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University of Washington Club
The University of Washington Club, completed in 1959, is a striking example of Pacific Northwest modernism nestled into a campus that features only a handful of examples of the type. The building blends modernist ideals with regional materials and is also one of the best examples of the work of Paul Hayden Kirk and Victor Steinbrueck: two of the Northwest’s most important and influential midcentury architects. The unique collaborative design resulted in a building that has served as a welcoming gathering place for the university community for more than 55 years.
The two-story club, built for the University of Washington faculty, is located on a steeply sloping lot on the eastern portion of campus along East Stevens Way—the former site of the “Hoo-Hoo” House (or Forestry Building) designed by Ellsworth Story for the lumbermen’s fraternal association during the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition. The Hoo-Hoo House was re-used as the university’s first faculty club until 1959, when most of it was removed prior to construction of the new club. The club’s designers worked to minimize any further disruptions to the site by tucking parking into the topography, stepping the building down the landscape with only one story at grade, and incorporating existing trees into the overall design. While records show that both Kirk and Steinbrueck walked the site to mark mature trees they wished to save, they relied on noted landscape architect Garrett Eckbo to complete the design. Eckbo’s design carried his signature features: respect for the natural landscape, use of native vegetation, and a relationship to a modernist art sensibility.
Constructed of brick, stucco, glass, and steel, the $290,000 building features the clean lines, white volumetric cubic forms, full-height window walls, and exposed steel framing that are characteristic of classic European modernism as it was practiced and promoted by Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in the 1920s. The club, which is based upon a system of 18-foot structural steel bay modules, has an elegant floating quality with the upper floor cantilevered on the west and supported by slender steel pilotis on the east. The building’s design was a striking departure from the predominantly Collegiate Gothic buildings that characterized the main part of campus at the time; a departure that Kirk and Steinbrueck considered justified given the more isolated and forested location of the site and their desire to provide a more casual, residential-type design to help bring the faculty together.
The plan is a modified H-shape. Primary access from the street to the upper floor entry traverses a gentle extended ramp rising above the grade, and the smaller lower floor is set back inside a tall concrete retaining wall. Its approximately 77 x 117–foot upper floor is divided into two rectangular volumes that run lengthwise north to south, with a two-story, open garden courtyard in between. The upper floor’s western section includes an entry gallery, kitchen, lounge, and reception room, along with an open courtyard. An open steel stair structure with cast concrete treads leads to the lower floor. The 34 x 108–foot lower floor is set below the entry floor and within a 56 x 146–foot retaining wall. The lower level contains a large conference room (originally for billiards), offices, and a small bar.
The main dining room comprises the eastern section of the upper floor, which appears to float over the parking lot below as a single white box. An open, linear light well, bridged by glazed passageways, extends between the main dining room and the central courtyard. The dining room extends the full width of the building with operable windows providing unobstructed views of the spectacular natural landscape to the east, north, and south. Clerestory windows provide additional light.
Details help reinforce the overall informal, modernist design. Entry ramps and open spaces within the building, for example, are fitted with minimal, lightweight steel railings to maximize the views and enhance the sense of hovering planes. In lieu of a guard rail, a bench was placed originally across the western, open side of the main level courtyard. The open side of the smaller deck-like terrace, near the southwest corner, was treated with the same, simple handrail system. The entry passageway ceiling and that of a sitting room to the south feature suspended acoustic tile hung with evenly spaced lights, with exposed aggregate floors extending to the courtyard. The interior finishes are detailed with regionally sourced woods, such as Alaskan cedar and ponderosa pine. Many of the wood materials were donated by local companies, while some wood details from the original Hoo-Hoo House were salvaged for re-use in the club.
The University of Washington Club brought together two designers working with aesthetics that they both valued in their individual practices, and for Steinbrueck, in his teaching: he held a post in the University of Washington’s Department of Architecture at the time of the building’s design and construction. In 1957, Kirk had just formed a new firm, Paul Hayden Kirk and Associates, although David McKinley and Donald Wallace, who later joined Kirk as partners in a reconfigured firm, may have provided design assistance. Although most of Kirk and Steinbrueck’s work prior to this time was in residential design, the architects’ use of local materials together with the steel frame, cantilevered forms, and clean lines at the faculty club maintained consistency with their residential work and underscored a Pacific Northwest modernist aesthetic that became the legacy of their practices. The club is an excellent example of that Pacific Northwest architectural modernism—one of the few examples in a public setting.
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