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Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Ugly by Design

Design life is a concept in architecture that projects the life of a structure from construction to destruction. The economic viability of the structure is certainly one of the most important considerations in the building process. Blind adherence to solely monetary considerations does not, however, calculate the true cost of a building.

The Seattle Kingdome, the former home of the Seahawks and Mariners, was all about money. If there was an ounce of thought about the aesthetic value of the Kingdome, that thought was thrown in the trash before construction began. The Kingdome was absolutely the ugliest structure of its size in the city. It was the first thing a person sees when entering Seattle on I-5 from the south. I have seen better looking garbage treatment facilities.

Built in 1976, the Kingdome was to be a multi-use arena for sports, truck rallies, rock concerts, and anything else that requires a big venue. It wasn’t built to last very long and no one shed a tear when it was imploded in 2000. Its design life had expired. It had served its purpose. Or had it?

The Kingdome was a lousy venue for football, even worse for baseball, and dome stadiums are disasters for musical events--a lousy venue and ugly as sin. How could this structure have served the people of this city? How do you judge the value of proper urban aesthetics?

The Kingdome has been replaced by separate football and baseball stadiums. The new stadiums were horrifically expensive to build and I won’t argue here whether their expense was justified. What I can say is that these two structures were built to last and they are both great looking additions to the Seattle man-made landscape. The stadiums stand side-by-side in the Pioneer Square section of Seattle and fit in with the other, older buildings.

The new stadiums are not surrounded by enormous parking lots as is the case with the way stadiums are built in suburban areas where driving by car is the only way to get to the games. Here in Seattle some people drive, others take busses, and many people simply walk from their homes. I can walk there from my apartment in about twenty minutes.

New buildings go up all the time with a design life for the short term or the long haul. The structures that are built to last are generally more expensive to build but they are generally better looking than buildings of inferior materials. We have to look at these buildings every single day. Our urban landscape is one of the most important factors governing our quality of life, something that needs to figure in somewhere in the architectural process

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