Old / New at the University of Washington

I’ve been to Seattle many times before but always in the past I’ve been staying with family or visiting friends in the type of vacation where I spent all my time with my host.  This trip left me to my own devices during the day while Roshni was at work and I spent a number of mornings doing travel research in coffee shops but also made a small survey of Seattle’s library branches and took an afternoon to visit the “U Dub” campus which I’d never seen up close.  Interestingly, my two favorite buildings were both mentioned to me before the visit although in very different contexts.

This is Paccar Hall, the business school building on campus, which recently replaced the so-called “ugliest building on campus” and which really enjoyed.  My first interaction with it, though, was through the camera lens of one of Roshni’s room mates who was doing a photo study of the building to illustrate her dislike of it.  She was building an argument that the aggressively computerized organizational systems (with computer displays outside every room designating reserved use and scrolling LED displays of donors used as modern art), sleek steel and glass spaces with abstract looking modern furniture and open air interconnecting public spaces all served to privilege the more conventional users of the space and put a giant KEEP OUT sign on the building from her point of view. I thought her perspective was valid but couldn’t agree when I saw the space.  I liked the interlocking courtyards and sudden views out of the building and even the reserve-able meeting spaces.  The reflective facades make the most of what blue sky there is and also bounce back views of some of the older buildings on campus.  I always advocate complimenting rather than blending with truly detailed historic buildings.  Modern copies never seem to match the glory of the older times.

That glory was well represented by the Suzzallo library closer to the old center of campus.  It was mentioned to me in the “if you like libraries you’ll have to check this out” vein and I was not disappointed.  The entrance fronts on a somewhat brutally wide brick courtyard (hiding underground parking, I have to assume) but at least it gives an opportunity to back up and photograph the whole frontage.  The interior is grand on the scale that goes beyond impressive to intimidating but I think serves to make students feel that their study is really important.  I devoted a few minutes of reverent silence to the reading room and then wandered around the rest of the old building taking photos of window wells and curving staircases.  The old building flows relatively seamlessly into a much newer one (70’s era at a guess) which does exactly what I critiqued above – it attempts to repeat the gothic stone arches of the older wing in simplified concrete with … mixed success.  Its not the worst example of such I’ve ever seen although I couldn’t (apparently) bring myself to photograph it.   I wished I could have spent all day meditating in the reading room and may have to return at another time to do just that.

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