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Comments

Allison

wow, that's especially sad with the before picture linked in there too. we'll miss you, brick.

Mariah McKay

To: Contrarian
(a persistent contributor to the related thread)

While I may not agree with some of the assumptions and consequences of your arguments, I do appreciate your perspective for the sake of discussion.

I want to make it clear that I'm precisely the type of conscientious consumer that refuses to patronize such "fugly" business enterprises, and I do everything in my power to ensure that my friends and my friends' friends do the same. Something as important as shaping regional identity should NOT be left up to individual cultural discretion, however. We CAN be proactive and strategic in working together to create an appealing and identifiable feel to our area.

Aesthetics should not just be dismissed as a superficial corollary of what the market is able to bear. The visual totality of Spokane's built environment reveals more about our identity as a population than our average per capita income. Despite major development incentives, certain corporate entities may not consider Spokane if we fail to project the subtlety and cultural sophistication that their knowledge workers require. Tax breaks and other incentives may not be enough; Spokane must also distinguish itself qualitatively in order to succeed in a competitive national marketplace.

Minimalist and utilitarian design can be accomplished in a way that counteracts the "pall of despondency" that people wrongfully associate with Spokane. Sadly, this project has failed MISERABLY in this regard. It seems that money was needlessly spent to destroy the pre-existing aesthetic quality of this structure.

At the end of the day, what does this building surface provide? Increased fire protection? No. Improved insulation? Possibly. A superficial attempt at modernization creating an eyesore that untold thousands will have to endure for decades? Unfortunately.

I have to agree with Metro:

....bleaaarrrrggghhh!

Silent Bahb

Random House defines "contrarian" as a person who takes an opposing view, especially one who rejects the majority opinion. Notice there is no implication of whether that person actually agrees with their contrary view or seeks to promote it. They simply argue in order to argue. In that light, let's take Cont. at his face value and not take it personally.

I definitely applaud your response, Mariah. Thanks for trying to elevate the discussion a bit.

And I most assuredly agree with Allison. I miss the brick . . . all political ramifications aside.

Contrarian

Well, Mariah, you make several questionable assumptions there. Let's work from the prgamatic to the philosophical.

"At the end of the day, what does this building surface provide?"

To answer that question you first have to know what sort of business will occupy it. Third Ave. is not a retail area and does not (for the most part) cater to pedestrians. It is primarily a locale for auto-oriented businesses, such as auto dealers, auto service businesses, and drive-in restaurants.

I haven't investigated, but from the appearance I'd guess that this building will house some sort of service business, probably auto-related. That is, a business which does not depend upon foot traffic or impulse shoppers. Most of the floor space will likely be devoted to the performance of that work (auto painting, detailing, repair, etc.) or storage. Most businesses prefer that such work not go on in public view, for reasons of security and employee efficiency. So then the question becomes: Does the owner of the property configure his building so as to best serve the purposes he plans for it, or to "contribute to regional identity," as that is envisioned by self-appointed aesthetic police?

Either businesses are permitted to build the kinds of buildings suited to the businesses they are in, or they will build elsewhere.

Now the philosophical:

"Something as important as shaping regional identity should NOT be left up to individual cultural discretion, however. We CAN be proactive and strategic in working together to create an appealing and identifiable feel to our area."

What is the basis for your assumption that everyone has some kind of obligation to help "shape regional identity"? How did anyone acquire such an obligation? I'm fairly confident that "shaping regional identity" was the furthest thing from the minds of the architect and owner of that building. I'm sure they were focussed instead on building a structure that would work for them.

Your assumption is not only morally presumptuous, but historically inaccurate. The communities we recognize as having distinct and appealing identities were *all* the result of the exercise of individual discretion by the architects and builders active in those communties' heydays --- Sullivan, Burnham, Van der Rohe in Chicago, Pissis, Morgan, Maybeck in San Francisco, and even Kirtland Cutter in Spokane. All of them designed and built according to their own lights --- not according to some formula concocted by a committee of bureaucrats and third-string architects seeking to raise their public profiles.

