White Accents in a Gray World

How new buildings in Seattle are capturing a unique sense of place.

White glass building accents
Helios Apartments, 2nd & Pine St. Seattle

I’ve had the opportunity to visit Seattle in the last year  and have observed an emerging architectural trend of white spandrel glass used as accents on buildings. This is an interesting phenomenon as the white accents stand in contrast to the gray glass and dark mullioned buildings of the modern skyline.  In Seattle the preponderance of gray buildings blend into the ever-present overcast gray sky of the Pacific northwest. However the new buildings with white accents provide pop of brightness which contrasts against the gray skyline and provides visual interest.

fullsizeoutput_1413Unlike Richard Meier buildings, such as the High Museum of Art in Atlanta,  which are all white and stand as sculptural objects in stark contrast to their environment. The Seattle buildings use white as an accent, briefly punctuating an otherwise gray skyline with patterned and sometimes whimsical effect delighting the eye. What I find fascinating is the how this trend captures the essence of the surrounding environs of the Puget Sound region.  For example, the Olympic Mountains with their snow capped peaks become sandwiched on the horizon between the pine tree covered mountain slopes and gray sky horizon. In essence, the use of white spandrel glass is the built environments expression of this naturally occurring geographical  phenomena.


Helios, Ascent, & Nexus Apartments, Seattle by Weber Thompson Architects

Bottom Line: As cities evolve they have an opportunity to create, but rarely achieve a unique sense of place. With the emergence of this white glass trend Seattle is on the cusp of developing just such a character linking the local geography to the  built environment in a meaningful way.  As an architect I appreciate that this is not a prescribed style, form, or material but rather a visual phenomena. Building designs will be able to adapt over time incorporating white accents in unique ways and yet  still be part of a larger built context inextricably linked to the natural geography and beauty of the region.

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