DJC Green Building Blog

Is this building ugly or not?

Posted on June 17, 2010

This week, Dan Bertolet published a great post titled simply 'McNeighborhood,' over at Publicola. The post discusses a project called The Corydon Apartments/Merril Gardens, located a few blocks north of University Village. Bertolet characterizes the project (which is pretty giant at two city blocks long) as a McNeighborhood and has this to say about its design:

"The overall effect is, well, just fine, I guess. Pleasant, though not inspiring. Sort of like the Pottery Barn aesthetic writ large—it looks good on a superficial level, but the soul is missing."

I read the post with interest, then I read the comments. Many are quite positive. Commenter Cook says: "The building is actually quite nice compared to what could have gone in there." Commenter Gomez said the design criticism has weight but the project is better than what was on site before -- nothing.

Commenter giffy says: "I'd say this is exactly the kind of development we need more of in this city. And

Image courtesy Dan Bertolet, Publicola
really, much of the "lack of soul" is simply because it's new. Wait fifty years and people will be bitching when they knock it down to put in support columns for our Jetson houses."

Taken together, I think the post and comments pose an interesting question: just how much should we require of design? Should this project be commended for being better than what previously existed or should it be penalized (in our opinion) for not being as good as it could be?

In the interest of total disclosure, I'll tell you that I grew up in this neighborhood and now live in it, so I've watched this site change and develop over a period of many, many years. Yes, the Corydon/Merrill Gardens is a big, big development for the area. But at street level, it is less jarring than a number of other nearby projects. Additionally, the storefronts are filling up with (mostly) local, user friendly shops. A liquor store, a clothing boutique, a Peet's Coffee and a Japanese restaurant.

The new project is also a lot better than the burned out husk of an Italian restaurant that used to be there (Ciao Bella, though in all fairness, the space wasn't a husk for too long and was renovated following the fire in 2003).

So here's my question: just how ugly is this building? Is it an example of poor design? Or is it pretty darn good for the area it is in. What do you think? To see more pictures, click on the link to Bertolet's post above or click on the link to Corydon.

Image courtesy The Corydon
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Comments (3) Trackbacks (1)
  1. It is not that the building is ugly, it is that it lacks rigor. The building, like so many others in Seattle, is a response to Design Review and the public process. It is design-by-committee. The result is a large building designed to look like a series of smaller buildings, as if they were built over time. Walt Disney showed us how to do it, and we just keep doing it over, and over, and over again. It is a big lie. Instead of designing a well proportioned, nicely detailed, handsome large building; we use as many different shapes/materials/colors as we can and carve the building into a mis-shapened lump. If the desire was to make these buildings look different, the result is that all look the same. Wedgewood, Wallingford, Fremont, Lake City, Ballard; they all look the same. Stop it.

  2. I’m mixed on my assessment of the building. First and foremost, I don’t think it is ugly per se however I’m not in love with it either. I disagree with the commentor Mr. G however in that it in my eyes, it actually looks better than many new projects around the area. I’ve seen some pretty bland mixed use buildings and multifamily projects and frankly this building is a step up. It uses a blend of different materials and has a more unique design than some of the lesser projects around town. This is in most part due to caliber of the University Village neighborhood as developers build to the highest and best use of the land per the neighborhood and won’t get a return on their investment if they over improve the property.

    My wife and I are big Gaudi fans and dream of that kind of architecture here in Seattle but we’ve come to realize that it is just too expensive to build buildings of that level of finish detail. The renters won’t pay more for it and hence the developer won’t get a return on that extra investment. In fact if developers added 5-20% to the cost of a project in order to add that stunning architecture, they’d have no profit. I’m all for better architecture which creates more soul for our city, but at this point the economics of it win out.

    At least the Corydon project is a happy medium of being more architecturally interesting than the average building but still penciling out for the developer to take the risk on building it in the first place. We may not be there quite yet, but here’s to hoping for a Gaudi inspired buiding in Seattle’s future…

  3. Well its not that much ugly, i think it looks unique. and get noticed because no more building around it. thank you for sharing this keep it up!!


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