A beautiful building for your unwanted things.
  • CM
  • A beautiful building for your unwanted things.

I want to open this post by making it very clear that I'm not an opponent of the Rainier Court project, a mixed-use development on a busy section of Rainier Avenue South. It's huge, it has brought much-needed density to the area, and, when compared to the rest of the city, it's kind of affordable. Its developers also aggressively promote the walkability of the location, which used to be a dump. You can walk to the Mount Baker Station, to a major Metro node, to a supermarket, to a variety of restaurants, and to the bars of Columbia City and Hillman City. You can live here without a car.

That said, I must point to this new and revealing curiosity. The latest addition to Rainier Court is a four-story building for the storage of extra stuff. And what is odd about this addition is, in architectural terms, it's the best building on the block. Indeed, it's arguably the best new building in the whole area, even better than the Artspace Mt. Baker Lofts and the homes and townhouses recently completed by Dwell Development, a firm that has made big investments in the Valley and specializes in "modern home design." West Coast Self-Storage Columbia City is the facility's full name, and it's owned by a company, West Coast Self-Storage, that's based in Mill Creek and specializes in storage facilities with "state of the art security equipment, and products and services"—heated and air-conditioned rooms, electronic gates, video surveillance, access with fingerprints, and so on.

The architecture of Self-Storage Columbia City, which is in the final stages of construction, is not great or amazing by world-class standards, but it is much better than the apartments and townhouses that surround it. Almost no architectural effort was made for the human places, but some clearly went into this place for the storage of human things. Why? My best guess: In an effort to blend with its residential/urban surroundings, and not to look like the usual lifeless box, the designers decided to make the kind of place people might actually live in. As it turns out, imagined humans provided far more architectural inspiration than the real humans that the designers of the Dakota and Courtland Place had in mind. And so we have the strange situation of human stuff being housed in an architecturally superior building than their owners.

My request to discuss the design of Self-Storage Columbia City with the Mill Creek company has yet to receive a response.