This article was written by Brian L. McLaren, PhD, Chair in the Department of Architecture at the University of Washington in Seattle on the second century of the school.
The Department of Architecture at the University of Washington recently celebrated its first century with an engaging series of lectures, symposia and social events that explored its past, present and future. The architecture program began under the direction of Chair Carl F. Gould with a cohort of just over 10 students in the fall of 1914. Although it has expanded considerably over the years and experienced many ideological shifts, the Department remains a leading force for architectural education and culture in the Pacific Northwest. It does this by continuing to honor its past while understanding the present as a time of sweeping change and exceptional opportunity. As the profession evolves to embrace new and more agile models of practice in response to contemporary challenges, the department’s home city of Seattle is experiencing phenomenal growth and expanding global influence. To study architecture at the University of Washington today is to directly engage and influence this extraordinary time of challenge and change.
Recent student work illustrates the Department’s long standing strengths within this changing climate. A particular focus on the physical constitution of Seattle’s urban and industrial landscape mirrors the Department’s broader interest in issues of materials and their assembly. This concentration has resulted in many recent award winning student projects including four awards in the 2014-15 ACSA-AISC Steel Design Student Competition and one in the 2012-13 ACSA Timber in the City Student Competition. Student work from the department also garnered nearly all of the awards in the 2015 AIA Northwest and Pacific Region Student Design Awards program. The Department’s engagement in these issues affords a unique perspective from which to confront contemporary problems of urban continuity and revitalization while yielding a tangible quality to the student work.
This material focus permeates virtually all studio offerings, and especially those that make use of the state-of-the-art College of Built Environments Fabrication Lab. Student work from these classes, such as the Furniture Studio, have also enjoyed substantial recognition including a long list of awards at the Interior Designers of Idaho Chair Affair. It is also evident in community-based studios, such as Neighborhood Design/Build, where, each year, students design and build a small community project for a Seattle-area nonprofit group within the limited timeframe of a ten week quarter. This progressive approach to materials and their assembly is perhaps most evident in the Master of Architecture Thesis work—where students continually confront the most challenging issues in contemporary society. The provocative nature of this work has been widely recognized and contributes to the Department’s success in the AIA Northwest and Pacific Region Student Design Awards and other awards programs.
The quality of student work and its regional and national recognition are a source of both pride and optimism as a second century of architectural education commences at the University of Washington.