Everything New Is Old Again


Eighty years separate the construction of these two Seattle buildings, but in fact they are very much alike. Both have high ceilings and big windows to let natural light deep into the building. Both have opening windows for natural ventilation. Neither has air conditioning.

The new Terry Thomas building by Weber Thompson Architects also has comfortable stairways that encourage climbing instead of taking the elevator, and a central courtyard to allow cross-ventilation and keep more workers within a reasonable distance from the windows. That's what the air shaft in old buildings did.

The old Joseph Vance Building has huge double hung windows; Georgian English architects learned that being able to drop the top panel of a window near the ceiling created convection currents that drew fresh air through the bottom far more deeply into the space. It has terrazzo floors and plaster ceilings, so that that there is nowhere for dust to collect.

The architects of the new building tried to eliminate formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds, suspended ceilings and carpet; That is the way that the old building was built, using use simple, healthy, natural materials rather than caulks, resins and glues.

The old buildings were built in an era of expensive energy, and had to take advantage of all that nature could provide in the absence of air conditioning or cheap lighting. The Terry Thomas building shows that we can build them like they used to, that we can build modern buildings that mix the best of modern technologies with the best practices of a hundred years ago. When it comes to healthy, efficient buildings, what's new is old again.