Design Thoughts

Jasper Park Lodge's Rustic Modernism

Much of so-called hospitality architecture leans too heavily on nostalgic imagery for my tastes. Especially so are those buildings that are in or adjacent to national parks, which try to harken back to pioneer days. True, there are many great, truly rustic lodges in the West -- Timberline, Crater Lake, Yosemite, Glacier National Park -- to name but a few. But those lodges, if not built during the time period we typically associate with pioneering days  (the 19th Century), were at least pioneering in the location within which they were built, which was more often than not far removed from established roads, towns, and other support infrastructure.

This lack of support meant that -- much as the true homesteading pioneers -- lodge builders relied on hand tools and manual labor, local craft traditions, and other limitations not posed today. Lodges built in the later half of the 20th Century and to this day were (and are) not faced by such hardships, yet many (most?) continue to evoke forms that have nothing to do with the time or traditions within which they were built. This is not the case at Jasper Park Lodge,  where the architect (whose name I could not ascertain during my stay there) artfully blended an historic 'lodginess' with mid-century modern flair.

Most likely built in the 1950's, this incredibly well conceived building combines the seemingly disparate goals of handcraft and the then jet-age aesthetic into a wholly original design. I can only image the struggles the architect endured balancing the expectations of rough-hewn and hand-crafted, with where his or her heart really was -- firmly modern. Fortunately for us, they were able to not only represent both, but do so in a highly original and satisfying way. And is a most spectacular setting.

Newly completed - Hillcrest Community Building

  Schemata Workshop is pleased to announce the completion of Hillcrest Terrace Community Building. Hillcrest Terrace is a senior housing community operated by Renton Housing Authority located in Renton, WA. The new Hillcrest building provides amenities for the surrounding apartment community that include a laundry room, kitchen, and dining space for up to 50 people. Residents of Hillcrest Terrace now have the ability to cook communal meals and host community events in the building.

The narrow site and its close proximity to the adjacent apartment buildings posed many design challenges that defined the building design, form, and fenestration locations. The design utilized a simplistic shed roof with overhangs and fenestration on the south exposure to capture light in the winter and provide adequate shading in summer.

The site encompasses a rose planter abutting the sidewalk for the senior residents to tend and enjoy. Previously the site housed a rose garden and two maple trees – one of which stayed in place and the other was relocated to the outdoor space east of the community building. The entrance sequence begins with a covered entry and seat wall facing west offering a place for the residents to enjoy the evening sun. Beyond the entrance is a narrow corridor illuminated by a series of skylights that lead to the dining room complete with a fire place and ample space for meals, card games, or simply visiting. The dining room also has a series of skylights and large windows that contribute to a light filled space. The Schemata team utilized the Integrated Design Lab for daylight studies and carefully located skylights and overhangs to decrease glare while maximizing natural light.

At the recent grand opening ceremony we were able to visit with the resident seniors and witness them using the community building and celebrating its completion.


The Subversive Origins of the Craftsman Bungalow

Charming, desired by many, and ubiquitous in the Pacific Northwest, the Craftsman bungalow is the quintessential Seattle home typology, yet its origins have a decidedly more contrarian nature than one would think given its pleasant demeanor. Granted, one’s attraction to any given building is typically founded on whether one finds its appearance pleasing, its utility supportive for its prescribed tasks, and it‘s construction and craft sufficiently robust – qualities that the Craftsman succeeds at with verve.  The bungalow is also noteworthy in that it is also one of our regions’ best representations of the ever-present, larger cultural forces shaping our built environment. These forces bear themselves out once one looks beyond the Craftsman’s ‘Northwest regional’ charms and compares it to the buildings it resolutely, if politely, stands in contrast to. As usual, our very own Capitol Hill provides among the best venues in Seattle to ponder the inherent contradictions of charming versus agitating exemplified by this building type.

The Red House, London, England (Wikipedia Image)

Tracing it roots to the English Arts and Crafts movement of the 19th century and to such seminal works as the Red House by Morris and Webb (just outside of London), Arts and Crafts design and its progeny in the United States marked a massive shift in design theory that ultimately gave birth to modernism, albeit along a rather circuitous path few would have predicted. The designers of the Red House and other notable British architects of the time chose to reject the prevalent pedagogical reverence for classical antiquity with its emphasis on “universal” tenets of beauty, symmetry, balance, and proportion.  Instead they chose to organize spaces based upon use as well as on local cultural and construction traditions. This focus on the local, instead of the universal, led to buildings that looked less as if their origins were in ancient Greece and Rome, and more as though they were the stuff of local traditions and craft. While such vernacular building has existed for time immemorial, up until the Arts and Crafts movement, it had rarely (if ever) been embraced by either European or the nascent American architectural profession, whose pedagogy was founded upon classical traditions. By embracing the vernacular, many architects took a rather bold leap by acknowledging that non-professional/non-academic precedents actually had valid contributions to make.

The architects of the Arts and Crafts Movement shifted so-called good taste – and the taste of their clientele – towards the design of structures based upon the everyday, the serendipitous, and the utilitarian. To design based upon function was also, ironically, to become an underpinning of modernist design. The irony of the shared heritage is, of course, that modernism eventually fell into the trap of classical architecture – a desire to transcend national or cultural boundaries and create a universal architecture. End results aside, the premises of both the Arts and Crafts were provocative, even if the end results were at odds stylistically.

