Seattle Architecture Walking Tour, Seattle

Seattle Architecture Walking Tour (Self Guided), Seattle

In terms of towering skyscrapers abuzz with commerce, upscale shopping & dining, and splendid theaters, Downtown Seattle resembles many American cities. At the same time, it is also unexpectedly pleasant with hills, outdoor sculptures, and peek-a-boo views of Elliot Bay's sparkling water. Still, the diverse architectural landscape of the city is distinctive primarily for its landmark buildings.

Our rundown of Seattle's most striking architecture starts with the Sky View Observatory at Columbia Center. This iconic skyscraper (one of the highest in the West) offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city from its observation deck, providing a unique perspective of Seattle's urban layout.

A short walk northeast brings you to another eye-catcher, the Seattle Central Library. Designed by renowned architect Rem Koolhaas, this state-of-the-art, jaw-dropping library features a rather unconventional, angular structure, whose steel alone is said to outweigh the Statue of Liberty 20 times over!!!

Right next to it, the sleek high-rise Safeco Plaza contributes to Seattle's modern skyline with its clean lines and glass facade, embodying a sense of sophistication.

An imposing skyscraper of 1201 Third Avenue (formerly Washington Mutual Tower) showcases a blend of modernist and postmodern elements, making it a prominent fixture in the city's financial district.

Another historic building, Seattle Tower (formerly Northern Life Tower), combines Art Deco and Modern styles, adding a touch of classic elegance to Seattle's urban fabric.

Rainier Tower, known for its distinctive "inverted pyramid" design, is an architectural marvel and a testament to innovative engineering.

The historic gem of the Eagles Auditorium Building features ornate detailing of Renaissance Revival and a rich history as a venue for various cultural events and performances.

Meanwhile, the impressive US Bank Centre skyscraper contributes to Seattle's modern horizon with its sleek glass and steel facade, symbolizing the city's contemporary urban growth.

On the other hand, Coliseum Theater, although no longer in operation, serves as a reminder of Seattle's entertainment history with its charming facade.

A fine example of neoclassical architecture, the Seaboard Building's grand design reflects a sense of timeless elegance, while the Art Deco Olympic Tower stands as a testament to Seattle's evolving scenery, showcasing sleek lines and a contemporary aesthetic.

Seattle's architectural diversity offers a visual feast for residents and visitors alike, with each landmark building telling a unique story about the city's past and present. By offering this self-guided journey we invite you to gain an appreciation for Seattle's ongoing commitment to pushing the boundaries of architectural innovation.
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Seattle Architecture Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Seattle Architecture Walking 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:
  • Sky View Observatory at Columbia Center
  • 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
Sky View Observatory at Columbia Center

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

Sky View Observatory at Columbia Center is a premier observation deck in downtown Seattle. Situated on the 73rd floor of the Columbia Center, which is the tallest building in the city and the Pacific Northwest, the observatory offers visitors stunning panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.

The Sky View Observatory provides a unique vantage point to take in the beauty of Seattle and its surroundings. From the observatory's height of 902 feet, visitors can enjoy breathtaking 360-degree views that stretch from the downtown skyline to the Puget Sound, and on clear days, even as far as the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges.

Upon entering the observatory, visitors are greeted with a spacious and modern interior, designed to enhance the viewing experience. Floor-to-ceiling windows in the North East and North West Corners of the Observatory allow for unobstructed vistas and ample natural light. Interactive exhibits and informational displays are scattered throughout, providing insights into the history, geography, and notable landmarks of the region.

The observatory also features a café where visitors can enjoy refreshments and snacks while marveling at the surrounding scenery. The café provides a comfortable and relaxing setting to complement the overall experience.

The Sky View Observatory is open year-round, allowing visitors to enjoy the view in every season. The changing colors of the fall foliage, the snow-capped mountains in winter, the blossoming cherry trees in spring, and the vibrant summer sunsets all add to the beauty and diversity of the experience.

Why You Should Visit:
The ideal first stop on your visit to the Emerald City. Here you can map out your entire Pacific Northwest experience: riding the Great Wheel, shopping in Pike Place Market, hiking the Cascades, ferrying to Bainbridge Island, cruising Elliott Bay, and exploring the San Juan Islands.

Tickets must be purchased beforehand or at the Box Office located in the Atrium, floor 1 of the Columbia Center.
Seattle Central Library

2) Seattle Central Library

The main branch of Seattle Central Library is a prominent architectural landmark. Located in downtown Seattle, the building was designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and opened its doors to the public on May 23, 2004.