Distinctive community identities are not the result of political processes. Those yield Soviet-style architecture. Distinctive identities result from individuals "doing their own thing."

METROSPOKANE

>To answer that question you first have to know what sort of business will occupy it.

C - Don't get all wrapped up in the 'use' as the defining measure for what the structure must look like in an urban environment. It can be secondary. We're discussing urban buildings and the point is site plan and the 3 rules trump architecture. The building itself is not bad, but just performs poorly as an urban building, which is, unfortunately, where it is located. The fact that they 'undid' an aspect of a building that was performing much better in it's environment is what is disheartening. Just follow the 3 rules and you've solved most of the issues with our downtown.

As for your philosophical points we agree...especially the last sentence. If you think about Kendall Yards it's downfall as a 'place' may very well be its vast uniformity...time will tell.


Oh, and as you may know Burnham was a planner and an architect and in the Chicago plan he clearly delineated elements that we would consider 'zoning' today. Did you know he also designed the U.S. Bank Building downtown?

Sullivan "form follows function" designed buildings that were massive yet still pedestrian in scale. Van der Rohe designed urban spaces that could only be described as anti-urban.

Kate

"To answer that question you first have to know what sort of business will occupy it."

Mmmmm not really. In fact if you build to the specifications of one use in this way, you can end up with a building that is completely outmoded once the use is gone. That can get expensive. If you are really building for the future - remember buildings can last more than 100 years - go flexible.

"The communities we recognize as having distinct and appealing identities were *all* the result of the exercise of individual discretion by the architects and builders active in those communties' heydays"

OK, this is just silly. Do you honestly think that all of these guys were working in a vacuum? Architecture has this thing called architectural discourse attached to it. This is why you see certain schools and styles of architecture. Architects LOVE manifestos, programs, formulas and shared philosophies. This coherence, which historically has often been bound up in regional styles and attitudes, is actually one of the main reasons cities *do* have identity based upon the built environment.

Also, a word about zoning before we take this thread to like 40 replies.

Zoning requirements are just an instrument cities use to *get to* quality.

The conflation of the *instrument* of zoning with the *goal* of quality urban design can make arguments pretty incoherent, pretty fast.

I'm just saying.

Jim

Well stated Mariah. I've previously voiced my opinion of this unfortunate but predictable project. The owner and or designer probably enjoy an evening dinner at KFC before heading out for a fun evening at the casino..hardly an excuse, but possibly an explanation.
Contro - your last paragraph puzzles me. Since there seems to be agreement that the Davenport Annex reflects the type of style you are referring to..Did the owner not "do his own thing" in this case. Sorry you just confirmed what a lot of us have been stating.

joshua

i know it's a long shot, but does anyone have a photograph of the building pre-remodel...?

benJAMMIN

follow the Buy-bye brick link.

benJAMMIN

unless you mean before any remodel action was engaged. For that, i have nothing.

Silent Bahb

When looking at the "before" pic, it appears that the new walls are just facing placed over the brick. Does anyone know if they actually removed the brick or did they just cover it up?

If they only covered it up, and assuming it wasn't too badly damaged by the installation of the facing, it is possible that a future, more community-conscious owner could restore the building.

(Before you get after me, Contrarian, I'm not interested in getting into an argument on what constitutes "community-consciousness.")

Contrarian

Metro --

"Don't get all wrapped up in the 'use' as the defining measure for what the structure must look like in an urban environment. It can be secondary. We're discussing urban buildings and the point is site plan and the 3 rules trump architecture."

Methinks you're construing "urban" too narrowly. Cities are complex systems with many disparate components, and the same standards don't apply to all components. If that building were located in the CDB, then I'd agree your 3 rules would apply. But it isn't.

Function cannot be "secondary." Function is the raison d'etre of any building. They are not, like statues or paintings, "gratuitous artifacts," created only to delight the senses. The aesthetics must be constrained by function. That building was built with brick and many windows because at the time windows served a functional purpose --- displaying the wares for sale --- and the brick was likely the most cost-effective material. When a building changes use, then its aesthetics must follow.

