Bassetti Architects Harkens back to a storied history as its new leaders set their own course.
Fred Bassetti says he wouldn’t play second fiddle to another architecture firm, not even for the chance to help design Seattle’s new City Hall. But he’s no longer in charge of the prominent Seattle architecture firm that he started 52 years ago and still bears his name. The energetic 82-year-old culminated his phased retirement five years ago, turning Bassetti Architects over to a new generation of three principals half his age.
The new generation jumped at the chance to team with renowned Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Architects on the new City Hall. Seattle- and Pennsylvania-based Bohlin, known as the architect for Bill Gates’ house, leads the design. Bassetti Architects is the “managing architect.” “As I told them (the new leaders at his old firm), I never in my career had anybody in to do the design,” Bassetti said. “I was too proud for that.” For some, however, even the No. 2 position on the City Hall job marks the emergence of the new generation at Bassetti Architects.
“It’s hard for subsequent generations to carry on in the shoes of the name person,” said Seattle architect Don Carlson. “Fred was such a strong force around here. But I think the new generation seems to be on a roll. They’re getting a lot of jobs now. I envy them getting that job (City Hall) because it’s such a plum, even with Bohlin doing the designing.” “We’re jazzed about it,” said Marilynn Brockman, one of the three principals heading the 20-architect Bassetti firm. “It’s a nice partnership. They’re exquisite designers. … It’s the ultimate public project, and that’s what we do.”
The Bassetti principals said they couldn’t describe the new City Halls design because it hasn’t been created yet. Bohlin is mulling the aspects that make Seattle what it is, a “place of light, water, technology and craft all melded together,” Brockman said. “Airplanes and boats get built in this city. There’s a lot of experimentation in this city,” Brockman said. “My guess is it’s going to look like nothing else in Seattle. The mayor has said he wants it to be a living room for Seattle.” The anticipated five-story structure will have columns, but “it will look to the future,” she said. “It will not at all be historic, by any stretch of the imagination. It will have a lot of glass, so you can see in. It will have a new department, called Customer Services, in an area that has
become a great light-filled lobby.”
Fred Bassetti formed the firm with Jack Morse in 1947 after Bassetti worked less than a year for NBBJ. It started as Bassetti & Morse. After 15 years, Bassetti and Morse split up and Bassetti operated for the next 17 years as Fred Bassetti & Co. Then it was Bassetti/Norton/Metler Architects before becoming Bassetti/Norton/Metler/Rekevics Architects before finally becoming Bassetti Architects upon Bassetti’s 1994 retirement. The firm designed dozens of new schools in Washington, along with numerous school renovations and additions. His firm also designed the Henry Jackson Federal Building in downtown Seattle, and restored several retail buildings in Pike Place
Market, winning nearly 100 awards.
Fred Bassetti helped form Gasworks Park in Fremont. He wrote the master plan for the Woodland Park Zoo. He designed the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon, Portugal, in 1977. He led conception of Westlake Center in downtown Seattle years before it was built and gets credit for helping conceive the unsuccessful plan to create a downtown Seattle park, Seattle Commons. Bassetti designs were known for closely fitting the activities that would go on in the buildings. With Key Tower, he said he wanted to show it was a steel-framed office tower by making the frame visible.
Lorne McConachie, 47, joined the firm first among the new generation of three principals. He grew up in Detroit, and after receiving his architecture degree from the University of Oregon, worked at Bumgardner Architects in Seattle until joining Bassetti in 1985. McConachie is the firm’s president and business managing partner. Rick Huxley, 48, joined the firm nine years ago after working in California, Hawaii and Boston, where he had his own firm. He’s a Boston native and University of Oregon graduate and he wears the hat of Bassetti’s design principal.
Brockman, 44, the third principal, joined the firm in 1995. Her duties include marketing and she specializes in restoration of cultural and civic buildings. She grew up in New Jersey and holds degrees from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She worked 15 years for Ann Beha Associates, including as a principal, before Bassetti. She led design of an ongoing addition to Mary Gates Hall at the University of Washington.
Along with Bassetti, name partners Skip Norton, Dick Metler and Karl Rekevics also retired in the transition, with Metler, the final retiree, to depart two years ago. McConachie became a principal in 1990 and Huxley and Brockman rose to principal with Metler’s retirement. The transition was not easy, McConachie said. “That is the big lesson we’ve learned,” he said. “The lesson was how to gracefully retire some older partners who hadn’t done retirement plans without breaking the great dreams of the new ones.”
In excellent health and humor, Fred Bassetti still lingers, though. He described turning over his firm as “a leap of faith” and said, “I wish they’d have me in there more often to give them some advice, but they don’t. I should have kept myself on with a chairman of the board emeritus title or something so I could get in on their meetings. … But they think they’re right, so who am I to say?”