The library building spans 11 stories and its design is characterized by a modern and innovative approach that combines functionality, aesthetics, and a sense of openness.

One of the defining features of the Seattle Central Library is its unique exterior façade. The building showcases a striking, irregular geometric structure with a glass and steel skin. The various angles, curves, and sharp edges create a visually captivating appearance, making it instantly recognizable. The exterior design reflects the library's commitment to embracing the future while paying homage to the rich architectural history of the city.

Upon entering the library, visitors are greeted by a grand, light-filled atrium known as the "Living Room." This expansive space serves as a central gathering area and provides access to various library services and facilities. The interior design focuses on maximizing natural light, with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer panoramic views of the cityscape. The open floor plan, combined with the extensive use of glass, creates a sense of transparency, promoting a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere.

In addition to its extensive collection, the library offers a variety of innovative spaces and amenities. These include designated areas for children and teens, computer labs, meeting rooms, study pods, and quiet reading areas.

The Seattle Central Library stands as a testament to the power of architecture in shaping a community. Its bold and forward-thinking design has garnered critical acclaim and numerous awards.

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.
Safeco Plaza

3) Safeco Plaza

Downtown Seattle's oldest skyscraper, Safeco Plaza is a 50-story, 630 feet (192 meters) 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 feet (7.6 meters) 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 square feet (1,400 square meters) 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.
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 feet), 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.
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.
Rainier Tower

6) Rainier Tower

In the Metropolitan Tract of Seattle, on Fifth Avenue, stands the 41-story, 156.67 meters (514.0 feet) 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 meters (121 feet) 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.
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.
US Bank Centre

8) US Bank Centre

Located in Seattle, the US Bank Centre stands tall as a magnificent skyscraper, reaching a height of 581 feet (177 meters) and comprising 44 stories. Originally named Pacific First Center, this architectural marvel was meticulously built between the years 1987 and 1989. Currently, it proudly claims the title of the eighth-tallest building in the city of Seattle. The renowned Callison Architecture firm, whose headquarters are housed within the same building, skillfully designed this masterpiece. Spanning an impressive area of 943,575 square feet (87,661 square meters), the US Bank Centre primarily serves as a hub for office spaces.

Within the lower levels of the building, a public shopping area awaits visitors, enchanting them with a captivating collection of art. Notably, this assortment is made possible through a dedicated 1% allocation from the construction costs. Among the cherished pieces adorning the collection is "Flower Form 2" created by the esteemed artist Dale Chihuly.
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.
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.
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

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Historical Religious Buildings Tour

Historical Religious Buildings Tour

Seattle, Washington, boasts a wealth of religious sites of various denominations – together reflecting the city's diverse spiritual heritage. Besides being purely centers of faith, these buildings are an important part of the city's historical heritage, some of them standing as architectural marvels, each with its unique story.

Trinity Parish Church, founded in 1865, is...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.1 Km or 1.9 Miles
Pioneer Square District Walking Tour

Pioneer Square District Walking Tour

Pioneer Square, the district where Seattle was founded in the mid-19th century, had gone through its boom and near-bust until a period of preservation managed to save it for a new life. Today, this is the most historic part of Seattle that holds a special place in the city's yesteryear and is home to several noteworthy landmarks and attractions.

One of the most prominent sites in the area...  view more

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

Seattle Center Walking Tour

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At the heart of this bustling area stands the iconic...  view more

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Travel Distance: 1.1 Km or 0.7 Miles
Seattle Introduction Walking Tour

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Overlooking Puget Sound's Elliott Bay on the West Coast of the United States, the port city of Seattle is renowned for its surrounding waters, mountains, evergreen forests, and thousands of acres of parkland. The largest metropolitan area in today's Washington State had been inhabited by Native Americans for at least 4,000 years prior to the European pioneers. The first European to set...  view more

Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.3 Km or 2.7 Miles
Fremont Neighborhood Walking Tour

Fremont Neighborhood Walking Tour

Fremont is a vibrant neighborhood in Seattle, renowned for its quirky and artistic character. Among other things, this famous district is home to some of Seattle's most beloved and controversial sculptures.

One of its most iconic landmarks is the Fremont Troll, a massive sculpture of a troll lurking underneath the Aurora Bridge.

At the height of its counterculture days, Fremont renamed...  view more

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

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