The Gamble House, Pasadena, California (Wikipedia Image)

In the United States, the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement trended to greater influence the farther one headed west. This makes a great deal of sense, as farther west the ties to European cultural traditions wane, and those of a more uniquely “American “ form take prominence. It’s a combination of geography over time. There is perhaps no better expression of the Arts and Crafts in the West than in the hyper-craftsman, American masterpiece by Greene and Greene -- the Gamble House, in Pasadena, California. Built in 1908-09 and a National Historic Landmark, the Gamble House exhibits many of the key features of the craftsman bungalow, the West Coast version of Arts and Crafts buildings., the In designing a home that emphasized the fine hand carpentry of Japanese ornamentation and building forms rather than the work of the mason, the Greene brothers created one of the truly great American buildings of the 20th Century.  It was a far cry from East Coast, Euro-centric establishment architecture. This emphasis on a fine carpentry and an exotic (Japanese-influenced) design approach had far reaching effects in the western states, especially in the Pacific Northwest where the traditional use and great availability of softwood lumber made the execution of Gamble House-inspired designs a natural progression of the Art and Crafts approach. Additionally, the long overhangs of the Gamble House proved to be welled suited as a precedent for providing sound weather protection in our soggy, maritime climate.

Private Residence, North Capitol Hill

Private Residence, Volunteer Park

A bit closer to home ,in the environs of Volunteer Park, sits a splendid array of these opposing design ideologies – providing an interesting laboratory of East (Coast) verses West (Coast), as it were. Pictured above, are a pair of photos of classically/traditionally inspired homes. Corinthian columns, dentils, the reddest of brick, all the details abound, but I would argue they are bit out of place in the Pacific Northwest. In Boston, Richmond, or Charleston homes such as this are the norm, and speak to that coast’s cultural heritage and proximate influences. More indicative of our region are the two homes pictured below. The top one is a fairly representative bungalow, and lacks the symmetry, clear massing, and classical details of the two former homes. In their place are rafter tails, large overhangs, and details based in the tradition of carpentry, not masonry. The lower example, while not as strictly “craftsman” as the other and hardly humble, was most certainly designed by an architect and follows the new professional traditions then blazed by the Greenes.

Private Residence, North Capitol Hill

Private Residence, Volunteer Park

The Arts and Crafts tradition influenced more than the Craftsman type. Its progeny includes Tudor-influenced structures such as the Red House, some of which are also be found on Capitol Hill. Those structures, however, are not based upon the local materials and traditions, and for that reason are not grounded in our region as is the beloved craftsman -- as subversive in its disposition as the city that has made it a favorite.

Harrison Modern -- Funky Mid-Century Modern that Speaks to Today

I have been riding my bicycle past the Harrison Modern for almost a decade now, always appreciative of its  design and one that I have been yearning to share for some time. Unfortunately, its predominant exposure faces north, making its photography less than ideal for a majority of the year and thus potentially depriving the building the adoration it so deserves. Imagine my great joy when, a couple of weeks back, I was walking past in the late afternoon -- camera in hand -- with the lighting just perfect for portraying the Harrison's many charms.

Located at the intersection of 12th and Harrison, the Harrison Modern is clearly a building whose designers were firmly rooted in mid-century modernism. Built in 1951 and designed by Victor Martin, the Harrison is not only exemplary of that era, but it also foreshadows current trends in architectural design in its use of layered cubic forms as exemplified by the work of such contemporary Dutch architects as MVRDV in the Edificio Celosía, pictured below. This stacking design approach, though all the rage now, was most certainly pretty avant-garde over 60 years ago, and continues to mark the Harrison unique among Capitol Hill's vintage buildings.

What I am calling a stacked or layered design is one where each floor (or grouped floors) is expressed individually and in a very like manner, without the more traditional base, middle, and top.  In both the Harrison and MVRDV example, this stacking is expressed not only by revealing the floor lines, but also by carving out voids for balconies that emphasize the volume of the floors above or below.  The Harrison's design captures this layered design approach to create cleverly framed outdoor spaces that exhibit the modernist desire forblending  indoor and outdoor space, including a generous upper floor balcony that must provide  a great view of the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains. On a more intimate scale, the north facing veranda of the Harrison is  crisply framed, forming a powerfully simple, elegant, and dignified facade along Harrison Street.

Along 12th Avenue, the busier of the two streets upon which the Harrison is sited, a more formal facade was in order and is fittingly more massive in temperament. The contrast, and utility between, these three elevations is achieved by the simple rotating of the lower and upper floors to best suite their orientation, an ease of effort to effect that has long captivated me. A powerful difference is accorded between the two floors; on the longer, northern elevation is the lower form which represents the void, and on shorter, eastern elevation, it is the upper form. A lower floor ying to the upper floor yang, as it were.

Contrasting the bold cubic forms above are the cascading stones and plantings that mark the entry ramp into the building. While on one level apparently quite different form the building's aesthetic, this little bit of landscape is actually within the spirit of its mid-century heritage, and provides a finishing touch to one of Capitol Hill's finest small buildings. If I squint a bit, I can imagine the Harrison at home in say, Palm Springs or Malibu, but am quite content knowing it is our neighborhood.