Highrise in Madison Park

Grok this 223-foot tower on the edge of Lake Washington in one of Seattle’s wealthiest predominantly single-family neighborhoods. This is Washington Park Tower: 23 stories tall, with 53 luxury condos, built in 1969. For perspective, that’s about the same height as the brand new Four Seasons Hotel/Condo in the heart of downtown Seattle.

Like Beacon Tower, this tower probably doesn’t feel a whole lotta love from the neighbors, but I think it’s another instructive example of how tall buildings do not necessarily deserve such a heinous reputation. Walking on the street in front of this building, I don’t feel oppressed by it. Part of that is because it is set back, and part is because it’s a fairly slender tower (roughly 100′ x 75′).

I’ve been going to Madison Park beach for years and oddly, was never fully conscious of the tower until I went over for a close look the other day. The building to the north (Park Shore) is impossible to miss from the beach, and it partially screens Washington Park Tower. But I’m still sort of bemused about how such a massive structure wouldn’t have been immediately seared into my consciousness. And that leads me to believe that overall, this tower is far less visually assaulting than most folks would assume given how much taller it is than everything else around it.

No doubt there are those who object to this tower simply because it is out of context with the neighborhood. It is different, this cannot be denied. But as with many realms of life, different doesn’t necessarily mean bad. New things are often out of context with old things. Context matters in urban design, but this doesn’t imply that every building has to adhere to the same set of geometric parameters. If Washington Park Tower was laid on its side so as not to be so tall, it would be far more oppressive to people on the ground in the immediate surroundings — and that’s where the most people feel the strongest impact from any building.

I am not trying to suggest that towers belong everywhere. But I do believe that our culture in general has an irrational bias against tall buildings, and because of this we may be rejecting some good urban design options. Buildings like Washington Park Tower are worthy of an open-minded second look.