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Marine Sciences Building and Oceanography Teaching Building

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Oceanography Building; Oceanography Research Building
1965–1969 Liddle and Jones; Richard Haag, landscape architect. 1503 NE Boat St.
  • (Photograph by Ellen F. C. Mirro)

The Marine Sciences Building and the Oceanography Teaching Building, located on the shores of Portage Bay at the southwestern edge of the University of Washington campus, are significant for their integration of architecture with research. The buildings, with their elongated forms and slit windows, resemble seafaring vessels—not inappropriate for the university, whose oceanographic and fisheries research and water-based location have long been among its hallmarks. Since 1991, the R/V Thomas G. Thompson, a large research vessel, has periodically docked next to the Marine Sciences Building and provided the School of Oceanography with a direct link to its research mission, and an additional classroom when it is in harbor.

Both buildings were designed by the firm of Liddle and Jones in the late 1960s. The Marine Sciences Building (originally called the Oceanography Building, or Oceanography Research Building), was the first of the two Brutalist concrete buildings; it was completed in 1965 in conjunction with a pier for docking a research vessel. The relationship of the Marine Sciences Building to the docking space of a research ship is integral to the design of the building, and the two projects were funded and built simultaneously. The Oceanography Teaching Building to the north was designed in a similar fashion, and completed in 1969. Both buildings feature copper-clad gambrel roofs, and they rest on a massive concrete plinth that includes a basement level below.

The Marine Sciences Building is oriented east-west, with porticoes underneath two-story cantilevers on the north and south and concrete brise-soleils on the upper stories of the southern facade. Although most of the building is constructed of poured-in-place reinforced concrete, the sash panel and spandrels at the cantilevers are made of precast concrete. The basement level of the building contains 9,900 square feet of space for staging, warehousing, and support shops for a research vessel. The main floor of the building has a smaller interior space than the other levels and contains the lobby and administration spaces. The second and third floors house laboratories and offices for the Biological Oceanography and Marine Geology and Geophysics departments in the School of Oceanography. The copper-clad gambrel roof houses the HVAC equipment necessary for the laboratories. The Marine Sciences Building was alone in winning the 1967 Southwest Chapter AIA Honor Award. Recognizing the building, architect and juror A.O. Bumgardner wrote: “Appropriately, the traditional directness of oceangoing vessels is apparent in this building with its no-nonsense sea-going character, yet it is thoroughly modern in all respects.”

Equally direct is the Oceanography Teaching Building, placed at a right angle to the Marine Sciences Building. Its architecture resembles its neighbor in most respects, although it is oriented north to south, divided into two separate wings by a recessed central bay, and includes ribbon windows flush with the facade rather than set back behind brise-soleils. Lacking a need to connect directly with a research vessel, the building includes spaces such as classrooms, seminar rooms, offices, and a library more accommodating to the teaching enterprise. Richard Haag provided the landscaping for both buildings.

The 209-foot research vessel, owned by the U.S. Navy but operated by the university under a charter agreement, functions as a floating classroom and laboratory for oceanographic research. The boat is named for a university chemist, Thomas G. Thompson, who pioneered the study of oceanography by investigating the chemistry of seawater. Thompson came to the university in 1915 to receive his doctorate, and retired in 1959 after serving many years as a professor and director of the oceanographic laboratories. The ship underwent a $34 million rehabilitation beginning in 2016.

Writing Credits

Ellen F. C. Mirro
J. Philip Gruen
Robert R. Franklin



  • 1965

    Design and construction of Marine Sciences Building
  • 1969

    Design and construction of Oceanography Teaching Building

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Ellen F. C. Mirro, "Marine Sciences Building and Oceanography Teaching Building", [Seattle, Washington], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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