The Fight to Save a Brutalist Building on the UW Campus


There have been lots of mixed feelings about the concrete building that stands on the UW campus. Some people say it’s a part of history and should be treated as such whereas others complain that it’s ugly and the space can be put to better use. Either side of the argument has to get their points out quickly because the Administration team isn’t too far away from getting permission to demolish the building. In fact, they’ve already started looking into Scan & Locate Concrete X-Ray services so they are able to get a better idea of the building’s structure.

So, this is the focus of the fight to preserve a building. The little plaza with its homely concrete structure was once home to the UW’s nuclear reactor. Now, the Administration wants to remove the building and replace it with a building devoted to Computer Science.


To become *more* informed about the Nuclear Reactor Building, I encourage anyone who cares enough to follow this thread to peruse the “Statement of Significance” for the NRB in the National Register of Historic Places documentation itself. It’s on page 9 of the PDF at It is an inspiring, well-researched and rigorously vetted document that goes well beyond a defense of Brutalism. And it is full of facts — not opinions (to which we are all entitled but are not worth very much in the pursuit of truth, no matter how widespread they may be). Everyday experience is certainly an important source of information, but to dismiss the Register as “some sort of list” really does reveal either ignorance or disrespect for historical and aesthetic knowledge.


Dan Abramson

On 2/17/16 12:46 AM, John Sahr wrote:

I believe that Duane is referring to my comments in one of his responses.

(1) enrollment demand is hardly a red herring. It is no error to address student demand for degrees that they desire. There are *other* Departments which offer significantly fewer degrees than the demand indicates — my own (Electrical Engineering) is one, Mechanical Engineering another, Communication is yet another. Computer Science and Engineering is obviously one.
CSE is interesting because they appear to be able to raise the entire cost of a new building without taxing either the students or the State (except for the General Assignment Classroom spaces, which the campus ought legitimately to fund [*]).
(2) I realize that More Hall Annex occupies a small fraction of the space that YACSB would occupy in the space between More Hall and MEB, but the simple fact is that as long as More Hall Annex squats sullen and unused there, it is not possible to use the space for anything else.
Regarding Jeffrey Ochsner’s earlier response, I am *not* uninformed when I describe More Hall Annex as squat and ugly; I have acknowledged its example of Brutalist Architecture, and realize that it has been put on some sort of list that recognizes this. Yet I see it every day, and I am entitled to my own opinion of it, which (I claim) honest observers must share — including those who are fans of Brutalist Architecture. Let me remind readers additionally that, when More Hall Annex was new, bell bottom jeans were popular; surely no one doubts that we are well rid of that fashion.
More Hall Annex is literally squat; it cowers beneath the adjacent and taller buildings of MEB and More Hall. Rather than proudly staking out its own space between More Hall and MEB, it instead lurks in the shadow of More Hall. While it was decommissioned in 2007, as far as I can tell it has been completely unused during my entire quarter century at the UW.
(3) I acknowledge that YACSB would take up the lawn between MEB and More Hall. While I wouldn’t want to dismiss that loss, that lawn is big enough for about one frisbee at a time, and is 30 seconds’ walk to far larger green spaces towards the Fountain, and the Sylvan Grove, not to mention the HUB lawn.
Speaking of 30 second’s walk …
(4) My Condon Hall separation example might seem exaggerated, but I can offer my own experience as an EE faculty member whose office is not in EEB (my office is in Sieg Hall). As a practical matter, I have to make 4-6 trips every day between Sieg and EEB, to collect my mail, to scrounge for deliveries, to attend meetings, to attend seminars, general exams, to meet with colleagues, to print exams, to meet with Advising Staff. It has a larger impact than you might think if your office is in the same building as all your Department colleagues.
Think about donning your raincoat every time you want to check your campus mail: I do.
If we value the notion of physical contact among peers, then I think it is quite reasonable to value physical adjacency to enable such contact. I know that my Department faculty have an opinion about being physically near the laboratory and office space that their students use, even *within* the same building.
[*] anyone who has had the misfortune of working with me during my august tenure as Associate Dean of Undergraduate Academic Affairs is well aware of my durable crabbiness regarding General Assignment Classrooms, and the embarrassing
paucity of general assignment classrooms in new ENGR construction. YACSB would (amazingly!) include some general assignment classrooms.