Contrarian

Metro ---

"Oh, and as you may know Burnham was a planner and an architect and in the Chicago plan he clearly delineated elements that we would consider 'zoning' today. Did you know he also designed the U.S. Bank Building downtown?"

Yes indeed.

Contrarian

Kate --

"In fact if you build to the specifications of one use in this way, you can end up with a building that is completely outmoded once the use is gone."

Yes you can. That is why buildings are remodeled. Remodeling is usually expensive, but not as expensive as building new, or as expensive as trying to do business in an unsuitable building.

"OK, this is just silly. Do you honestly think that all of these guys were working in a vacuum? Architecture has this thing called architectural discourse attached to it. This is why you see certain schools and styles of architecture. Architects LOVE manifestos, programs, formulas and shared philosophies."

Working without political interference is not the same as working in a vaccuum. Architectural discourse is not the same as bureaucratic mandates. Of course architects communicate with and influence each other. But dialog and influence are not the same as edicts imposed by force. It is the difference between a suggestion and a threat.

"The conflation of the *instrument* of zoning with the *goal* of quality urban design can make arguments pretty incoherent, pretty fast."

I have no quarrel with zoning per se. It has legitimate uses. But since it is an instrument of force, it's goals (like those of government itself) tend to expand, to embrace anything someone cannot obtain by voluntary means.

Contrarian

Jim ---

"Contro - your last paragraph puzzles me. Since there seems to be agreement that the Davenport Annex reflects the type of style you are referring to..Did the owner not "do his own thing" in this case. Sorry you just confirmed what a lot of us have been stating."

Not at all. We're not disagreeing about aesthetics. We're disagreeing about how you get imaginative design. Via mandates, or by allowing creativity to flourish.

Contrarian

Bahb --

"(Before you get after me, Contrarian, I'm not interested in getting into an argument on what constitutes "community-consciousness.")"

That's too bad. Given the weight placed on that and related concepts it would probably behoove us to acquire a firm grip on it.

Kate

"Architectural discourse is not the same as bureaucratic mandates."

Oh Contrarian. Of course it is! Well not exactly, but how do you think we get our zoning regulations? If you see a regulation that mandates the separation of industrial and residential zones, I guarantee you that it is a result of modernist ideas. If you see one that mandates the use of typical local building materials or forms, it's either the work of conservative historicists or postmodernists. To use your terminology, a lot of suggestions end up getting turned into threats.

I can understand why you're saying that that's a bad thing. Regulatory measures do have the potential to stifle creativity. But I hope you can also understand why people like Jim think Spokane might need some regulatory measures dealing with design.

Basically, to some of us, a remodel like this is an example of how total creative freedom isn't producing quality results. It appears to be producing junkspace.

So, assuming that it's not impossible to improve the quality of urban design, how do we do that?

That's basically the question here, I think.

Contrarian

Kate --

"Basically, to some of us, a remodel like this is an example of how total creative freedom isn't producing quality results. It appears to be producing junkspace."

That's perfectly true --- to *some of us* it is "junkspace." To its owners and the architect working for its owners, it is probably the most cost-effective space suitable for its intended purpose that they could come up with. So whose opinion should prevail, "some of us" who do not own the property, do not pay its taxes, and have invested nothing in it, or that of those who did? If the former, by what rationale? How do "some of us" justify imposing our aesthetic preferences on others?

"So, assuming that it's not impossible to improve the quality of urban design, how do we do that?"

One way to approach that question is by investigating how it was done in those cities we take as exemplars of good design, e.g., Chicago, Boston, even Spokane between 1890-1930. What factors were present? Hint: it was not due to committees of bureaucrats concocting "guidelines" and imposing them at gunpoint.

Silent Bahb

You raise an interesting, if not repetitive point, C. But I shudder to think what would happen if those bureaucrats you so vehemently disdain were eliminated entirely. There has to be balance between the individual and the community as a whole somewhere. And while the property owners certainly should have a considerable amount of say in what their structure looks like, and more importantly how it is used, there comes some accountability for choosing the property they purchase or lease.

