I was hoping for some culture shock.
After a year each in Basel and Rome, and three years in Shanghai, I had become somewhat addicted to novelty, to that sense of discovery one feels exploring a new city. Arrival is a thrill. You know nothing, but find your way, assembling a mental map from disintegrating brochures or hasty sketches reproduced from hostel cork-boards. Stringing together fragments of the local language you learn enough, at first, to order a beer; later, to ask directions, or joke with colleagues. The novelty fades, and you move on, exploring further afield. You dig into the history books, try to determine why the city formed the way it did, try to uncover aspects of the culture that will inform its future growth.
While living abroad, I tried to understand culture through architecture and urban morphology. I tried to identify unique formal devices that I could borrow for my own projects, tried to find typologies that were common across continents, or specific to a certain place and time. If architecture is, ultimately, the most lasting expression of culture, what can buildings tell us about the social and economic flows that resulted in their creation? In today's networked, digital world, is there a place for cultural specificity?
While I can't condone fetishization of the exotic, a sense of cultural distance can be productive when analyzing buildings and cities, as maintaining a tourist's curiosity can spark meaningful discussions. What could I uncover, if I approached architecture in my new home from the perspective of an outsider?
Could Seattle (now my home turf, though not my home town) hold my interest as long as Rome? Would the Pacific Northwest reveal itself to be as worthy of study as the Yangtze delta? In this blog series, I hope to take a long look at Seattle and the surrounding areas, to try to discover whatever architectural traditions are there to be found, to find the history of the city through specific works of architecture, and to unearth those outliers that point to paths not taken...
So while I may or may not post about the Seattle Library or the Experience Music Project, you should expect an essay on the Denny Regrade, the massive 1900s engineering project that leveled one of the city's major hills, and buried acres of tidal wetlands. Or on Leavenworth, a small town that rebranded itself as a Bavarian village in the 1960s. Or on Simon Frasier University, Vancouver's brutalist acropolis. Or on Boeing Plant #2, camouflaged as a peaceful suburb during WWII. Or... the list goes on. Already, I'm finding that there's more to Seattle than the Space Needle, and I hope you'll read along as I go exploring...
Returning to the US after years of work and travel abroad, Evan Chakroff attempts to bring a global perspective to analysis of the relatively-unknown architectural traditions of his new home, Seattle, Washington.