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Humanities Building

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1961–1962, Bassetti and Morse. 516 High St.
  • (Photograph by Lynette Felber)

The Humanities Building on the Western Washington University (WWU) campus is a three-story, symmetrical building by Bassetti and Morse—one of several buildings associated with Fred Bassetti on the WWU campus. The red-brick and concrete building is positioned between old and new: its north facade looks upon Old Main and creates a southeastern enclosure to the original quad (when WWU was a state normal school); its south facade, meanwhile, serves as the northern enclosure of Red Square—an open, brick-paved modernist space created in the 1960s.

The first floor of the three-story building is recessed beneath the two brick-clad upper floors, while concrete columns create a ground-level arcade on its western and eastern sides. The second- and third-story windows have distinctive sculptured window hoods on all sides, which came to be associated with the work of Bassetti and Morse. The design was intended to cater both to students in classrooms on the main floor and the professors with offices in the two stories above: classrooms were thus outfitted with both interior and exterior doors to ensure ease of entry for students and professors. The original design also provided for an elevator—not required at the time—for accessibility (the elevator apparently was not installed until the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1992, although the university provided an electric chair lift in the building’s stairwell prior to this time). The construction of the Humanities Building spanned the period typically associated with a technocratic, stripped-down International Style modernism, but Bassetti attempted, in his own words, to give modern architecture “a little bit of humanity” and to make his buildings “friendly to people.”

The overall design intent with the Humanities Building design, according to Richard Lee Francis, a WWU professor who studied the university’s architecture, was to produce “a marvelous recreation in American idiom of a Venetian palazzo,” an “eclectic European architecture” to reflect Bassetti’s own self-described “hybrid” background as the son of an Italian father and a Norwegian mother. Bassetti believed that the Pacific Northwest could respond to European architecture and that this allusion could further the educational function of the university campus. Although Bassetti’s work does not fit comfortably into any stylistic category, the building could be broadly interpreted as a Pacific Northwest version of the Neo-Rationalist designs that later came to characterize the work of the Italian movement Tendenza; in this case, a rigid symmetry tempered by a brick facade intended to better connect with its historic and material context.

Writing Credits

Lynette Felber
J. Philip Gruen
Robert R. Franklin



  • 1961

    Design and construction

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Lynette Felber, "Humanities Building", [Bellingham, Washington], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

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