Establishing any level of guidance on building design doesn't eliminate the choice or ability of the owner to conduct business. The idea is for the city to establish a community character they support in a given location - for instance, urban design requirements in the downtown area. At that point, it becomes the choice of the prospective property owner or potential new client. They must decide if they can abide by those guidelines and, if not, they can choose to locate their business elsewhere. I refuse to believe that, in this case, this is the one and only location this tenant could successfully conduct business. Yes, it was a good choice for them – obviously, or they wouldn’t be locating there. However, whatever regulatory environment exists in that location should and must be a factor in their decision making process.

To give an example of what I mean, take a common gas station. Before a gas station is established, the owner/operator/whatever has researched the situation (we hope) to the best of their ability in many key areas, including proximity to competitors, existence of steady customer base, perceived demand for a new station, price comparisons of existing stations, and all manner of issues. Why is it unreasonable to expect a prospective tenant/property owner to do their homework and also research the regulatory environment they will have to work within? If the location isn’t allowed to install monument signs, for example, they shouldn’t move in expecting to put up a huge lighted sign.

Yes, this will seem unfair to some – especially existing owners who have to adapt to new guidelines. But, as my mother was fond of repeating, life isn’t fair.

Contrarian

Bahb ---

"There has to be balance between the individual and the community as a whole somewhere."

That is an example of the weight placed on the concept of "community consciousness" I mentioned. But you've indicated you're not interested in examining that concept. So let's consider a more practical question.

"At that point, it becomes the choice of the prospective property owner or potential new client. They must decide if they can abide by those guidelines and, if not, they can choose to locate their business elsewhere."

Yes they can, and will. Then what happens to the building that would have been their first choice, had the local bureaucracy not interfered? Well, it continues to sit vacant.

A building is remodeled to accomodate a different use because the original use, and thus (in many cases) the orginal design, is no longer viable in the current market --- which is why it is currently vacant.

Another alternative is that the prospective buyers do not buy or build in this market at all, because this is the only available building that will pencil out for them (they need a location in an area where they will have some visibility to the customer base they hope to attract, such as new car buyers or customers for auto services).

So your regulations have the effect of keeping vacant buildings vacant and driving economic activity into neighboring jurisdictions. The more vacancies there are in an area, the less attractive those properties become for *any* use.

Buyers *will* research the market, including the regulatory environment, as you suggest. And if that environment precludes the project they envision, they will not proceed. Is that what you want? Or are you expecting some angel to appear who will occupy and maintain the building at a loss, in order to "contribute to community identity"?


METROSPOKANE

Sorry C- The building IS in the CBD.

Contrarian

Metro --

Per the City's definition. Per the market, and in the public mind, the CBD is what the city calls the "downtown core." Design precepts which may make sense in the downtown core do not make sense on 2nd and 3rd Aves.


Silent Bahb

Always the note of disdain, C. And yes, I would rather the building sit vacant, especially in a location that in all likelihood will become much more than it currently is over time. Do we accept the mediocre today in lieu of the good or excellent tomorrow? By your philosophy, C, everyone should do what they want and it will all balance out. Well, I can tell you from personal experience here in Spokane and elsewhere - it never balances out.

As for your argument that restricting businesses from locating in a given location, as I have lain out previously, would cause further economic detriment, you ignore the fact that decline or improvement of the economy is largely the result of regional, national, and international forces - not local. Anyone who tells you otherwise is selling something.

METROSPOKANE

>Design precepts which may make sense in the downtown core do not make sense on 2nd and 3rd Aves.

You're entitled to your opinion. It seems though that even stripping the code down to three simple rules is far too much of an imposition on the individual for you to stomach.

The concept behind this blog is to identify what can make for a more interesting urban environment in Spokane. When it comes to zoning that can't do it, and there certainly is the belief that 'less is more' with regards to zoning (which we've offered). Still you leave us wondering: What alternatives do you proffer to make urban Spokane a much more interesting place? Are we correct to summarize your thoughts this way: "It's my property, leave me alone".