On Tue, Feb 16, 2016 at 5:39 PM, Duane Storti wrote:

Feel free to consider my post as a plea for serious consideration of alternatives in general if you are committed to preserving Sylvan Theatre.I also need to state that the points you offered in your reply are irrelevant and/or inaccurate in the following ways:(1) Enrollment demand is a complete red herring. Nothing about an enrollment increase depends on a specific location of YACSB (especially since the plans contain so few classrooms).

(2) The characterization of the proposed YACSB site as “the space presently occupied by a small, squat, ugly, unused building” is terribly misleading. The proposed site extends very far beyond the footprint of the former reactor. In fact, the proposed footprint comes closer to filling the gap between More, MEB, and the power plant.

The proposed footprint includes the lawn between More and MEB which may not look like much (since the beautiful trees that used to adorn the from entrance to More Hall were removed during a previous construction project and not replaced), but that is not a little-used space. This patch of grass is literally the front lawn for all of us in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Industrial and Systems Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering. It also serves as a primary assembly point in case of fire, earthquake, and all the other things that may cause evacuations.

(3) The attempt to equate the 3/4 mile trek from the CSE building to Condon and the quick walk from CSE to the HUB is inexplicable. I paced it off today: CSE to HUB in under 200 paces with a walking time of about 2 minutes.

Not one of those points provides any possible justification for locating YACSB so that, to everyone in and around More Hall, it is literally “in your face”.

Please, let’s find a suitable alternate location. — Duane

John Sahr wrote:

Regarding Duane’s comments about YACSB (yet another computer science building), and the possible employment of the Sylvan Theatre as an alternative site for YACSB…

(a) If CSE doubles its BS CS degree production to 600/yr, it will still be meeting less than half the demand.
(b) CSE hasn’t proposed violating the lovely, quixotic, pleasant space that is the Sylvan Grove; it has proposed violating the space presently occupied by a small, squat, ugly, unused building.
I realize that YACSB may stick in various craws (and even I might have to swallow twice), but if YACSB is to happen, I’d rather lose More Hall Annex than lose the Sylvan Grove.
The notion that a site up the street by the HUB would be a moderate inconvenience is dumb. Just ask anyone who, in the past decade, has been exiled to Condon Hall while their own building is renovated.

On Fri, Feb 12, 2016 at 3:13 PM, Duane Storti < wrote:

I’d like to raise the additional issue of the UW’s internal historic preservation rules. President Cauce enacted E.O. 50 “Historic Preservation at the University of Washington Seattle Campus” in October 2015, and Section 2 of that E.O. includes discussions of compliance with the campus master plan and consideration of impact on adjacent historic buildings. Since the E.O. defines historic buildings as those over 50 years old, demolition of the reactor building (and the proposed construction of YACSB – Yet Another Computer Science Building) will take place adjacent to several other historic buildings including More Hall, Mechanical Engineering Building, and the power plant.

To date, the impacts on those buildings, the adjacent spaces, and the people who use them has been minimal. An alternate location for YACSB sits right across the street from the HUB, but that has apparently been ruled out because the computer scientist folks consider that too far away. Their minor inconvenience somehow is treated as important while major disturbance to multiple other departments has no real influence on the process.

I keep trying to propose the Sylvan Theater as a candidate YACSB site (now that the extension of the finished area below the fountain along Rainier Vista provides a better alternative for outdoor events), but I cannot find a way to actually achieve consideration of an alternate site suggestion. (Note that the historic value of Sylvan Theater is also worth considering, but it is not the original site if the columns. Instead it serves mostly as a place to hide them.)

