Not packed in a bus. Not herded with a group. Self guided walk is the SAFEST way to sightsee!

Seattle Architecture Tour (Self Guided), Seattle

Downtown Seattle has many features typical of American cities – towering skyscrapers abuzz with commerce, upscale shopping and dining, splendid theaters – but is also unexpectedly pleasant with hills, outdoor sculptures, and peek-a-boo views of Elliot Bay's sparkling water.

Follow this self-guided walk for a rundown of Seattle's most striking downtown buildings – starting with Columbia Center (which is one of the highest in the West, in fact) and the jaw-dropping, state-of-the-art main library, whose steel alone is said to outweigh the Statue of Liberty twenty times over.
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Seattle Architecture Tour Map

Guide Name: Seattle Architecture Tour
Guide Location: USA » Seattle (See other walking tours in Seattle)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.1 Km or 1.3 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Columbia Center / Sky View Observatory
  • Seattle Central Library
  • Safeco Plaza
  • 1201 Third Avenue (formerly Washington Mutual Tower)
  • Seattle Tower (formerly Northern Life Tower)
  • Rainier Tower
  • Eagles Auditorium Building
  • US Bank Centre
  • Coliseum Theater
  • Seaboard Building
  • Olympic Tower
1
Columbia Center / Sky View Observatory

1) Columbia Center / Sky View Observatory (must see)

The tallest building in Downtown Seattle and the state of Washington, Columbia Center is a worthwhile destination for high-rise and skyscraper enthusiasts, and/or visitors eager to take in panoramic views of the city and its surroundings from the observation deck. No time-slot needed – just ride up the express elevator and get off at the 73rd floor!

Martin Selig, the Center's developer, said of the building, "...the Space Needle told people where Seattle was, the Columbia Center tells people that Seattle has arrived." Indeed, from this privileged viewpoint, not only can you look down to and see way over the Space Needle, but the lookout space is clean and surprisingly not crowded, inviting visitors to stay for as long as they want. There's also a bar/cafe up there so you can sit and enjoy a nice drink, or even walk around with it.

Why You Should Visit:
Cheaper and taller than the Space Needle, with the Sky View Observatory on the 73rd floor providing a 360-degree panoramic view of Downtown Seattle and surrounding areas. Stunning views include: Mt. Baker, Bellevue, the Cascade Mountains, Mt. Rainier, Elliot Bay, the Olympic Mountains, the Space Needle and, of course, the City of Seattle.

Tip:
Preferably, visit on a clear day when you can see long distances. If you get your hand stamped during a daytime visit, you can come back at night for free and see Seattle all lit up.

Opening Hours:
[Spring: Apr 1–May 1] Daily: 12–8pm (Mar 8-31); 11am–8pm;
[Summer: May 2–Sep 7] Mon-Wed: 12–10pm; Thu-Sun: 10am–10pm;
[Fall: Sep 8–Oct 2] Daily: 11am–8pm;
[Winter: Oct 3–Mar 31] Daily: 11am–7pm
2
Seattle Central Library

2) Seattle Central Library (must see)

The Flagship library of the Seattle Public Library system presents a new and innovative architectural face to the world, looking as if it has floating platforms enclosed by a glass outer layer. The intention of the design was to celebrate the relevance of books in modern times. User-friendly and well designed for the digital age, this library is fluent in today's info-service needs while showcasing print in all its splendor.

Having opened its doors in May 2004, the building was designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and can hold over a million books. The library has separate children's collections, a staff floor, an auditorium, a unique book spiral (that saves space but runs on continuously), a reading room, meeting platform, mixing chamber and a parking space.

Public computers/Internet are available, although the free service is high in demand and you will most likely need to reserve said time in advance. WiFi is also available throughout the building.

Why You Should Visit:
The architecture is world-class and there is a generous amount of space dedicated to reading either just in chairs or sitting at desks. Totally worth the visit just to experience even if you're not a fan of architecture or a library person.

