Sunday/ a first look at First Light

We went down to the sales office for an elegant new condominium tower called First Light today, just to see what’s going on there.

The development will be done by Westbank, a Vancouver, B.C.-based firm.
It is still early days, though: the tower’s completion is only scheduled for some time in 2022.

The proposed First Light condominium tower (459 units, 48 floors) was designed by architect James KM Cheng. The design is somewhat minimalist, but features balconies for all the units, and check out that floating roof-top swimming pool (the beige-colored platform complete with tiny lounge chairs).
This is a sample of the steel-wire-and-glass-disk ‘curtains’ (designed by artist John Hogan), that will be strung outside the tower’s podium (lower five floors). It should add texture from afar, and reflect different colors of sunlight, depending on the viewing angle.

Wednesday/ Rainier Square Tower’s newfangled steel core

The Rainier Square Tower (59-story, 850 ft/ 259 m tall) in downtown Seattle, is getting off the ground, with its completion scheduled for early 2020.

Traditionally, a rebar-reinforced concrete core has been the preferred method of construction for Seattle’s towers. These cores are very good at bracing against wind and seismic loads. The construction process is slow, though: three to four days per floor, with the steel framing for each floor dependent on completion of the concrete work.

For Rainier Square Tower, a new steel plate & concrete composite fill design for its high-rise core is used. It has been developed by Magnusson Klemencic Associates (MKA) over many years. The system uses two steel plates connected by steel spacing ties, and then the cavity between the plates is filled with high-strength concrete.  An added boon is that this method is expected to reduce traditional construction time by 30% or more.

Here’s the current snapshot of the Rainier Square Tower construction cam, showing the carefully excavated hole and the first steel plates for the tower’s foundation and core. At the top right is the 1970s 40-story Rainier Tower, holding its own on its 12-story pedestal. Measurements show that that so far so good: everything on that side is solid.
I took this picture on Tuesday, showing another U-shaped, hollow section of two sets of connected steel plates, being put into place. The new Rainier Square Tower (59 floors) will be right next to the existing Rainier Tower (40 floors).
Left: A rendering of the completed Rainier Square Tower, designed by NBBJ – an American architecture, planning and design firm that was founded in Seattle in 1943, and today has offices around the world. The curve towards its top allows it to be built next to architect Minoru Yamasaki’s 1970’s Rainier Tower, without completely obscuring it. Right: The filled steel plate core will go up all the way to the top, making for a very resilient structure. [Rainier Square Tower rendering courtesy of Wright Runstad & Company; conceptual graphic of steel core courtesy of Magnusson Klemencic Associates].

Sunday/ here comes the Nexus tower

I went down Denny Way to go check on the construction of a condominium tower called the Nexus today, just north and east of downtown. The construction boom is still going full-steam with dozens of downtown and South Lake Union projects only now getting off the ground.

This is the base of the Nexus condominium tower with two of the four stacked ‘cubes’ it will eventually have, that are each offset by 8° from the one below it. Some 29 of the 389 units in the 41-story building are still available, priced from $1.2 million to the high $2 millions.
It’s all glass and steel one block away. This view from the corner of Stewart St and Boren Ave; corporate offices left and the AMLI Arc apartment tower on the right.
And one more block down, the $400 million Hyatt Regency (the Pacific Northwest’s largest hotel with 1,260 rooms) is about to open its doors to guests.

Thursday/ a visit to the U-District

The No 48 bus makes for an easy run up to the University (of Washington) District for me, and I did that today. (The main draw there for me is the big university bookstore, and the smaller second-hand bookstores, as well).

In another two years or so, the new Light Rail train station right there will be completed, and then I can take the train instead. That would be great!