If enough people would get involved with this issue to actually achieve the “appropriate consideration” specified in E.O. 50, that would be a very healthy development. — Duane

Trevor Griffey wrote:

UW claims to be exempt from municipal law related to landmarks and historic preservation:

“Eugenia Woo, director of preservation services for Historic Seattle… said preservationists will continue to fight for the building by focusing on the building’s landmark nomination and designation. However, she said they’re being sued by the UW, which she said holds that because it is a state institution of higher learning, it is not subject to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Ordinance.”

UW regents vote to demolish old reactor building listed as historic

Originally published February 11, 2016 at 7:21 pm Updated February 12, 2016 at 10:05 am

The University of Washington has approved plans to tear down a building on campus that once housed a nuclear reactor, and replace it with a new computer-science center.
Seattle Times higher education reporter

The nuclear age is losing to the computer age.

More Hall Annex – a small concrete building on the University of Washington’s Seattle campus that once housed a nuclear reactor – happens to be sitting on the best location for the proposed new computer-science building, staffers say.

On Thursday, the UW Board of Regents approved a site plan that sacrifices the reactor building to make way for a second computer-science hall.

That’s bad new to those who sought to save More Hall Annex, which is considered a good example of the modern-era architectural style known as Brutalism, and is listed on theWashington Heritage Register and the National Register of Historic Places. Many of those who objected to the plans urged the UW to preserve the little building, and instead build on a site next to the UW Club.

Eugenia Woo, director of preservation services for Historic Seattle, a public development authority, said she was not surprised but was disappointed. “The university … continues to alter the historic nature of the campus,” Woo said via email. “The mid-century modern architecture on campus should not be treated like disposable buildings. And there is NO mitigation for demolition.”

Woo said preservationists will continue to fight for the building by focusing on the building’s landmark nomination and designation. However, she said they’re being sued by the UW, which she said holds that because it is a state institution of higher learning, it is not subject to the city’s Landmarks Preservation Ordinance.

The reactor was built in 1961 and used for three decades, for teaching and research. For years, it was known as the Nuclear Reactor Building, before its name was changed to the safe-sounding More Hall Annex after 9/11. It was officially decommissioned in 2007.

Hank Levy, chair of the Computer Science & Engineering Department, argued that the More Hall Annex site is the best location because it’s right across the street from the existing computer-science building, called the Paul G. Allen Center. Having the second building close to the first is essential to preserving a collaborative culture, Levy told the regents.

In fact, the staff has requested that a bridge be built between the two buildings, which will be separated by Stevens Way East, the road that curves its way through the south end of campus.

In trying to find a way to keep More Hall Annex intact, the architects experimented with wrapping the new building around the reactor, or incorporating parts of it into the structure. But the result was a compromise of a building – one that didn’t serve computer science well, Levy said.

There was a nuclear accident in the building in June 1972, when a capsule containing plutonium failed, causing 42 milligrams of plutonium dust to leak out. But staffers say the reactor building has been fully decommissioned, and will not require special treatment when it is torn down.

The $104 million computer-science building will be funded primarily through private donations; Microsoft has already donated $10″Šmillion.

The UW expects to lean heavily on the tech community for funding after the state Legislature last year contributed only $17.5 million – less than the $40″Šmillion the UW had originally requested.

In budget documents, lawmakers said they committed $32.5 million toward the new building. But that’s because the Legislature directed the UW to use $15″Šmillion out of a tuition-funded university account, one that’s supposed to be used for building maintenance and remodels.

The UW is hoping it won’t have to do that, said UW computer-science professor Ed Lazowska. Instead, it hopes to persuade lawmakers this session to add another $15 million directly from the state.

Plans call for construction to begin in early 2017, and the 135,000-square-foot building is scheduled to be ready for occupancy in early 2019. The new building will allow the UW to double the number of degrees the department can award each year – from about 300 to about 600.

But More Hall Annex will live on, even if only virtually.

The computer-science department plans to create a virtual-reality 3D tour of the exterior and interior of the annex, one that will be freely available online.

Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or On Twitter @katherinelong. Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
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