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Thursday, April 3, 2008

A View Without A Room

posted by on April 3 at 13:52 PM

If you haven’t yet, go read Jen Graves’s fantastic feature this week on Seattle’s obsession with views. It touches on real estate, the mountain-vs.-water debate, and the value of views that aren’t really “views.” Here’s how it ends:

An encounter with a view is visual, not participatory, like looking at landscape art. Beginning in the 18th century, there was a cottage industry of “view” painters—painters who made portraits purchased by gentlemen on their travels. At home, the paintings didn’t just show off the traveler’s sophistication; they also provided cold, damp, dim northern homes with false windows that “looked out onto” the warmth and light of southern climes. Seattle Art Museum has one of these paintings on display right now, in the European art exhibition on the fourth floor, by Luca Carlevariis, made around 1710. It depicts a storm brewing in dark clouds above the Grand Canal in Venice, but a balmy late afternoon hitting the side of the Doge’s Palace anyway, warming the people strolling there.[…]

It’s not just spectacular views that count. Underdog views can turn out to mean so much. Take the view out the window in front of me right now, as I’m writing this. I’m in my house in the Central District, looking out the front picture window. What I see is the front yard of the house across the street, which, instead of a lawn, is a slab of concrete fenced in by chain link. It sounds like a sorry excuse for a landscape, but it has animals. Several of them. Woodland-creature types. I can make out a deer, a bear, a baby bear, two frogs, a seagull, a pig, and two turtles. They’re garden sculptures with no garden. An elderly black couple lives in the house. By contrast, I’ve planted a high-maintenance number of trees and flowers over here. Every time I look out the window I’m embarrassed by the old stereotype: Why are white people so obsessed with lawn care?

Before the house in the Central District, we lived in a house in Tacoma that had what real-estate agents call a “peekaboo” view of Puget Sound (meaning we had to stand funny to see it). Before that, we lived in a loft in Tacoma, in a building obsessed with views of Mount Rainier, but we lived on the back side, so our big bank of windows had a “territorial” view of an old brick wall with a giant word spray-painted on it. The word was OPAL. That piece of graffiti figures prominently in family photographs from that time. One day we came home and it had been cleaned off. It had been the largest work of art we ever owned.

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It's hard to quantify how much views are worth

If it's so hard, how come whenever you get a house or condo appraisal, it lists a dollar value for the view?

Posted by JMR | April 3, 2008 2:11 PM

When I was visiting friends in Seattle I could see the mountains from their kitchen sink. Being from the flatlands of the midwest I found this view awesome. But I have no idea how much it'd be worth.

Posted by Michigan Matt (soon to be Balt-o-matt) | April 3, 2008 2:15 PM

She negotiated a deal to buy the air over the building to the west of Cristalla, to make sure that building never got any taller. That way she could promise the views that she was marketing.

I'd rather views get managed this way, instead of the petty zoners and NIMBYs constantly fighting building height.

Or, maybe, develop a scheme where if you damage someone's view (like the Cosmopolitan tower situation in the article) you have to compensate the owner. Views: You Break It, You Buy It. Just a thought. Maybe there are places that do it that way.

Posted by JMR | April 3, 2008 2:17 PM

The irony of the "density at any and all costs" Stranger running a piece on the desirability of views is simply amazing - doubly so that ECB would post on it.

My head is now spinning faster than Linda Blair' pea soup to follow....

Posted by Mr. X | April 3, 2008 2:22 PM

when you have a specacular view valued at $100,000 that you pay taxes on, and then some builder fuck buys the shack across the street & puts up a 6000 SF "Bungalow" style ugly piece of shit & blocks half that view & sells it for 1.8 MILLION FUCKING DOLLARS, then you have to petition the assessors office to revalue your property, then you'll be obsessed with "Views" too.

Posted by max solomon | April 3, 2008 2:31 PM

eh. pretty good article. but if you are looking at a wall, um, that's not a territorial view, it's not a view at all.

a territorial view is a view of the surrounding.....ahem, territory...bits of the city ... usually no water in it and no mountains....not dramatic but still nicer than looking into your neighbor's window 7-10 feet away or looking at a wall.

Seattle has tons of views and more waterfront and nicer in-city neighborhoods and no big huge crime ridden area and a bit of traffic....this is news??

Posted by unPC | April 3, 2008 3:23 PM

Why are elderly black people so obsessed with paving their yards?

Posted by Miles | April 3, 2008 3:43 PM

@7 - for the same reason middle-aged white people are obsessed with taking chainsaws to the trees on public land in the "way" of "their views".

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 3, 2008 4:17 PM

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