Tip:
Be sure to work your way up to the highest viewing point for a great selfie (if you're not scared of heights). There's a gift shop there as well with some cute things in it. The 4th 'Red' floor, which is very red indeed, is definitely worth seeing, too.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Thu: 10am-8pm; Fri-Sat: 10am-6pm; Sun: 12-6pm; free admission
3
Safeco Plaza

3) Safeco Plaza

Downtown Seattle's oldest skyscraper, Safeco Plaza is a 50-story, 630 ft (192 m) tower that locals sometimes refer to as "the box the Space Needle came in". When the structure was completed in 1969, it dwarfed Smith Tower, which had reigned as Downtown's tallest building since 1914, and edged out the Space Needle (1962) in Seattle Center by 25 ft (7.6 m) to become the tallest structure in the city for sixteen years, until the completion of the Columbia Center in 1985.

The bronze-colored aluminum and glass structure was the first modern class-A office building in Seattle and is the first skyscraper in the world to feature a Vierendeel "space frame" capable of transferring and resisting bending moments. At the ground level there is a two-story lobby as well as other amenities including 15,000 sq ft (1,400 m2) of ground-floor retail that features a fitness center, a bank, some restaurants, a medical center, and a post office.

Just outside, a definite highlight is Henry Moore's abstract bronze creation, "Vertebrae 1968" – the British artist's amazing three-part sculpture with three interlocking elements inspired by bones or flints. It was cast in edition of four; the others three are at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and the Landesbausparkasse in Münster, with the artist's copy at the Henry Moore Foundation in Perry Green, Hertfordshire.
4
1201 Third Avenue (formerly Washington Mutual Tower)

4) 1201 Third Avenue (formerly Washington Mutual Tower)

Formerly known as the headquarters of the financial company Washington Mutual, this skyscraper located at 1201 3rd Avenue is the second-tallest building in Seattle after the Columbia Center and the eighth-tallest on the West Coast of the U.S. Standing at a height of 235.31 meters (772.0 ft), it was built on the site of the 12-story Savoy Hotel which was imploded in 1986; however, the architects were able to incorporate two aluminum castings from the Savoy into the tower's design. Another building on the same block, the historic Brooklyn (Hotel) Building was retained and this too was factored into the tower's design.

It was the first major office building built under Seattle's 1985 downtown zoning plan, which called for height limits, interesting profiles, and height and density bonuses for public amenities to create a 24-hour downtown. The tower took advantage of all the height bonuses for public amenities that the 1985 plan called for including an entrance to the Metro Bus Tunnel, retail space, day care, public plaza, sculptured top, hillside public escalators, and lobby/atrium public access, as well as donating $2.5 million for off-site housing. By providing the amenities the designers were able to add 28 stories to the tower and almost double the base floor area ratio of the site.

The NY Times named it one of the three best new office buildings in the U.S. in 1988, and the May 1989 issue of Architecture Magazine called it "perhaps the best recent addition to any U.S. skyline". Paul Goldberger said of the tower, "The building seems proud of its height; for all its classical elements it has a certain sleekness, and in this sense it is characteristic of our time, at least in intention, for it bespeaks a desire to combine the formal imagery of classicism and the energizing aura of modernity."

Seattlites have voted the 55-story skyscraper as one of their favorite buildings. It is also home to a perch for Peregrine falcons, who are monitored using a public webcam that was installed in 1994.
5
Seattle Tower (formerly Northern Life Tower)

5) Seattle Tower (formerly Northern Life Tower)

Downtown Seattle's 27-story skyscraper, known as the city's first Art Deco tower, features a distinctive, ziggurat exterior clad in 33 shades of brick designed to effect a gradient which lightens from the bottom to the top. This is said to have been inspired by local (Pacific Northwest) rock formations in the mountains, but similar ziggurats were once located at the very heart of ancient Mesopotamian cities and were looked upon as mountains that had been recreated by human hands.

The plan to construct the building, "finer than anything on the Pacific Coast", at a cost of $1.5 million, was announced in April 1927. Completed one year later, the skyscraper represented a dramatic shift in the appearance of Seattle's skyline. Earlier 20th-century structures had derived their style from classical precedents, but by the 1920s architects began to favor designs that attempted to emulate the speed, efficiency and power found within technology, perceived by many as humanity's hope for the future. The Northern Life Tower was the first building in Seattle to illustrate this style, now known as Art Deco or Art Moderne.