Even though these apartments on University Way are painted in pastel colors, they are still a little wild (I think). Cool ginkgo tree in front of it, leaves in yellow fall color. Ginkgo trees are living fossil plants: they are found in fossils dating back 270 million years. So they were dinosaur food.
Oh man .. I hope the author is wrong about the thesis of his book. Yes, we want another great president. How about a decent one, at least? (The author basically says being President of the United States has become too arduous a job, and that our expectations are too high. He also wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post in 2014 titled ‘Barack Obama, disappointer in chief’. Mr Miller! Distinguished scholar that you are, we would like your opinion of President Donald Trump, please. My opinion: catastrophic disaster in chief).
This dog-eared picture is in Magus Bookstore. The guy is Russian, I’m sure, I thought, and famous, but I did not know who he is. Google Images to the rescue: it’s playwright Anton Chekhov (born 1860-died 1904, much too young, at 44, from tuberculosis).
The beautiful entrance on 15th Ave NE, to the University Temple United Methodist Church. The building was completed in 1927.

Tuesday/ the Seattle Tower

I guess Seattle has many gleaming glass and steel towers nowadays, but the Seattle Tower is one of the city’s original art deco gems.
Its construction was completed in 1929, and at the time it was called the Northern Life Building.

I just took a quick picture this afternoon, but looking at online pictures, I see I made the mistake of not going into the Tower’s lobby. Architect A.H. Albertson’s art deco design is featured inside and out, and the warm brown brickface of the Tower had held up well against the ravages of time.
Here is the Northern Life Tower (Seattle Tower), featured on an antique postcard, possibly from the 1930s or 1940s (no date was given for it). It tapers to the top in a pyramid, in progressively lighter shades of brown bricks.
And here is today: Google Streetview with the Seattle Tower (completed 1929, 27 storeys) in the middle, at the southeast corner of 3rd Ave. and University St. That’s the US Bank Centre building (completed 1989) in front of it, itself only the 8th tallest in the city at 44 storeys.

Tuesday/ gorgeous weather

We have had a streak of beautiful blue-sky days here in the city, reaching all of 72 °F (22 °C) on Tuesday.  A high pressure system parked above the Pacific Northwest will give us even more clear weather days, all through the weekend, say the meteorologists.

Here’s the corner of Madison St & 5th Ave, as I left the Seattle Central Library on Monday. Just to the top right of the triangular walkway I see a little bit of the City Centre Building where I used to work, then the IBM Building, the red brick vintage Kimpton Hotel, the tall Crowne Plaza Hotel behind it, and finally a little bit of the Union Square building to its right.

Wednesday/ Building Cure’s progress

Here’s what the completed building will look like. [Source: Aedas, Flad & Associates]
I walked by the construction site of the ‘Building Cure’ today.

It’s here in downtown Seattle near Denny Way. It is the new building for Seattle Children’s Research Institute to expand into. The Institute’s scientists develop cures and therapies for childhood diseases such as cancers, sickle cell anemia and type 1 diabetes.

The Institute has grown from just 40 employees in 2006 to more than 1,500 today.

The 13 floors are done, and now the glass and steel cladding (aluminum?) goes on.  Those round pillars stand at angles to each other to form the facets of the building’s sides. I hope the construction was not too much of a nightmare.
Colorful artwork on an electrical box on the pavement, by the existing Seattle Children’s Research Institute building.

Friday/ the LEGO Americana Roadshow

I lucked out and caught the last day when these LEGO ‘Americana Roadshow’ models were on display at Bellevue Square mall, last Sunday.
I don’t think I aspire to build giant LEGO models like these .. but maybe that is just because I don’t have hundreds of thousands of bricks to work with!