Kate

Yeah, METRO, that is the overarching theme I'm getting here. If design guidelines are unacceptable because they restrict creativity, and "community consciousness" is apparently also some ominous coercive thing, well what are we supposed to do?

I guess it boils down to us thinking this trainwreck of a "renovation" was preventable, and C thinking it just somehow has to be this way.

Oh well then?

Kate

Contrarian,

I really wasn't going to get into a "form follows function" discussion, but I have to ask: since when are windows and a durable facade *not* functional aspects of a building?

You keep talking about aesthetic judgements, but in my semi-educated opinion, the issues with this remodel are actually things that impede the function of the building, i.e., less natural light and the need for another remodeling sooner in the future than there would have been with the brick facade.

Also, I assure you that you are completely underestimating how flexible certain types of buildings can be. Honestly. I live in an apartment building from the late 1800s which has floor plans with a long hallway, 5 rooms that each open onto the hallway (some have sliding doors between the rooms as well), a seperate restroom and shower room, and a nice big kitchen. Very high ceilings are the icing on the cake.

In our building, these 5-room apartments are used by:

*Students who live one person to a room (that would be us)

*A pediatrician's office

*A couple with a child

*A group of designers, as an atelier, not an apartment

Basically, the landlord replaces the bathroom fixtures and the kitchens about every 20-30 years and care for the facade, and the renters repaint the walls. If we take good care of the wooden floors, they need to be refinished every 10 - 20 years.

That's the extent of the remodeling that has gone on since this place was built for renters who lived in completely different family structures, by architects who could never have imagined the way we live and work there today.

And by the way, as much as I love me some Bauhaus, "form follows function" is brought to you by the same people who came up with the Frankfurt efficiency kitchen - a teeny hole in the wall kitchen that was designed perfectly for one housewife cooking, but is basically useless as a communal area.

They designed something perfectly for their own societal norms, and it's been terribly unpopular ever since the 1960's.

Silent Bahb

You raise an interesting point, Kate, that hasn't really been given voice here. I worked for a time in a machine shop that had large counter to ceiling windows such as those on the original facade of this building. They provided so much light that we often worked at our benches with only a little task light over the particular machine we were using. We had overhead fluorescents, but we rarely used them - only on very dark days and when we worked nights. The power savings from that one shop were significant, and this was in the 80s when the whole concept of sustainability, alternative fuels, and climate change were barely whispered. I can't help but think that sealing up the entire façade, save for that corner showing in the picture, did wonders for the electricity consumption of this building.

That's assuming of course, that any remodel that kept the windows would have insulated better or replaced the glass for better heat retention in the winter.

Contrarian

Bahb ---

"And yes, I would rather the building sit vacant, especially in a location that in all likelihood will become much more than it currently is over time."

And will the city pay the property taxes and the maintenance necessary to keep insurance in force while the building sits vacant "over time," waiting for pie-in-the-sky changes in the economy, per the city's edict? If not, then you will soon have another parking lot. Of course, the city could always issue another edict barring demolition. And then it would face a takings lawsuit, which it would lose (since it is denying all economically viable uses of the property).

Do the costs to the owner of this enforced vacancy count for nothing, in your judgment? Tough luck for him?

"Do we accept the mediocre today in lieu of the good or excellent tomorrow?"

"Do we accept . . . ?" You seem to consider these private buildings to be some kind of public property, whose uses and appearance "the public" may accept or reject, while the nominal owner bears the costs and eats the losses. How do you justify that (or is anything desired by "the public" self-justifying)?


Contrarian

Metro ---

"It seems though that even stripping the code down to three simple rules is far too much of an imposition on the individual for you to stomach."

I think your 3 rules are sound, in areas of a city devoted to consumer retailing, dining and entertainment, and other uses generating and drawing sidewalk traffic. They promote synergy among those uses. But in areas such as 2nd/3rd, which are dominated by auto-related service businesses, sidewalk appeal is irrelevant. Achieving synergy in that area depends on different factors.

"What alternatives do you proffer to make urban Spokane a much more interesting place?"