Above everything, the tower beautifully illustrates the increasing popularity of a simple, smooth, almost machine-like exterior. This faith in progress also appeared in the lighting that once fully illuminated the building: more than 200 floodlights faded into one another in a "phantasmagoric display" meant to imitate the aurora borealis, a play on the Northern Life Insurance Company's name and an illustration of the belief that science could imitate nature's most incredible wonders. Today the lights are gone, and taller, newer skyscrapers dwarf the building, but it remains one of the Northwest's most elegant Art Deco designs.

All in all, a memorable destination for those who are fascinated by the brick and mortar edifices of early skyscrapers. There is not a whole lot to see inside, but the lobby (accessible during regular work hours) is absolutely exquisite, with a dark marble floor and a bronze relief above the seating area that's quite worth checking out.
6
Rainier Tower

6) Rainier Tower

In the Metropolitan Tract of Seattle, at 1301 Fifth Avenue, stands the 41-story, 156.67 m (514.0 ft) Rainier Tower, designed by Minoru Yamasaki, who also designed the World Trade Center in New York City as well as the IBM Building, which is on the corner across the street from Rainier Tower to the southeast.

Completed in 1977, the tower's unique feature is its unusual design, being built atop an 11-story, 37 m (121 ft) concrete pedestal base that tapers towards ground level, like an inverted pyramid. Locals often refer to it as the "Beaver Building" (as its physical appearance looks like a tree being felled by a beaver) or the "golf tee" building.

Beneath the tower was Rainier Square, an underground shopping mall that was demolished in 2017. Both the mall and tower were originally named after Rainier Bank, which was merged in the 1980s into Security Pacific, which was eventually merged into Bank of America.
7
Eagles Auditorium Building

7) Eagles Auditorium Building

Among the many Seattle buildings that finds a place in the National Register of Historic Places, the Eagles Auditorium is an elaborately terracotta-covered structure that originally opened in 1925 as the primary lodge of the Fraternal Order of Eagles – a local organization that aimed to make human life more meaningful by promoting peace, prosperity, gladness and hope. 

Under the official name Kreielsheimer Place, its current configuration has two stages, a cabaret, and 44 residential apartments. The adaptive reuse of the Renaissance Revival-style building (which had been abandoned since the early '80s) as a theater breathed new life into the neighborhood, earning the project team the Urban Land Institute's Award for Excellence.

On his only visit to Seattle, on November 10, 1961, this was one of several places where Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke; however, it has also served as the home of the Unity Church of Truth from in the 1950s and was a major rock concert venue from the mid-1960s until 1970. Among other groups, the Grateful Dead performed here eight times in 1967 and 1968.

Besides its NRHP listing, the Eagles Auditorium is also an officially designated city landmark. Visitors are still welcome to view portions of the building and will be fascinated by the unique architecture and the philanthropic purpose of the fraternity that started it all.
8
US Bank Centre

8) US Bank Centre

A 177 m (581 ft), 44-story skyscraper, Seattle's US Bank Centre opened as Pacific First Center. Constructed from 1987 to 1989 in a Postmodern architectural style, it is currently the eighth-tallest building in Seattle and was designed by Callison Architecture, who is also headquartered in the building.

With its gigantic vaulted ceilings, it contains 287,602 m2 (3,095,720 sq ft) of office space; however, the public shopping area in the lower levels also has a permanent collection of works by noted artists (including Dale Chihuly's "Flower Form 2") funded by 1% set-aside of the construction costs.
9
Coliseum Theater

9) Coliseum Theater

A former cinema in Seattle, the Coliseum Theater opened January 8, 1916 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 60 years later. It was Seattle's first theater built specifically for showing movies, and was one of the first cinemas anywhere to strive for architectural grandeur. When it opened, it was advertised as "the world's largest and finest photoplay palace." In 1931, the Journal of the Royal Institute of Architects called it "the first of the world's movie palaces."

The exterior features elaborate terra-cotta work, and the original interior was comparably ornate. When it opened in the silent film era, it boasted a 7-piece orchestra plus an organist; the giant organ was made by Danish immigant M. P. Moller, and the musicians—all Russians—were reputed to be the highest-paid movie theater musicians in the country. Anita King attended the opening night to give a speech dedicating the theater.