This is a life-size replica of the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia (the original bell was installed in the steeple of the Pennsylvania state house, now called Independence Hall). It took two master builders 430 hours to build this model.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota – or an approximation of it! – in a glass display case. I love the little minifigures in orange with their pickaxes on the mountainside. The presidents from left to right are: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln, and the memorial was completed in 1941.
The Statue of Liberty from Liberty Island, in the New York City harbor, was dedicated in 1886. This model is 1:25 scale, and took three builders a total of 320 hours.
Here’s the Jefferson Memorial from Washington, D.C., completed in 1943, modeled at 1:50 scale. The memorial is dedicated to Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), one of the most important of the American Founding Fathers as main drafter and writer of the Declaration of Independence.
The White House from Washington, D.C., official residence of the President of the United States. This 1:30 model – mercifully – spares us the spectacle of a mini-President Trump, waving at us from the porch.
Here is the United States Supreme Court building, 1:54 scale, also from Washington, D.C., and completed in 1935. ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ on the façade, presumably applies to any President of the United States, as well? The builders had to be creative with their use of bricks to model the human figures seated by the steps, and those on the façade.

Sunday/ 2nd Avenue construction

I made like the tourists in the city today, and walked around 2nd Avenue and the Seattle Waterfront.

It’s about 6 pm, but the sun is still blazing down from the west. The Alaskan Viaduct along the waterfront has been around since 1953, but its days are really numbered now. There is a replacement tunnel running underneath it with two decks of completed roadways that is undergoing a few months of testing. Towards the end of the year, the destruction of this viaduct will start.
Here’s the 2+U (or 2&U) tower taking shape at 2nd Avenue and University Street. On the right is an artist’s impression of the completed tower complex with its V-shaped columns. There will be 38 floors of office space, with some retail, and with public spaces at the ground level. The venerable 4-story Diller Hotel on the corner, is holding its own. It has a cozy bar inside. As a luxury hotel constructed in 1890, it was one of the first new buildings in the city after the destruction of the Great Seattle Fire of 1889.

Sunday/ South Lake Union walkabout

The mercury hit 90°F (32°C) here in the city today, and I waited for the fireball in the sky to sit a little lower, before I ventured out on my usual South Lake Union walkabout.  Here are some pictures.

Amazon’s third downtown tower on 7th Ave & Lenora, is now built up almost to its top. That top floor (in the core by the yellow crane) is floor 38, and the plan posted on says there will be 39 floors.
I caught the South Lake Union streetcar a little further down on Westlake Avenue. I’m sure The Hulk says ‘Puny humans make Hulk mad!’.
Moxy* is Marriott International’s new millennial-focused boutique hotel chain. I see this new one in SLU goes for $381 a night, right now in high season.  It is shockingly more expensive than the one I almost stayed at, at Frankfurt Airport last year, at $87 a night (in the dead of winter, though).  *A play on the word moxie? Moxie: a force of character, determination, or nerve.
Cute entrance sign at The Fox & The Finch apartments nearby. The building has 24 small one-bedroom apartments (600 sq ft). These will run the renter about $2,000 a month.  Yes, it’s new, great location, but it’s twice as much what one would pay in many other cities in the United States.
Here’s the nicely outfitted ATM at Umpqua Bank on Westlake Avenue. The first Umpqua Bank opened in Canyonville, Oregon, a timber town on the South Umpqua River, in 1953. There are also several distinct groups of Native Americans in Oregon named Umpqua.

Saturday/ townhouse triple

My ‘Townhouse Triple’ used up the last of my windows and white brick stock.
This illustrates the LEGO builder’s dilemma: which creations should one keep on permanent display, and which should one break down (to free the bricks for something else)?

A simple LEGO Townhouse. It’s a MOC*.   *LEGO parlance for ‘My Own Creation’ .. not built from a LEGO set, nor from someone else’s build instructions.

Update 7/22: Here’s an updated model with an improved rooftop.

I added some red trim on the first and second floors, black fencing on the rooftop, and upgraded the roof tiles.

Monday/ another ‘woonerf’

I spotted a building on Saturday at the street food fair on 8th Ave, that had a striking glass-faced box (picture below). So I looked up the design drawing for it (on 

I see there is another woonerf in the making, next to it.  (At least one more is planned for 12th Ave). Woonerf (pronounce VONE-erf) is a Dutch word, for a street with park-like surroundings, that is shared by pedestrians, cyclists, and cars (driving slowly). 

