Rain, rain, go away!

8 Jun

Come again some other day. Or not.

Living in Seattle was an adjustment for me to say the least. There’s the weather, of course. The rain, the gray. The long summer days with sunlight until 10pm. The equally extreme short winter days surrounding you in darkness by 4. 

I moved to Seattle from Chicago ten years ago this September. I struggled through the transition mainly because I didn’t want to leave my beloved city.  I grew up in south Texas and moved to Chicago for college. I never looked back. Chicago was my kind of town. (Cue Frank.) I loved the history, the architecture, the museums, the restaurants, the people. Chicago has a small town sensibility in many ways, lacking the pretention of New York or Chicago, but having all the same world-class amenities and friendly genuine people to boot.  After all, what other city could be so enamored with a team like the Cubs?

Of all the transitions to Seattle, the weather affected me the least I think. Chicago weather isn’t a bowl of cherries either. Long brutally cold winters, gray clouds from November to May, blistering summers. Seattle seemed downright mild compared to that.

And mild is a good word to describe it. The people seem milder. So does the pulse on the downtown streets. Seattle has a restraint that Chicago could never conceive of. Association with Seattle:  rain. Association with Chicago:  Al Capone. Bang bang. Seattle has a sensibility that is more understated, reserved, an almost chameleon-like in the way it blends into the scenery versus screaming ‘look at me!’ Maybe it’s because I lived in Chicago in my 20s, but the quiet way of Seattle unnerved me at first. 

I also missed the buildings, the Sears Tower, the Hancock building, Water Place, Merchandise Mart, the Rookery.  My take on Seattle modernism was cynical. Where was the Minsk house, the Robie house, the Federal Building and all the other examples of International style that had defined modernism in my mind? Who didn’t love the Ferris Bueller house, which is now in danger of demolition?  We need a ‘Save the Ferris Bueller House!’ campaign.

Metal and glass and concrete gave way to shingles, glass and wood. I admit fully that I am nothing more than an admirer of architecture. I knew what I learned but had no idea what I didn’t yet know. (And I am still learning and hoping you enjoy this adventure with me.)

Recently I have begun to appreciate the Northwest take on architecture and the layer it places on top of the traditional definition of modernism. While one can see plenty of metal and glass and concrete downtown, residential architecture softens up. The sense of environment and its importance in the conversation of design separates it from anything I had seen in Chicago. Let’s be honest, how much does one need to take into emphasize that there is prairie for miles around?

I recently watched a wonderful documentary Modern Views on ‘The Northwest School’, the name they have given to the local style of modernism. I bought it after we found this house because I wanted to learn more about what we would be working with. I also bought it because it featured the architect of this house, Fred Bassetti. Some people, probably those that know more than I, aren’t fans of it. I have to say I loved it and learned much from it. It gave me a sense of the importance of land and surroundings. It helped me understand why the NW abandoned the flat roofs and cold structures I had known. (Rain travels downward and collects, duh!) I began to understand the Asian influences, the desire to be light on the land, to capture light with windows and skylights, to protect from the rain with overhangs. I saw the value in the softness, the tactile and sensuousness of all that wood.

But my favorite quote in the entire film was about the effect of rain on the beauty of the environment. It makes the greens greener, the bark on the trees are more intense and the stones and pebbles shinier.  Wow.  Who knew?

Rain, rain, go away.  Then again maybe you can stay.


6 Responses to “Rain, rain, go away!”

  1. Andy Pierce June 8, 2011 at 7:53 am #

    It took me a while, but I learned to love the rain. This year it went a little long…. You’re on watch, RAIN!

  2. Ida June 8, 2011 at 7:35 am #

    when we moved to Olympia in ’83 it was one of the rainiest summers on record and after living all over the country, thought I had moved to a gray living hell. But now I miss rain if we go too long without it. But…skylights are essential as you well know.


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