Like many of the world’s great cities, Seattle’s buildings and architecture are a unique expression of the city’s character.  While Seattle contains many tall, imposing buildings, the most recognizable shape on the Seattle skyline is the Space Needle! Built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the Space Needle has become synonymous with Seattle. Its unique design and LegacyLights make the Space Needle both familiar and one of a kind. Set just north of the city, the Space Needle is visible from many places in Seattle, and often unexpectedly comes into view between buildings or over treetops. The Space Needle offers great views of the city from the Observation Deck and SkyCity, the revolving restaurant at the top of the tower.

But the Space Needle isn’t Seattle’s only architectural glory. Built in 1914, the Smith Tower was the tallest building in Seattle until 1962.  The Chinese Room on the 35th floor of the tower is a must-see, with hand carved woods, porcelain-inlay ceilings, and Blackwood furniture, as well as 17th century works of art. There is also a wrap-around observation deck with great views of the city. An interesting fact about the Smith Tower is that it’s the last office tower on the West Coast with live elevator operators. 

Another architectural masterpiece is the Suzzallo Library Reading Room on the University of Washington campus.  Opened in 1927, the Reading Room was described as having " been pronounced by experts to be the most beautiful on the continent and is ranked among the most beautiful in the world. It is comparable only to the nave of a cathedral."   Measuring 65 feet high and 250 feet long, the room features a vaulted ceiling elaborately decorated with richly colored and gilded stenciling, oak bookcases topped with hand-carved friezes representing native plants of Washington State, and tall leaded glass windows. 

Seattle’s modern and post-modern buildings, like Columbia Center (formerly the Bank of America Tower) and Washington Mutual Tower, also offer things to do and see. The Bank of America Tower is is taller (by number of floors) than any other building west of the Mississippi, and offers a 73rd floor observation room ($12.50 admission fee) with amazing views of the surrounding areas on clear days. The Seattle Municipal Tower has several cafés at the base of the tower, where you can eat lunch outside several floors above the bustling streets of Seattle while surrounded by trees and ivy, which is an escape all in its own. The most recent addition to the downtown skyline is the Seattle Public Library.  Identified by Time Magazine as the Best Architecture of 2004, Rem Koolhaas’ imaginative pile of five ’off-kilter boxes’ drew more than 2.3 million visitors in its first year (including 700,000 from out of town). 

One small modern gem is the award winning Chapel of St Ignatius on the campus of Seattle University by Steven Holl.  This should not be missed by the serious architecture buff.  Steven Holl also designed the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary art in Helsinki and in 2007 has been in all the architecture press because of his addition to the Nelson-Aktins Museum in Kanas City.   

Also check out some of the architecture tours.

Seattle has many other unique buildings and architecture to see, these noted are just a few of many that should be seen if you’re traveling to Seattle.


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