The building on the right in the artist rendition, is the one in my photo below. The section of 8th Ave N between the two 6-story office buildings from Vulcan company, will become a ‘woonerf’, a modified street shared by everyone.
This enormous COF FEE sign is right across the street from the new building. Yes. One needs to know immediately where to find coffee when you want it, in Seattle!

Wednesday/ LEGO House on the Hill, 2.0

May I present the new and improved version of what I will call ‘LEGO House on the Hill’? The original one was only a shell, with no floors, and not much detail inside.

This house is still very compact, and built with pretty basic bricks. I don’t have custom furniture and kitchen appliance bricks that come with some LEGO house sets – yet.

Front view. I should change out the baseball cap, or the briefcase, on the house resident. The cap & briefcase don’t really go together.
The back of the house. The garage still needs a little work.
Here’s a ‘Google Earth’ view, looking down on the roof.
Top floor, with the roof removed. Stairs from the ground floor lead into the hallway. Bathroom is to the left with blue furnishings. Main bedroom on left with grey bed, guest bedroom on right with orange bed, study at top with a brown desk.
Ground floor. Staircase by the front door. Kitchen on the bottom left with island, with dining room & brown table top left. Top right is the living room with TV and sofa.

Sunday/ the Space Needle & the Pink Elephant

I went down to the Space Needle this afternoon, to check how the removal of the scaffolding is progressing.

By the looks of it, the scaffolding for the Space Needle project should be gone by next weekend. Visitors to the observation deck are allowed (the golden elevator cage in the picture is moving up, and about to disappear into the black hole).  The renovated restaurant is not yet open, though.
The Pink Elephant Car Wash and its sign (established in 1951), is another ‘landmark’ nearby the Space Needle. For now, The Pink Elephant is holding its ground against the development construction boom around it.

Sunday/ construction in South Lake Union

My walkabout today was in South Lake Union, the area next to Seattle’s downtown that is a booming hub for Amazon, Google and the biotech industry.  The new Denny Substation and duct banks under the streets (for power distribution) are scheduled for completion in late summer.

Main picture: An artistic rendition of the completed Denny Substation. (The glass panels and facets on the perimeter will make it look like a museum – or a Frank Gehry creation – from the outside). Inset: I took this picture of main entrance gate at the back, today.
The colorful Chroma SLU apartments on Harrison St are brand new. A small one bedroom goes for $1,700 a month, and the two bedrooms for $3,300. Yes, the real estate is expensive, and the developer wants his money back – and then some.
Here is one of two new Google office blocks taking shape, on Mercer St. The six floors of seagreen will be the offices, and the additional eight floors on top will be apartments. (Live there and work downstairs at Google? Hmm -no. Definitely too close for comfort/ why not just sleep under your Google desk, then?). That’s Lake Union in the background.
The Saint Spiridon church building on Yale Ave is holding its own among all the construction. It was built in 1941 in the traditional Russian Church style, and resembles churches in northern Russia.

Monday/ all clear after the storm

It was a brisk 44°F/ 6 °C in the University District this morning at 10 am, where I was this morning.  The storm we had on Sunday night was gone. It brought down a little hail at my house, and a thunderbolt so loud, and so close, that it rattled the windows and the glasses up in my kitchen cabinet.

Here’s the colorful facade of the University of Washington’s new 6-storey ‘Comotion’ building at 4545 Roosevelt Way. It is a ‘startup incubation space’, one that enables collaboration with UW’s partners in industry. UW also invites in companies, even if they don’t yet have an explicit connection to the university.

Sunday/ El Recodo, Villa Unión

The drive to El Recodo is to the northwest is under two hours. Villa Union is just off Highway 15 on the way back.

On Sunday, we drove out to the town of El Recodo and made a stop at Villa Unión for lunch at a famous seafood restaurant.

We were very lucky to run into a tour guide in El Recodo to show us around.  He also phoned ahead to the very popular restaurant in Villa Unión, which allowed us to get in almost right away.

