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Student Papers on the Architecture of Puget Sound: 1959-1970s

Eight early builder houses on 23rd Avenue
Eight early builder houses on 23rd Avenue

The Student Papers collection consists of over 100 papers written by students enrolled in the courses Architecture 360, "Introduction to Architectural Theory," and Architecture 452, "Characteristics of Puget Sound Architecture and Towns," from 1959 to the 1970s, chiefly taught by Victor Steinbrueck (1911-1985). The collection's texts, sketches, photos, and measured drawings document many buildings built in the first quarter of the 20th century including commercial buildings, libraries, schools, museums, churches, private residences, bridges, and barns. These papers comprise 30 years of focused student observation providing a unique snapshot of Northwest architectural history.

Few architects have exerted the artistic and political influence on Seattle as Victor Steinbrueck. Born in North Dakota, Steinbrueck moved to the Pacific Northwest at age two, and aside from brief periods during World War II and the late 1950s, stayed here, keenly observing and documenting its social scene. Socialism and other left-wing ideologies gained increasing acceptance during the architect's formative years, and this concern for the plight of the working class never left him. The Depression era also saw reappraisal of local cultural resources across the U.S. In the 1930s, for example, the Historic American Building Survey (HABS) began the first comprehensive national effort to document local history in built form. Across the country, cultural leaders began studying and cataloguing folk music, crafts, language, art and architecture, in the search for new, American forms of expression. This effort to identify and distill distinctive regional characteristics infused Steinbrueck, and much of his life was devoted to the identification and protection of local vernacular landmarks. His awareness of the social value of "run-down" parts of the city—Pioneer Square and Pike Place Market—sparked his political efforts to stop their demolition and to adapt them for creative re-use. In addition, his extensive study of Westlake Park, a critical public space in downtown, spurred his successful involvement against its privatization in the 1980s.

In the 1960s-70s, Steinbrueck emerged as one of Seattle's most important observers and critics of the local scene, and the transmission of this observational skill to his architecture students at the University of Washington, where he taught from 1946-1976, stands as one of his greatest accomplishments. In his main classes, Architecture 360 and Architecture 452, Steinbrueck stressed the importance of studying monuments as well as "mundane" everyday environments. In each class, he required students go into the community to document and report on one local building of his or her choice. The building reports demonstrate Steinbrueck's approach to architectural education, particularly his insistence on concerted observation of the local scene. Through this, the architectural student could gain perspective on how buildings served all classes of people, underscoring the profession's social responsibility. Steinbrueck taught many of the leading architects of the Pacific Northwest practicing in the late 20th century. The reports presented here provide a glimpse into the intellectual development of these important future leaders.

About the Database

The student papers assembled here are part of a larger group of roughly 300 saved over three decades by longtime Head Librarian of the Architecture and Urban Planning Library (now the College of Built Environments Library), Betty Wagner. Papers were scanned from original documents as TIFF files, manipulated in Photoshop to achieve as clear an image as possible, saved as JPEG files and loaded into ContentDM. Select images were loaded using JPEG2000 software. The process of digitizing the papers and providing metadata for the collection was performed by staff of the UW Libraries Monographic Services Division. Additional assistance was graciously provided by the Advancement Office, UW College of Built Environments. Funds for purchase of a scanner used on the project were generously provided by Friends of the UW Libraries.

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