Seattle 1

Scot: Last month I witnessed first hand the building boom currently underway in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighbourhood, with new towers taking over the skyline in seemingly all directions.  What I found most refreshing was the great use of coloured glass and accents.  Blues, greens, oranges throughout on windows, louvers and moldings adding bursts of colour during grey winter skies.

This seems to be the opposite design theme of Vancouver’s new generation of Starchitect towers which rely on bold forms (curves, shards, jenga cubes) than colour.

Seattle 2

Seattle 3


  1. Gordon, great points. Slight offsets, material and massing variations, colour accents, etc., can enliven a facade quite well in otherwise straightforward (i.e., neighbourly) buildings. Striving for drama in very tall towers is a mugs game, in my view, where every architect tries to out-sculpt the last one, rather than contribute to an overall sense of place and coherence.

    1. Scot’s points, actually. Can’t ‘sculpted’ towers contribute to the sense of place? Or are you saying that downtown’s recent ones simply don’t?

      1. Dan – Nothing yet existing is really what I’m talking about. I’m thinking more about what Gord’s post says about curves, shards and Jenga blocks, which very many proposed and planned buildings employ – from Vancouver House to West Georgia Street to 555 West Cordova, yada, yada. They all strive for uniqueness, it seems to me, which can be the equivalent of noise rather than harmony if taken to the extreme.

        1. Hi Frank. FYI this is my Daily Scot post, those are my photos and comments about the curves, shards and Jenga blocks not Gord’s. So my opinions/views, not associated with Gordon. Cheers Scot

  2. I think Vancouver’s Urban Design Panel would call that last tower “overly dark”, and force a change in colour palette.

  3. As a side note, the first 2 office towers shown above are Amazon’s offices – so they more likely than not reflect the “personality” of the “youthful” sole high tech tenant.

    Stripped of the colourful fins, those office towers are very practical – large rectangular same-sized floorplates from bottom to top. Each is over 500 ft tall – so taller than Royal Bank Tower – about the same height at the Hotel Georgia condo, but with a much larger floorplate (wider).

    The newest Vancouver office towers show more variety in massing that those towers.

    But… you didn’t show the adjacent bubbles being built:

    Of interest:

    SLU street scene before and afters:

    Future SLU skyline:

    1. MB – My post was about the apparent contrast between the two cities architectural design themes, not which is better. I think both have their merits. Ground plane and street activation, pedestrian scale are of course paramount as you mention.

  4. Architecture should be so much more than just facadism. One of the most relevant concerns today is how the building meets the ground, and therein the treatment at the pedestrian level. Colour is effective, but the true test is time, use and access.

    1. I agree.

      Aesthetic planning and architecture has a bad track record of wastelands of human-hostile green landscaping and concrete monuments. Le Corbusier was all about aesthetics. In my experience, ugly neighborhoods are often vibrant; attractive ones dead or dysfunctional. I’m beginning to wonder whether there is a connection.

      One of the most lively, livable neighborhoods I have been in was a Beijing compound of homely low-rise apartments, gray pavement and ramshackle food stalls. Inside, apartments were ugly, featuring institutional green paint, dim fluorescent lighting and exposed pipes. But the place was a complete community: shops, an elementary school, public spaces, all reached by walking. It was lively and neighbourly. In the evening, old folks danced on battered pavement to music from cheap ghetto blasters balanced in nearby apartment windows. If not for the bad air, I could live there happily.

      I keep thinking about the washing hanging from the windows of almost every unit. It was certainly not beautiful, but it was alive. We never see that here with our manicured lawns and strata bylaws. It seems to me that the boring design of our high-rises is not much of a problem: but the lack of any sign of life within them is. Aesthetic values like beauty and order are static: their reinforcement and preservation are antithetical to what makes a space human.

      I think there is a tendency to focus on the look of design because it is easy to judge and critique from a distance. Brentwood Skytrain station is often judged to be attractive (when it’s clean, anyway). This is very revealing of who is judging it and why: because that’s only true if you look at it from above or from a distance. From ground level, looking up, it is hideous. The new New West station is not attractive by any means, but it is far more interesting. When aesthetics is the question, the answers don’t address the human interactions that matter in day-to-day experience.

    2. Seems like a form over function question.

      Same applies to interiors as well as exteriors.
      Many people look at a stark minimalist interior with sleek stone finishes and think “I could never live here” – but that’s what the design community seems to favour these days.

      Much of the design aspect is “fashion” (aesthetics) – so you see facades stripped and re-clad.
      The current trend is/was to re-do modernist facades to make them more fine grain/human.
      In the 1950s and 60s the trend was to strip heritage buildings of their decoration to make them more modern.

  5. The Seattle building yield much more practical floorplates. But then, I suppose if you are building for actual users rather than investors looking for the latest thing, you need a little practicality.

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