Monday, October 19, 2009

The Escala: The Verdict?


All of this chronicling of the Cristalla got me to thinking about another very recent postmodern addition to the neighborhood, the Escala at 4th & Virginia. It's been a long time coming. In fact, they've spent about two years building it. Having watched it go up slowly and steadily, I thought there would come a time when I would have strong feeling whether it was either a masterpiece of modern architecture or a massive eyesore. That still hasn't happened. I need some help here.

The Escala isn't the tallest building in Belltown. That title belongs to the Westin's North Tower. (Yes, the twin Westins are both in Belltown.) It's not even the tallest condo tower. The Continental Place still retains that honor. It was, however, billed as Belltown's largest condo tower, whatever that's supposed to mean. To me, it's a dubious label, because big means lots of units, which means that selling out the entire complex in this economy will be a struggle. Good luck to the sales team. None of this addresses my most basic question: is this building pleasing to the eye?

Here are some photos to help the decision-making process:

From 4th & Virginia...


From Virginia...


From Stewart.

I still can't decide. Let's take a look at street level:

Like the Cristalla, the Escala has a facade that gives way to the upper stories...


More facade...


The inspiration for the design came from the neighboring building, which used to house the Annex Theater.

Even though the facade is a bit tacky and its integration with the rest of the building is clumsy, I still can't make up my mind. Let's look at the positives. Unlike the Cristalla, the Escala actually goes well with nearby buildings. Three blocks away is the 2000 1st Avenue condo tower, which looks like this:

It was built back in the nineties and, although it's a bit more Deco than the Escala, it shares a few postmodern elements with the larger building.


This is something it doesn't share with the Escala - a fairly blank east side. I believe the plan was to build two of these towers, side by side, but the plans fell through for the second phase.


Just half a block away from the Escala are the two famous Westin towers from 1969 and 1982. They match up nicely with the Escala's rounded look. Brief story here: back in the seventies when there was only one Westin tower (and it was known as the Washington Plaza), an architect told me in all earnestness that in the future, all buildings would be cylindrical, just like the Washington Plaza. Well, so much for that prediction.

OK, so there are nearby buildings that don't clash with it. (The lovely Darth Vader does clash with it, but it clashes with everything, which is why I love it.) The downside? Well, obviously the design. Its bold postmodernism makes it look like it's the product of several different sets of plans. Although it's solidly built (let's hope) of glass, steel, concrete and various other sturdy components, it's defiantly amorphous. It has no distinctive shape. The last argument against it I've heard is that it's plain-old ugly. Have another look...

...and tell me either way. Is this a building you can hate? I still can't judge either way. One thing I object to, though is the Escala's "Midtown" designation. Guys, you can't just make up parts of the city that don't exist. There is no midtown in Seattle. You're in Belltown. Say it loud and proud. Hey, if it was such a bad and unfashionable neighborhood, would I live here?

OK, so the original question remains: is this new creation a work of postmodern beauty or is it ugly as sin? Discuss.

Read more of Hideous Belltown! How bad could it be??

8 comments:

Jim said...

By not putting your finger on it you've put your finger on it - the building lacks any real distinction that might make one have an opinion about it one way or another. In our disengaged and aesthetically complacent Seattle, developers might consider this as a virtue. I think it's a tragedy.

Anonymous said...

This really does feel like a mix between Vegas and Miami... like something they'd light well and copter over at the start of a CSI: Miami episode.

P.S. I think that is a bad thing, but it will provide plenty of housing options for Belltown's principal leads and managers.

Anonymous said...

Midby, the Escala developer, is indeed from Vegas - and the building shows it. Personally I find both the interior and exterior design to be bland and uninspired.

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