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McClatchy-Tribune  08/29/2014 10:04 PM ET
The Seattle Times Sunday Buzz column [The Seattle Times :: ]

Aug. 29--Weyerhaeuser's move to Pioneer Square means that its Federal Way campus, a groundbreaking piece of 20th-century corporate architecture, is now up for grabs.

The site, clearly visible from Interstate 5, was built for the forest-products empire in 1971, at a time when U.S. corporations were moving en masse to the suburbs that then epitomized the American way of life.

Yet architects still fawn over Weyerhaeuser's landscaped 430-acre site and its main building, which has been described as a skyscraper lying on its side.

"It's one of the finest modern buildings in the state, if not the West Coast," said David Miller, chairman of the University of Washington Department of Architecture, who in the early 1970s worked at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, one of the storied firms involved in the project.

The other was Sasaki, Walker Associates, a legendary outfit specializing in landscape architecture.

The main building's five stories have the air of a Babylonian ziggurat, with English ivy dripping from the balconies. It stands in the midst of a shallow valley, surrounded by woods.

The project earned the American Institute of Architecture's Twenty-five Year Award in 2001, a sought-after honor that indicates that it has withstood the test of time.

It was one of the first corporate buildings to offer an open office layout.

Thaisa Way, a UW professor of landscape architecture who dedicates a full lecture to the Weyerhaeuser development, says the building's approach to its natural surroundings was pioneering, and helped the controversial logging company reset its reputation as embracing of the environment.

With Mount Rainier looming on one side and a lake on the other, surrounded by woods, "it looks like you're literally ensconced in the Pacific Northwest," she said. It's "a very different kind of experience to the kind of formality of the East Coast."

The campus helped define the character of contemporary Pacific Northwest architecture, which draws from the region's majestic nature, she added.

Even the terraced parking lot is a looker.

"I think it's the most beautiful parking lot ever," Way said.

But all this architectural glory became too much for downsized Weyerhaeuser, and at this point it isn't clear who might find it a good fit once the company moves out in 2016.

It's a huge property, with more than 800,000 square feet of existing structures, including a 460,000-square-foot research building, some of which Weyerhaeuser may want to lease back temporarily.

Jim Reinhardsen, a principal at Heartland, the real-estate firm that's helping Weyerhaeuser with the move, says the site's strategic location -- close to airports and the Port of Seattle, as well as its unique size and architectural prominence -- should make it attractive to companies and developers.

It's likely to be sold in one piece, as "it's unusual to find properties of this size as intact and well-maintained as it has been," Reinhardsen said.

"There's a great deal of interest" in the property already, said Reinhardsen, who declined to discuss price specifics.

In the meantime, architects will continue to admire the modernist wonder.

This coming week a University of California, Berkeley professor is leading a small group that includes European landscape architects to visit the Weyerhaeuser campus, Way said.

People are already getting curious about what the future might hold for this icon, she added.

"We can't freeze it, landscapes don't freeze."

Weyerhaeuser's decision to move to Pioneer Square, a neighborhood that's been teetering on the edge of prosperity for a long time, is a bold move, she said. And it's particularly apt" for a company with a history of architectural innovation.

"Weyerhaeuser made this huge mark, changing how we could be in the suburbs: being there, and environmentally aware," she said.

"Now they're moving into the city."

-- Ángel González:

 

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