The Reason Why Many of the New Buildings in Seattle Are Bland and Ugly

Comments

1
God damn, what kind of crap is going up in Seattle to make SF's building trends look good by comparison?

Pics or it's not happening!

Also you're going to drag Apple Park as "the death of suburban corporate architecture" but that snooze-job up in Portland is you idea of good work? WHAT?!
2
The new developments in SF are universally hideous, and if you don't see any cranes or ugly new buildings here your head is up your ass. Fewer than Seattle, sure, and not nearly enough to meet demand, but there is development happening throughout the city, and it is fugly as fuck.
3

Architecture is better in Portland, because Seattle gives developers a free pass (along with a financial windfall), and the citizens here don't demand good, high quality architecture. National developers and international investors that are capitalizing on and driving gentrification are laughing their way to the bank. Many urbanists with an overly simplistic view of economics drank the HALA cool-aid being sold by the developers and bought the argument that good design and building enough new housing to make a dent in the soaring rents are mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they go hand in hand. The citizens of Seattle will push back on upzoning if it means cheap, ugly cement board buildings will suck the life out of their neighborhoods. Raising the bar on the quality of development is essential for making this a livable and affordable city. Getting engaged in design review, and commenting on building design and materials rather than just bitching on Facebook would be a good first step to raise the bar.
4
3: You know what sucks the life out of a neighborhood worse than ugly buildings? Rents that working people can't afford. That's what exclusionary housing policy gets you. Older, wealthier homeowners get richer, young people and renters get pushed out to Tacoma.

The vitality of a neighborhood comes from the people who live in it, not the inanimate buildings that fill it.
5
Seattle has 8,300 people per square mile. SF has 18,600.

Also, 90% of everything is crap.
6
Charles. You seem to be one of the few people in Seattle that understands that the issues around housing affordability, livability and design are more complex than what they appear on the surface. Thanks for looking deeper.
7
Bland is cheap, end of story.
8
Everything sucks. Literally everything sucks. But SF should only be mentioned as a cautionary tale
9
@4 That is a super backward and ignores everything we know about people. Stop with these "I'm deeper than you" bullshit. People should be able to have nice things.
10
4 If you read my post a little more closely, you would have seen that I was arguing for a higher bar for design and finishing materials AND upzoning more of the city rather than exclusionary policies. My point is that we need to raise the bar on design and that people like you should support that.
11
I used to joke that Seattle code requires four kinds of ugly for new construction, but that's fairly close to the truth.
12
They are tearing down and building in San Francisco, but it seems to mainly be happening in the historically lesser neighborhoods like the Mission District and Dogpatch and Hunters Point. But as you said, the condos going up are way beyond the reach of those displaced. For years developers have been after those golden hills just across the Golden Gate Bridge. I know, because history tells me so, that they eventually will get them. Population growth - which blindly marches on - does not fare well for those hills either. I'm glad that I won't be around when those bulldozers arrive.
13
Charles, your analysis is wrong... "The architect also pointed out that 'there is no real return on investment for developers," and so 'quality is not given a premium in the marketplace.'" This is true all of the time. Aside from a few trophy builders, developers will always err on the side of cheap and earning more money, no matter the state of the market.

Of course, they can be faulted anyway, but a more proximate cause of Seattle's bland ugliness would be the particular set of rules in Seattle's zoning code that prescribe all the god-awful massing and facades. (I guess Josh Bis and I are the only ones in the comments that have read it.)

I wish a single developer and architect in this city would design something original, from a place of real, personal aesthetic interest, completely oblivious to our zoning code, or even just an exact replica of a forgotten local historic landmark (one that's not too obvious), and submit the plans to design review with the necessary slew of variance requests, just to use the inevitable rejections to prove the point and/or for the lulz.
14
"the particular set of rules in Seattle's zoning code that prescribe all the god-awful massing and facades."

This sounds like an interesting explanation, but I have no idea what it means.
15
A simple explanation: builders in the past generally cared about the quality of what they built, builders these days care for Submariner Rolexes and Cadillac Escalades. It's the culture, stupid. And it's a stupid culture.
16
Most builders in the past were under the same market and financial pressures that they are under today. The mechanism of nostalgia is this: erase the bad parts, preserve the good. You end up with a historical record that is edited to make it look better than it really was. The biology of our brains is to delete bad memories, because the pain doesn't help us survive. Being an optimistic idiot is adaptive. Realism gets you eaten by predators, or you get too depressed to hunt and gather effectively. When the memory whitewashing mechanism is broken, you have PTSD.

In architectural and artistic terms, it's even simpler: shitty buildings are the first to go. Inferior materials don't last long. By definition. The roofs leak. The structure weakens. They catch fire. Crappy buildings have a short life expectancy. Ugly buildings don't have any friends. People don't fight to preserve ugly buildings. The definition of "ugly" changes, but the things that survive one era to another are things that very different people find common ground on. They all agree they are not ugly. That's why people wet themselves over really, really old buildings. It's what classic or timeless refers to.

Every culture in every time period laments at how low they have sunk, how tasteless everyone has become, how greedy and short-sighted. They think in the golden past people were better. They were selfless and gave gifts to the future, sacrificing their own self-interest to build for the ages.

Hardly anybody was selfless or wise. The few examples that were have been preserved and created the rose-colored picture we see today.

The rate of replacing buildings in SF has decreased, because it has filled in, and grown taller. It has already moved to a high level of density. The motivation and the practicality of making it even more dense is lower than in Seattle, with less than half the density. Seattle has thousands and thousands of lots you could tear down and replace with something taller and that fills more of the lot and holds more people. So SF has more older buildings. It's an older city to begin with. Having more of those cherry-picked buildings that were less crappy than average makes SF as a whole seem less crappy than Seattle.

If you are an architect and want to do something impressive, don't be surprised if you can't. No matter where you go, you have to be very, very lucky to overcome the natural forces that prefer making lots and lots of crap and throwing most of it away. Also, the set of architects who think they are great is much, much larger than the subset of architects who are great. So just wanting to do something impressive is not enough, and it's not enough to be lucky. You also have to be good, and chances are, you're terrible and don't realize it. Same as everybody else.

You could sit around and mope about this but it's better to realize that it's the normal process of everything. Making mistakes is part of the process. Clearing away the dreck is part of the process. Failed experiments are part of the process. Selling out and building profitable crap in order to get rich enough to make something great that doesn't bow to market forces is part of the process. Embrace it.