes, with their brick-fronts and vinyl-clad sides, their multitudinous overgrowths of asphalt shingled gables, their vinyl windows and plastic "shutters," their fiberglass columns that bear only a minimal similarity to the classical orders they're supposed to by copying, their low ceilings, formaldehyde-poisoning carpetings, and hollow-core "colonial" doors with cheap brass plated hardware.
Observe the tacky shit that's being imposed by developers on the rest of the US, and perhaps you'll want to reconsider just how bad you actually have it.
Gotta agree with fnarf @ 40. The passing of Mars Cleaners was more significant than the loss of the Bus Stop, blue collar places like Ernie Steeles, the Doghouse, Andy's Diner more than places that popped up, inhabited their shells, and left this mortal coil within the span of five or six years.
At least this ugly prole architecture you spend so much energy bashing is up to fire and seismic codes.
That just means it won't come down in the next fire and/or earthquake.
We'll still be stuck with it!
Besides, it isn't just prole architecture. Even the opera house looks like a giant green toolshed. :(
Thanks for the info Dominic, but that just means that Olympia needs to get off their asses and do something, in addition to the city council.
Washington is a weird, mother fucking state. This is the fifth state I've lived in, and it definitely wins the title of most passive aggressive. It's agressively passive aggressive to the point where nothing POSITIVE ever gets done. Shit just drifts along being endlessly debated then a sort of half assed solution is forced through at the last minute that satisfies no one. There's a serious lack of vision here which is odd considering that so many visionary people live here.
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