A Seattle architect embraces the rain in AIA exhibit ‘Because It Rains’

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A Seattle architect embraces the rain in AIA exhibit ‘Because It Rains’

Our lives are damp in Seattle. We have a reputation for being a rainy city, but the reality is more about moisture – our average annual rainfall is less than 40 inches per year, which is more than Los Angeles, for example, but less than Atlanta or even New York.

“The irony about Seattle is that we have this wonderful rumor that we are the rainiest city ever and we really aren’t,” Laura Bartunek, an Olson Kundig employee, told Curbed Seattle.

“I have a lot of friends who have come from the East Coast or the Midwest who are made worse by rain in Seattle because it isn’t – it almost rains,” she adds. “It’s always almost raining and it drives you crazy because it’s just missing … you wait for the downpour and it never really comes.”

When it rains, however, it’s not just about inches of precipitation, it’s also about texture, legend and culture. In other words, rain can do more than just fall. Bartunek explores the power and potential of rain in “Because it’s raining”, which is on display at the Center for Architecture and Design until May 25th. The exhibition is part of AIA Seattle’s Emerging Professionals Scholarship, an annual program that sends young architects on a journey through a specific region with a design focus. Over the past few years, Derik Eckhardt from Miller Hull Partnership Smart Buildings and Garrett Nelli from NAC Architecture have explored how architects can live up to their civic duty.

During her studies, Bartunek visited five places: Florida, New Mexico, Hawaii, London and Norway. In addition to having a different type of rain, each place had a different design language (and in some cases a spoken language).

The Warm Mineral Springs Motel. Laura Bartunek

Bartunek says she started out in Sarasota, Florida to experience the “scheduled” summer rains: “They basically happen at almost the same time every afternoon, which is really magical about the Pacific Northwest.”

In particular, Bartunek was after the Warm Mineral Springs Motel. It was designed by Victor Lundy and hailed from the Sarasota School of Architecture, a mid-century movement to create modern designs around Florida’s climate – exactly what Bartunek wanted to study.

“When you look at the building, it just screams for rain,” says Bartunek, especially because of its roof landscape. “Victor Lundy didn’t talk about rain … but its formal characteristics should inspire fountains. And so I wanted to experience how he interpreted rain differently through his design, although it is not documented whether it is actually an influencer or not. “

Rain is a catalyst in New Mexico – it always announces its presence loudly.

“When it rains in the desert, it really creates a new environment – the smells come out of nowhere that you haven’t experienced before, and the air quality changes, and there are all these really sensory experiences,” says Bartunek. “Who can say you can’t use that as a driver for design? It’s not necessarily about just reacting to the rain. It’s like, what does it do to our environment, our experience and our senses, and how can that be something you design for? “

It was the perfect setup for the trip to Kauai, chosen by Bartunek to “step back and just look at the design dialogue or the words we use around the rain” – since the Hawaiian language ʻOlelo Hawaiʻi has 200 different words for rain Has.

When architects or designers talk about rain, we usually use really defensive words. We have learned to approach the rain like an opponent.

“When architects or designers talk about rain, we usually use very defensive words. We learn how to deal with rain like an opponent and we design our buildings to drain water and we basically wrap our buildings in rain jackets, ”explains Bartunek. “I wanted to open up a wider dialogue like,” What if we changed our vocabulary? “

In London, Bartunek observed a case study in which rain was not only welcomed but actively brought into the house. The London Mithraeum is a gallery space restored from the ruins of a Roman Mithras temple – and offers a multi-sensory experience designed to draw visitors into its history.

“[The Mithraeum is] a different approach to archeology, ”says Bartunek. “Instead of just going into a room and seeing the foundations that the temple is on [used to be]They wanted to reproduce the experience of being in this old cult temple. So the whole point was to use fog or moisture in the air – what I call “artificial rain” – to recreate the space. “

With the intentionally introduced haze, the exhibition uses it as a kind of canvas: “You make these light projections on it and basically the temple builds up in front of your eyes in a very abstract way, and so you become like the type of cadence, the column spacing and the proportions the walls and things like that. “

In Florida, Hawaii, New Mexico and London the rain was enormous. However, the impact of rain on our landscape can be subtle – as Bartunek discovered upon arrival in Bergen, a city on Norway’s west coast considered one of the rainiest in Europe.

Bergen, Norway. Leonid Andronov / Shutterstock

“What I found so interesting was when I first got it [to Bergen] I was a little disappointed – it really felt like any northern European city until you really got into the details, like the spaces between buildings and the hard design or the way the sidewalks were treated, ”recalls Bartunek. When she took a closer look, “there were suddenly just thousands and thousands of these nuanced details all over town that were very strategic … responding to drainage and pulling the rain back into the sea.”

While Bergen was full of rain-focused designs, “it wasn’t there to stand out or be a flashy design act,” says Bartunek. “It was really there to just keep water off your feet and respect the daily rain. I just thought it was one of the nicest things in town. “

When Bartunek returned to Seattle, he noticed that despite the Emerald City’s humid reputation, there wasn’t the same conversation between rain and design that she had seen in her fellowship work.

“I really kept my eyes on the sky for four weeks and really tried to see all of these subtle changes,” Bartunek said. “I came back to Seattle and … I haven’t found those moments yet.”

It’s not just Seattle, Bartunek explained. It’s a bigger problem that emerges from our one-sided conversation with Rain.

It wasn’t there to stand out or be a flashy design act … it was really there just to keep water off your feet and to respect the daily rain.

“I was just a little amazed that we didn’t exhaust all the nuances and potentials that could inspire our landscape or our rain,” she says. “What if our public space in the city came alive when it rained and it became those moments of joy and spectacle and an opportunity for us to re-engage with our environment instead of trying to step in and get out of the rain ? “

There are some local rain-centric projects. Bartunek points to Dan Corson’s “Rain Drums” in the Cedar River watershed in North Bend. “When it rains, it taps the drums and makes music and makes it stand out,” she explains. “Rain becomes an activator and in a way something [Corson is] Trying to do this is to harness the potential of the rain, and not just react to or react against it. “

However, Rain Drums is a small project – and a lot of the rain design in Seattle is working on it more than seeing it as part of our local culture. “Rainwater management and rain gardens and these things use water … I try to collect rainwater [and] Control it to a certain extent, ”says Bartunek. “I don’t think there’s a moment in town where we just indulge.”

“Everywhere I went, people were just excited [rain] because everyone can relate to it, ”says Bartunek. “We all have our rain stories and it’s interesting how much rain affects the way we experience the world. People just brought up stories on the table about the rain from their childhood or rains that caused flooding … everyone had a story and everyone wanted to share their story. “