By Jack Stubbs
“With the work in the exhibit, architects focus on designing and creating a beautiful space for us to enjoy. But I think the architectural models are also a communication tool for the public,” said Stacy Segal, executive director of the Seattle Architecture Foundation about a soon-to-open exhibit that will allow architects and designers to showcase their work to the local community through a series of architectural models.
On Wednesday, August 29th, the Seattle Architecture Foundation will host the opening night reception for its annual architectural model exhibition, which will be shown at the Center for Architecture and Design in downtown Seattle. Titled “Transparency,” this year’s rendition—which will run from August 30th to November 24th—marks 21 years since the organization first began hosting the exhibit.
Much has changed in the world of architecture and design more than two decades since the first exhibit was shown, according to Segal, especially over the last few years in particular. “The exhibit has been going on for 21 years, and the exhibit has changed a lot over the last six years…the first year we had a small group [of models] for the exhibit and it was the tail-end of the downturn,” she said. “One of the projects we had at the time was the Nordic Heritage Museum, and that model is finally finished, which just shows the progression of design and how long it takes for some of these projects to come to fruition. Design does evolve over time, and I think we’re seeing mode models this year than what we’ve had in the past.”
The exhibit presents local architects and designers with the opportunity to display their projects at various stages of their design process, with approximately 20 models being shown this year. According to Segal, this year’s exhibit comes at a time of economic growth and activity in Seattle, meaning that even the models that are presented at the exhibit are not reflective of all of the design work that is being undertaken throughout the city. “We have more models this year, but there are also a number of firms that are too busy to submit models. So I think the exhibit also reflects the current economy, too. Some of the firms are devoting models they have on-hand and some of them submit special conceptual, research-type projects for the exhibit.”
There will be a wide range of in-the-works and completed commercial, residential and mixed-use projects shown at the exhibit. Some of the models on display will include Vulcan Inc.’s Block 44/Westlake and Mercer development designed by ZGF Architects—which is a two-building 400,000 square foot high-performing office project in South Lake Union that Amazon will occupy—and the Georgetown Wet Weather Treatment Station designed by Signal Architecture & Research. Signal Architecture’s project will work to improve the ecological health of the Puget Sound through combined sewer overflow (CSO) features and will effectively treat up to 70 million gallons of combined stormwater and wastewater per day. Other projects include Olson Kundig’s Century Project for the Space Needle (originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair), which brings a new observation deck and restaurant experience to the iconic structure, and Build LLC’s Case Study House 2017, which implements a unique floor-plan in a three-story residence for a small family in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.
Some of the other exhibitors include Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, CallisonRTKL, Weber Thompson, Mutuus Studio, Hoedemaker Pfeiffer, Public 47, Sawhorse Revolution and Goodspeed Architecture.
And while each of the projects will bring something different to Seattle’s changing skyline, the hope is that each of the models in this year’s exhibit, “Transparency,” will serve to open channels of communication between the community and members of the architecture and design community, according to Segal. “We’re looking at how transparency blurs the lines between the interstitial space between indoor and outdoor,” she said. “One of the things that’s really important this year is transparency in the community context, how communities are changing and how we can be transparent in the design process. I think we’re fortunate in Seattle to have architects that care about design in that way.”
This year’s theme of transparency encourages the participants to explore the interplay between architectural design and civic life, according to Seattle Architecture Foundation’s web site, which asks how the work of architects and designers can unite the local community amidst civic upheaval and demographic changes in the city due to gentrification, immigration and displacement. Some of the projects on display are more conceptual and look to contribute to the evolving fabric of the city. For example, Schemata Workshop and Mimar Studio worked with the city of Seattle and the Central Area Neighborhood Design Guidelines Coalition to draft and produce the Central Area Design Guidelines for the neighborhood undergoing a period of rapid development.
Segal thinks that in a city like Seattle, even greater transparency is needed between architects and the surrounding community in the wider context. While some of the architectural models on display are further along in the planning process—and others are more experimental—the models are a way to strengthen ties with the local community. “Architects are communicating with the public when they go to Design Review and are communicating with their clients as well, but models are created to help people better understand the end result and are a great way of bridging that gap for people,” Segal said.