NO ONE EVER ACCUSED Seattle architecture of being sexy. Here in our chilly, Protestant town, civic spaces are assumed to be nothing more than functional--without erotic concept, without sensual light. There's no structured environment where issues of sexuality seem foremost in the mind of the creator. But just because the issue isn't in your face, that doesn't mean it's not there. Look a little harder and a sexual silver lining appears, blossoms even, in places you'd never have thought. Like the girl next door, or the guy hiding behind ugly glasses, or the quiet best friend of your soon-to-be ex-significant other--the one you run into on the street and think, "wow, where did you come from?"--they'll only reveal themselves if you pay attention. More attractive by virtue of the element of surprise. Sudden and without warning.

But for matters of comparison, let's get some things straight: The Fremont Troll has no sexual anything. Neither does the Columbia Tower (recently renamed the Bank of America Tower), despite its comment on long, stiff objects. And forgetting its historical link to Elvis, the Space Needle has nothing to offer. It's as sexy as sock garters on Grandpa.

What is sexy? Let's start with a lightning rod for criticism--a new addition to the Seattle skyline that most people think is worthless. Let's start with the riotous assembly of metal, red paint, and a dreaming billionaire. Let's start with the EMP.

The EMP typifies sex in America. You want to like it, but you don't know how. It takes your breath away, but you're scared to get too close. It doesn't appear to have a start or a finish. And in its roller-coaster design, it mirrors carnality's quick-slow disorientation. Surrounded by buildings that are just there, that contribute nothing to civic life, the EMP comes off as a beautiful, brave, and honest structure, undulating in a soft, hard-to-hold, handle-with-care kind of way. A sophisticated tart, the EMP reveals our provinciality.

As an expression of anxiety about the future expressed through the erotic, the EMP acts as a bridge between the comedy of, say, Woody Allen's Orgasmatron and Mies Van der Rohe's straightforward Seagram Building. The Orgasmatron, from Sleeper, is a phone booth-shaped contraption that shakes you around and introduces you to the One True Lord God, a machine so efficient it even got Diane Keaton hot. The Seagram Building, located at Park Avenue and 53rd Street in Manhattan, is the very definition of Skyscraper, a steel-and-glass eulogy for the pastoral. It thrusts up toward the clouds in a way that should make the clouds worry. It's too sure of itself and its lessons, laughing vengefully up into the clear blue air, ready to strive, seek, find, and not compromise, like tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. The beauty of Frank Gehry's EMP is the way it accommodates the zaniness of the former and the assurance of the latter.


But most civic spaces in Seattle are not so androgynous. Most align themselves with unambitious missionary sex, erect or receptive. There's the straight-and-patriotic-about-it Two Union Square, giving the fraternity brothers something to salute, some comfort in this town of freaks. There's the AT&T building, insultingly near the porn star power of the Columbia Tower. Split down the middle and missing half of itself, it's an exercise in vivisection and phallic confusion. Look here for clarity if you just don't understand what you want. Look here for a kindred spirit on days of neurosis.

Of all these states of erection, the one that stands out, if not up, is the Smith Tower. Everything about Seattle's little-skyscraper-that-could bespeaks innocence, an innocence about to be lost. It's got a virgin-white paint job. It's got a pointed, just-out-of-circumcision top that juts up optimistically, undefended, unaware that it should protect itself from the onslaught of future heartbreak and real-world castration. It's the opposite of the EMP: a retreat into the past, a consolidation of simplicity, no shades or ambiguity. And nowadays, dwarfed by others, resigned to mockery and explained away as folly, the Smith Tower has a nostalgic majesty, holding out for a simpler time when no one would ever have postulated that it looked like a reproductive organ. Its eyes are closed as history moves forward.

As for structures that have an obvious female imagery, Benaroya Hall is at the top of the list. Swirling and elliptic, Benaroya has a cockiness to it, a knowledge of where all things come from. There is a sense of envelopment. Here, you are drawn inward. Music plays in the center of this maelstrom, voices, a siren song. It's a steel-and-concrete version of a park. You have a seat and lose yourself.

Blending a number of sexual issues that involve the masculine and feminine, Safeco Field deserves mention. Our new baseball stadium deals in contradiction. Baseball is the Immaculate Conception of American sport. It exploded forth from the creation of leisure time, from the vacuum created by the technological advances of post-Civil War life. It is a game that has elements of the male and female sexual experiences. The propulsion of running the bases and swinging a big bat is coupled with a cyclical nature and the lack of time constraints. This game, like the rise and fall of female arousal, could go on forever. It operates in conflict with the quickly ticking male clock, and it teaches patience and pacing. You have to slow down and take it one step at a time. Rush it and you'll get called out. No wonder the language of baseball is so convenient a metaphor for recounting levels of sexual activity. Getting to third base means so much more than getting to the 30 yard line.


We are a frustrated people, hearing con-flicting messages, scared to death of the animal impulse, embarrassed by the very grunt and groan of it. Yet we tortuously surround ourselves with images of an imagined ecstasy, with images of temptation. We use the priceless, almost-divine, sweat-beaded moment of intimacy as our reference point for all other pleasures, no matter how dissimilar. And we create structures and public places that, just from their appearance, catalog our desires and frustrations, catalog the hang-ups with which we try to make peace, catalog the daily tug of war between shame and being.

To best represent us, there's the Hammering Man. Poor Hammering Man. In you, the cognitive dissonance of our culture's relationship to sexuality is so well embodied. There you stand, endlessly pounding away, forever trying to break on through to the other side, digging for that connection that will link you, and us, to the higher power, to that oneness, to the tying of the holy knot. But like us, you are predictable and stuck in habit. And like you, we are lost.