Architecture to see in Seattle.

Design Within Reach, Seattle

We may be biased, but the newly updated DWR Studio is a must-see when seeing Seattle. Located near the Pike Place Market, our renovated space is a sun-filled, open and engaging environment that will inspire you to create the home of your dreams. After indulging your inner designer, here are a few of the other Seattle spots to satiate your passion for design.

Pacific Science Center

The centerpiece of this museum was built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. It was the work of Seattle-born architect Minoru Yamasaki, best known for designing the World Trade Center in New York City. For 52 years, the Center’s 100-foot-tall arches have been a notable part of the Seattle skyline. Surrounding the arches are six exhibition halls, each with tracery-adorned white facades, and in the center of the complex are reflecting pools. With the five arches resembling the vaults of cathedrals, Yamasaki’s design was seen as a temple to science and technology.

The Pacific Science Center. Photo by Gwendolyn Horton
The arches of the Pacific Science Center. Photo by Gwendolyn Horton
The Pacific Science Center. Photo by Gwendolyn Horton

Seattle Central Library

When it comes to this library, I have one word: Vertigo. Set on a sharply sloped hillside and consisting of intersecting planes of glass and steel, the building is mysterious, intriguing and dramatic, as if reflecting the books inside. Designed by Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus of OMA and completed in 2004, it’s as much a community center as a repository for books.

The Seattle Central Library. Photo by Gwendolyn Horton

The feeling of being under a canopy of glass stays with you from floor to floor, which is a marvelous feat as well as the source of my unsteady feet. There are places where you’re so exposed to the 11-story drop that I had to hug the wall and look away as I passed. If finding a book is your goal (overcoming fear of heights: first floor) there is a four-story-high “Books Spiral” where you can peruse a continuous ramp of shelves without climbing a single step. Need a place to work or read? Large rooms and nooks abound, from the cathedral-like top floor to hidden corners, many furnished with sofas and chairs by Loll. Whether you love it or hate it, you have to see the building that architecture critic Paul Goldberger called “the most important new library to be built in a generation, and the most exhilarating.”

The Go Sofa by Loll. Photo by Gwendolyn Horton
Chihuly Garden and Glass

“Everything starts as a bubble,” says landscape architect Richard Hartlage about the process of making Chihuly glass. That’s our introduction to the work of artist Dale Chihuly, the subject of a Seattle Center exhibition set in the shadow of the Space Needle. Chihuly’s work is included in more than 200 museum collections worldwide, where fans marvel at the gravity-defying forms he creates from blown glass. “Glass itself is so much like water,” says Chihuly. “If you let it go on its own, it almost ends up looking like something that came from the sea.”

Chihuly Garden and Glass. Photo by Gwendolyn Horton

As for Hartlage’s connection, he was commissioned to create the exterior landscape of the exhibition. (Worth noting: the word “garden” comes before “glass” in the exhibition’s name.) Pairing nature with glass that resembles nature, he selected honeysuckle, stewartia, clematis, eryngium, akebia and other plants and trees to compliment, contrast and celebrate the artwork. A highlight of the garden is a 500-year-old salvaged old growth Western red cedar tree – a beautiful mass of weathered burled wood surrounded by Chihuly’s purple glass Neodymium Reeds.

Chihuly Garden and Glass. Photo by Gwendolyn Horton
Chihuly Garden and Glass with Space Needle above. Photo by Gwendolyn Horton

The Experience Music Project

Before designing the EMP Building, Frank Gehry purchased several electric guitars and sliced them into pieces. These deconstructed forms served as the inspiration for his aluminum and stainless steel structure, completed in 2000 for Seattle’s pop culture museum. Like so many stunning buildings that celebrate the sun, Gehry’s gleaming glory is no exception. Responding to different light conditions, the building conveys the fluidity and ever-changing nature of music. Inside, you feel a bit like a Ping-Pong ball bouncing between gift shops, but the massive LED screen sound stage and Sky Church is a treat.

The EMP Building. Photo by Gwendolyn Horton
EMP interior: Getting wrapped up in slices of guitars. Photo by Gwendolyn Horton
So Gehry. Photo by Gwendolyn Horton

Space Needle

With so many references to cathedral- and church-like aspects in the places previously described, I’ll conclude with the Space Needle, the steeple of Seattle. From the top you can see everything from Mount Rainier to the green roofs of the Chihuly Garden, kindly planted with rosemary and sage by Richard Hartlage to ensure a green view. Like the Pacific Science Center, the Space Needle was designed for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. In 1959, Artist Edward E. Carlson used a coffee shop napkin to sketch his vision for a balloon-like tower, but the final flying saucer shape was the work of architects John Graham and John Ridley.

The Space Needle. Photo by Gwendolyn Horton

Standing 520 feet above the ground, the dome is so perfectly balanced that it takes only one 1.5-horsepower motor to rotate the SkyCity Restaurant, located just below the observation deck. This was the second rotating restaurant in the U.S. The first, also designed by Graham, was La Ronde, built in 1961 atop Hawaii’s Ala Moana Shopping Center (home to the DWR Hawaii Studio) and later converted to a private office. Talk about feeling as if you’re running in circles at the office.

Photo by Gwendolyn Horton

Do you have an architectural marvel to add? If so, send us a comment below.


  • Michael Croan

    Four-year-old Isaac loves to build things. When he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, he wished for a work bench—not for his own amusement, but because he wanted “to make toys for the other kids” at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Next Thursday, at the height of the giving season, Isaac’s wish will come true thanks to Make-A-Wish Alaska and Washington and local designer Cameron Smith.

    Isaac has been involved in every step of the design process, led by Smith and his team at Product Creation Studio. Isaac’s workbench is highly modular and portable, allowing him to choose from multiple work surfaces at home or at the hospital. Learn more about this amazing piece of furniture and the boy who conceived it at

    Gwendolyn, we invite you to attend Isaac’s wish presentation next Thursday in Seattle. Contact me directly for details.