I suggested to Kate, when she posed a similar question, that she analyze the factors present in other communties we consider exemplars of good design, urban vitality, etc. There is really only one common factor, and that is money. Cities acquire noteworthy architecture, and cultural depth and diversity, when (and only when) they generate or attract the wealth to produce and support them. If the wealth is not there, no amount of hand-wringing and foot-stamping by bench-sitters and politicans will produce those things. And if, in their frustration, they attempt to secure those things by fiat, then they exacerbate the problem --- lack of wealth --- by making development even more difficult and expensive.

In the period 1890-1930 Spokane was wealthy; natural resource industries poured money into the city. Cheap electricity helped. All of Spokane's notable buildings and its outstanding park system were built during that period. Its position as a medical, media, and transportation center also developed during that period.

Spokane is no longer wealthy. If we want to see Spokane become more diverse culturally, more interesting aesthetically, we have to figure out how to generate or attract wealth.

The recent history of Charlotte, NC, might provide an example. In 1950 Charlotte's population was 134,000 --- smaller than Spokane. It now has a population of 630,000 (2.4 million in the CSA), and is the second largest banking center in the US, after New York. It features buildings designed by Pelli, Pei, et al.

Why did that happen in Charlotte? Because North Carolina had a favorable bank-regulatory climate.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/06176/701039-28.stm

Contrarian

PS: Charlotte's median household income is $48,670; Spokane's $32,273.

Contrarian

Kate ---

"And by the way, as much as I love me some Bauhaus, "form follows function" is brought to you by the same people who came up with the Frankfurt efficiency kitchen - a teeny hole in the wall kitchen that was designed perfectly for one housewife cooking, but is basically useless as a communal area."

Yes. They construed the function of the kitchen too narrowly. Good thing that judgment had not been encoded in local building regs (perhaps to promote "affordable housing"). Then everyone who wanted to build larger kitchens would have been forced to apply for waivers, submit briefs, attend hearings, and file lawsuits in order to build a marketable kitchen.

Silent Bahb

This is becomming sadly cyclical. We get it, C. You favor the individual property owner's rights over all else. Unfortunately, I can't agree with that. I suggest we leave it there.

Contrarian

The rights of individuals are the only rights there are, Bahb. The question is always one of the rights of certain individuals vs. those of other individuals --- in this case, the rights claimed by the individuals who own the property vs. those claimed by other individuals who don't.

MK

Forgive me terribly for stirring this up but as I have just read through 32 comments I do believe I can add one more.

I see a common theme here that both parties are interested in and that is prosperity.

C. is right in that great buildings are created when there is great wealth. Spokane is lacking in that currently.

I think the other side has a firm belief that money is also important and to build Spokane into a more prosperous city we need to have a beautiful, well planned downtown that companies and creative individuals cannot help but be drawn to.

I think both parties want to see the same thing, but disagree on how to get there.

After living and working in Spokane for many years this is not an uncommon discussion. If someone knew how to make us as prosperous as Seattle they would have done it by now.

Economic development has no silver bullet but rather benefits from a diverse approach. I think recent economic statistics show we are on the right track. Everyone wants it to move faster but anything grassroots takes time.

The most important thing we can do in my opinion is focus on and support the businesses we have here and quit praying that Google decides it's too crazy in Silicon Valley and Spokane would be a better fit.

Is a vibrant, architecturally beautiful downtown beneficial to business? Absolutely. Are workable codes and building standards helpful to business? Right again. Like most things in life balance is key and finding the right balance for Spokane is hard but worth figuring out.

Spokane has come a very long way in a very short time. We have a lot of things working against us but I have never found so many new and interesting companies in the area as I have this last year (software, tech companies - the kind we want).

We desperately need to take care of the companies we have, help them grow into national powerhouses and then we won't have to worry so much about stealing companies from other places.

I've often found people in this area to be accepting of new ideas once they are explained to them properly. This website serves to stimulate and educate many of us in the areas of urban design and I for one want to say thanks for providing years of great reading. Keep it up!

METROSPOKANE

MK - An excellent post. Well stated. It's also a great post to end on, so consider the comment section closed.

The comments to this entry are closed.

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