The church off the main street in El Recodo was built in 1855. The bell was made of all kinds of metal that were collected from residents. That’s Samuel, our impromptu tour guide of the church and the town at large. He seems to know everyone there!
This is a beautiful Mexican giant cardon or elephant cactus, native to the area.
This picture is from inside a little museum dedicated to the famous ‘Banda El Recodo’ band and its founder Cruz Lizarraga (now deceased). It’s the centenary of Cruz’s birthday in 1918.
Just an old building with Spanish roof tiles that I liked very much -on a side street in El Recodo.
Here’s the Parroquia San Juan Bautista (Parish of San Juan Bautista) in Villa Unión, located on the main town square.

Thursday/ Mazatlán churches

I walked to two beautiful churches here in the city so that I could take a closer look.

The Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception is the main religious building in Mazatlan and is located in the historical center. The original building was completed in 1899.
This is the inside of the church, looking forward towards the altar.
Here is the Parroquia Cristo Rey (Parish of Christ the King). Its style is unusual and I could not immediately find more information about it online.
The main entrance to Parroquia Cristo Rey (Parish of Christ the King). Those pesky telephone cables interfere with my picture!

Tuesday/ tulip base dining table with white marble top

A mid-century modern Eero Saarinen tulip base dining table with white carrara marble top (mid 1960s). Several of these tables, with different tops, are offered on This one will set its new owner back $2,800. [Picture from]
I read a description today of an ‘Eero Saarinen tulip base dining table with white marble top’ in an article about decorating. Well. Let’s find out what this table looks like, I thought.  (Redeem myself a little from the cheap Ikea furniture I still have, by improving my designer furniture knowledge).

Saarinen (1910-1961) was a Finnish American architect and industrial designer, noted for his neo-futuristic style. I also learned that Saarinen was the architect of the Gateway Arch in St Louis.

I took this picture of the Arch in St Louis in Oct ’96. (I lived in St Louis from ’95 to ’98). Inset: Saarinen with a model of the Arch in 1957. Construction started in 1963. Sadly, Saarinen never saw the completed Arch. He passed away in 1961, during an operation for a brain tumor.


Thursday/ architect Minoru Yamasaki

I saw ‘Black Panther’ (more about it later) in the IMAX theater here in the Pacific Science Center today.

The Pacific Science Center was designed by Minoru Yamasaki for the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, and housed the United States Science Pavilion.  It is located right by the city’s iconic Space Needle.

These pictures are from the square inside the Pacific Science Center. The center offers two IMAX theatres: one since 1979, and a bigger one with fancy dual-4K laser projectors, that debuted in 2015. There is still only a handful of these installations in the world.


Yamasaki and the Pacific Science Center on the cover of TIME magazine in 1963.

Yamasaki was born in Seattle in 1912, a second-generation immigrant. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1934, and became a very successful architect with his own firm in Seattle.

He was the architect of two prominent buildings in downtown Seattle: the IBM Building (1963) and Rainier Bank Tower (1977).  His firm won the contract to design the St. Louis’ Pruitt-Igoe Housing Project in 1953, but the project ended in disaster. It was a big setback for his firm and for his reputation.

1956: The enormous Pruitt-Igoe public housing complex in St Louis, Missouri, shortly after its completion in 1956. It had 33 eleven-storey towers, a total of 2,870 units. Ultimately, the project was a failure of urban policy (and architecture?) on a grand scale, ending in an infamous, widely televised 1972 implosion of one of Pruitt-Igoe’s buildings.  The last one would come down in 1976. [Photograph: Bettmann/ Corbis]
2018: Here is a Google Earth view of the same site, today: a woodsy area at the corner of Cass and Jefferson. A private developer called Paul McKee bought the 34 acres in 2016 with a promise to develop it. Just to the north of the green patch, the federal government will build the new Western Headquarters of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency. So hopefully, things are looking up for the area after such a long time.