Block 41’s lead architect Jim Graham of the firm Graham Baba credits a trifecta of influences for shaping his design vision. As an architecture student, studying abroad in both Paris and Copenhagen allowed him to soak up the best of elegant old and edgy new architecture. And oh yes, his father was an architect.
But it is in Graham’s work on Seattle projects – notably the St. Ignatius Chapel at Seattle University, when he was part of Olson Sundberg, and the 2015 Starbuck’s Reserve Roastery® and Tasting Room with his own firm– that his style has reached its full fruition. Graham’s bold vernacular choices infuse a crisp new energy into the pedigreed patina of tradition.
In Block 41, Graham was tasked with repurposing a 1927 industrial building, a former carriage garage and ice warehouse among other things, into a flexible exciting event space embellished with several handcrafted sculptural pieces. These are deftly integrated into a skillful design that breathes fresh life into the building while preserving historical elements of its past.
Why did you agree to take on Block 41?
I love doing new stuff but old buildings are my passion. Not a strict period restoration but a respectful repurposing. Now this tired little building that once served as an ice warehouse gets to find new relevance, new life.
Through adaptive reuse, old buildings can provide the framework for new design especially in an urban setting. Buildings must adapt to survive. Block 41 celebrates that survival.
What is your approach to Block 41’s design?
We are leveraging the existing building’s character by exposing its bones – for example, the heroic dimension of its beams. We are providing clarity to the structure so that it becomes a better space.
How does Block 41 connect to your other work?
Block 41 is similar to my other projects as a study in form and light. The tones of wood and steel create a tactile realm allowing the manipulation of light so you feel the form of the building. Using these natural materials in their natural state we are showing both the mark of time and the mark of the human hand.
What makes Block 41 a great event space?
The character of the building, the age of the building, the rawness of the building are all assets for an event venue. We have stripped the building back and applied design elements in a conscious but judicious way so the building becomes an ideal envelope for events. It is the ideal background space that comes alive with people at each unique event.
What was a challenge in the Block 41 project?
The building needed new connectivity between the two floors. We had to create a vertical relationship that would serve as a dialogue between the old rough materials and the clean new spaces. We needed an ADA compliant elevator and a new stairway. There is an existing wooden ramp full of textures where horses gained purchase as they pulled wagons across it. A new black steel stairway slices through it and floats above it. The sinuous stairway creates new textural shadows that play across the concrete walls.
The building required a seismic upgrade to bring it up to current code. Instead of letting the engineers do the work and trying to decorate around that, we integrated the upgrades into the design with subtle material connections. The seismic reinforcements added large raw steel elements, so we made black steel the new language for the building.
What do you find appealing about the Block 41 building?
I appreciate its simplicity and its textures. And the materials that were originally used to build it – it has lots of honest wood which is reflective of how Seattle sees itself.
It was built by craftspeople for very utilitarian purposes. There is something beautiful about that especially when you put in a dialogue with the new and how it plays against the old. I love spaces that reveal themselves if you allow them to. Restraint is so powerful in design. We will detune the visual noise of the grain by painting it to accentuate the dialogue between the 2x6 boards with the structure.
The building has daylight streaming in on three sides. It has a courtyard so there all ready was an exterior space to dissolve the lines between outside and in.
In what ways do you envision Block 41 being used as an event space?
I see wonderful parties, weddings, fundraisers happening here as well as educational lectures and music performances happening here. In the lower entry space and the gallery of art will be for cocktails and mingling. Then you head upstairs for dinner maybe with a guest speaker. There may be music and dancing afterwards. I can see smaller intimate lectures downstairs and bigger events upstairs where there is a large light-filled room. Block 41 is all about gathering people.