The Coliseum continued as a first-run theater into the late 1970s, and continued to show films until 1990. Eventually, in 1995, the building—an official Seattle city landmark—was rehabilitated as a Banana Republic clothing store.
10
Seaboard Building

10) Seaboard Building

Located in downtown, close to Pike Place Market, Belltown and the waterfront, with easy access to a wealth of great urban amenities, the Seaboard Building is an important landmark of Seattle and walking tours around the city's landmarks always bring visitors to view its elegant century-old architectural style.

An eye-catching eleven-floor steel high-rise with a terracotta façade, it has both office and residential spaces. The Northern Bank and Trust Company was the first tenant when construction was complete in 1909; nowadays, the first five floors are used by various offices while the higher floors have 25 residential condominium units.

With a design in the Art Nouveau, Beaux-Arts styles, extensive renovations were carried out to make the interiors suitable to modern tenants. Some of the recent changes include a U-shaped light well and addition of a penthouse floor, while the top four floors now have luxury condominiums with large windows overlooking the cityscape.

At the very least, pop in for a look at the ornate ceiling and moldings in the lobby.
11
Olympic Tower

11) Olympic Tower

To see a classic example of Art Deco architecture reflecting the luxury and glamour of roughly a century ago, head to this 12-story edifice listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The building consists of a ten-story reinforced concrete and terra cotta tower set back from 3rd Avenue but flush with Pine Street, on top of a three-story (originally two-story) base. Large windows make a large part of the facade bringing natural light into almost every interior space. It was reported at the time of construction that the tower had more glass in proportion to its size than any other building in Seattle.

An early incarnation of the indoor shopping center and the only of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, the structure's original purpose was to house retail tenants, one per floor with a tea room on the tenth floor. Also in the original plans, grass was to be planted on the roof of the second floor for a putting green owned by a sporting goods store on the third floor (the base of the tower). By the end of 1932, the retail concept proved to be a failure and the building was converted into offices for the Northwestern Mutual Insurance Company. It later housed the headquarters for the Olympic Savings Bank, after whose closure in 1994 was sold to private investors and converted into office space. It became a City of Seattle Landmark on May 18, 1987.

Walking Tours in Seattle, Washington

Create Your Own Walk in Seattle

Create Your Own Walk in Seattle

Creating your own self-guided walk in Seattle is easy and fun. Choose the city attractions that you want to see and a walk route map will be created just for you. You can even set your hotel as the start point of the walk.
Religious Buildings Tour

Religious Buildings Tour

Seattle's religious buildings play a very important role in the city's social life. Besides their religious functions, the buildings are an important part of the city's architectural and artistic heritage. This walking tour will lead you to some of the most beautiful religious buildings in Seattle.

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.5 Km or 2.2 Miles
Fremont Neighborhood Walking Tour

Fremont Neighborhood Walking Tour

At the height of its counterculture days, Fremont renamed itself 'The People's Republic of Fremont' and later gave itself the moniker 'Center of the Universe'. As if to prove the point, there's a signpost showing the distances from Fremont to far-flung places around the globe.

The famous neighborhood is home to some of Seattle's most beloved and controversial...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.1 Km or 1.9 Miles
Seattle Center Walking Tour

Seattle Center Walking Tour

Just north of Downtown you will find the ever-popular Seattle Center – a 74-acre (30-hectare) park and arts and entertainment center. Developed for the 1962 Century 21 Exposition (World's Fair), it contains many Seattle landmarks, including the Space Needle, the Pacific Science Center, the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, and the highly interactive Museum of Pop Culture. It is also the...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.1 Km or 0.7 Miles
Pioneer Square District Walking Tour

Pioneer Square District Walking Tour

Known as the district where Seattle was founded in the mid-19th century, Pioneer Square went through periods of boom and near-bust until a period of preservation managed to save and transform the area. Today, it is pretty much the most historic part of Seattle with some structures of note, including the Pioneer Building near Occidental Park, the Smith Tower, a Victorian-style wrought-iron pergola...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.8 Km or 0.5 Miles
Seattle Introduction Walk

Seattle Introduction Walk

Seattle's pleasant central area has hills, refined architecture, lapping waves, and a Great Wheel next to the Aquarium along the waterfront. It also has one of the oldest, one-of-a kind, public markets in the U.S., with small stalls selling gorgeous flower arrangements and a staggering assortment of the freshest fruit, vegetables, fish, and meats. Take this walking tour to explore the...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.5 Km or 2.8 Miles

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