Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Pioneer Square at Pacific Northwest Ground Zero

Pioneer Square is in the news again these days, due to its volatile history and aspirations as the core of Seattle's "grunge" identity. At the base of Yesler Way, the original Skid Row, I experienced it every day working for Ralph Anderson and Partners in the Pioneer District during the mid-70's. We'd have to call the paddywagon in the morning after the denizens of the streets started to cut each other up over some issue or another during recovery from the previous night's repast. I'd also have to fight my way through those guys, along with the pigeons, to get to work from the bus stop across from the square. We'd all climb upstairs in the summer via a small ladder out onto the roof to "catch some rays" and inhale the asphalt fumes from the pitch-tar roof.

There's now a civic discussion about "saving" Pioneer Square and its authentic qualities, which is being impacted by the proposed Viaduct replacement, proposed tunnel and Waterfront redevelopment.

However, the spirit embodied by Pioneer Square, and Ralph Anderson and Associates (right there in Pioneer Square in the Union Trust Building and Annex) is more about the authentic restoration of character and scale to integrate the vibrancy of urban scale and interaction. This stems from the earlier work of Victor Steinbrueck at the University of Washington architecture department, which celebrates the uniqueness and character of the Seattle indigenous architecture, including that fascinating Richardsonian Romanesque architecture found in the downtown area's older structures.

Ralph and his firm mentored the careers of many local Pacific Northwest architects.