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December 9, 2013

Bassetti ‘never lost the sense of how people use the space'

Photo courtesy of Bassetti Architects [enlarge]
Fred Bassetti was proud of the terraces and cascades of steps on both sides of the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building in downtown Seattle.

Fred Bassetti, who led design for the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building, Seattle Municipal Tower and Seattle Aquarium, died last week at 96.

A memorial service is planned at Lakeside School on Dec. 22.

Lorne McConachie, a principal at Bassetti Architects, said Fred Bassetti was known for architecture that focused on “humanism combined with modernism.”

“Much of our modern architecture has gone slick and kind of crispy — not very friendly to the human touch,” said McConachie. “Fred never lost the sense of how people use the space.”

Bassetti believed in modernist tenets for designing functional buildings where the structure was clear, said McConachie, but he also believed in regionalism: “understanding place, the climate, the people, the character of the landscape and how those aspects of the place were reflected in the buildings that we make.”


In a 2008 interview with The Seattle Times, Fred Bassetti said, “I think both of my tall buildings downtown are people friendly. The Federal Building has great terraces and cascades of steps on both sides, though the feds have changed the front entrance for security reasons...

“Key Tower (Seattle Municipal Tower) I think is unusually friendly in the way it fits into the city. It's pointed on both ends; a six-sided building, longer than it is deep. It's made something like a person: It has a front, two similar sides, and it has a back different from the front.”

Bassetti founded what is now Bassetti Architects in 1947. He retired from the firm in 1991.

HistoryLink.org notes that beginning in the late 1940s, Bassetti contributed significantly to the development of modern architecture in the Pacific Northwest, through both his design work and the influence of his “contagious civic spirit” on colleagues.

He said Key Tower, now Seattle Municipal Tower, is “made something like a person... with a front, two similar sides, and a back different from the front.”

Bassetti designed the library at Central Washington University. Colleagues said he believed in modernist tenets but also felt buildings should reflect their region.

He worked with others to advance urban themes, including his creation in the late 1960s of Action: Better City. McConachie described it as a group of architects “who looked around Seattle and said ‘there's some wonderful things about our city but there are things we could do better with.'” One of those things was developing a central plaza at Westlake, he said.

HistoryLink notes that Bassetti worked on a number of critical urban places: Woodland Park Zoo, Seattle Aquarium, the Sanitary Market in Pike Place Market, Makah Cultural and Research Center at Neah Bay, and Franklin High School's rehabilitation and addition.

Bassetti also joined with fellow architect Victor Steinbrueck in the effort to save Pike Place Market.

“Even with his interest in modernism, he recognized the past and the importance of preserving the characteristics of our city,” said McConachie.

Bassetti was born in Seattle on Jan. 31, 1917. He received a bachelor of architecture from the University of Washington in 1942 and a masters of architecture from Harvard University in 1946. He was a member of the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows, and in 1988 received the AIA Seattle Medal.

In the 2008 Seattle Times interview, Bassetti said, “I sometimes think no architect should be designing a house until he's 60 or 70. We often get our best jobs when we're young — but you haven't lived yet.”

Bassetti is survived by his wife, Gweneth, and his children, Anne, Catherine, Margaret, Megan and Michael.

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