Seattle Prep Looks to the Northwest

For a number of reasons campuses merit special attention from the fan of architecture , including how -- in a concise venue -- differing design approaches can be observed. The earliest academic campuses include those of the medieval universities in northern Italy and in England, with Cambridge and Oxford setting the strongest precedents for what has become known as collegiate Gothic. Those of Italian influence (Padua and Bologna for instance) also served as models, but in a Renaissance flavor. These divergent sources from the North Atlantic to the Mediterranean created a menu of architectural styles for institutions that followed; one pick one's campus style, as it were, to be either pointy (Gothic) or round (Renaissance). A splendid example of the former is found just to the north of Capitol Hill on the University of Washington campus, whose historic core abounds with buildings of the collegiate Gothic flavor. 

Like the other primary and secondary school campuses I have written about (Holy Names Academy and Bertschi School), Seattle Prep brings an important assembly of building and landscape to Capitol Hill. Seattle Prep is unique among the three mentioned as it most closely resembles the traditional college campus. It is not associated with one splendid building as is Holy Names nor did it evolve in an organic and engaging manner as did Bertschi School. Seattle Prep is a planned campus of many buildings purposely built overtime. Yet within its planning, each building has it own unique identity and represents the prevailing tastes of its time, making the campus a great microcosm of larger architectural and academic trends.

Loosely fitting into the Renaissance precedent, what I assume to be the first, still extant building on campus has a defiantly Italian-inspired flair. The dominant, central arch of the central bay was at one time probably the main entry to the campus, and faces west. It is a stately and dignified building, as fine as any of its type. Speculating further, it was likely to have been designed by at least some graduates of the University of Washington, which at that time taught a decidedly classical approach to architecture (despite its Gothic campus). Unfortunately now hidden to all but the curious non-student (more on its stifling neighbor, later), this edifice no doubt had a commanding presence. The best view one can get today of its former dignity is that of its posterior on the eastern edge of the campus, as seen below.

Seattle Prep is in a geographically constrained corner of an urban neighborhood, and space is at a premium. Yet the need to grow beyond it's first major building presented itself, and, ironically enough, a brutalist building (brutalism being an aptly coined phrase describing much architectural design of the 1950's and 1960's) was placed virtually on the campus's first building. Despite its smothering embrace of the campus's early heritage, the mid-century addition has some redeeming qualities. Many will know of my love for steel-sashed windows, as seen pictured below on the building's southern facade. Here the character of the windows adds lightness and flair that its other parts lack. Just north of the lovely windows and along the the building's western wall, its past, brutalist transgressions have been remediated  with ivy.

In part due to the excesses of this first foray into modernism, there was a desire among the architect's of the campuses next major building to recapture, as it were, the softer more humanist side of architecture (that had clearly gone astray). Post-modernism was the answer for these architects, and during its fashionable years the building picture below payed homage to the campus's collegiate aspirations. But this was Gothic-light; like all of its postmodern brethren, this building awkwardly merged the symbolism of the past (pointy and gabled) with the modern building systems of the present (aluminum and glazed) in what its designer's must have thought a clever way of cherishing the past while looking to the future (or some such rationale).

Doubtlessly very functional, well crafted, and extremely well maintained, the building stands as an example of an architectural style whose time has thankfully passed and one that is unlikely to be emulated in the future.

The newest buildings (just opening for the this academic year) are the campus's most welcome additions since its earliest. Built on the location of a former building, the pair looks not to England or Italy for inspiration, but squarely to the Pacific Northwest. The shed roof forms, abundant glazing, and exposed wood framing clearly ground this pair as being of Seattle. Skillfully detailed and wonderfully landscaped, the newbies continue the architectural diversity of the Seattle Prep campus, adding to its architectural diversity and visual interest to all who enjoy strolling its grounds.