Midcentury Modern Nuclear Reactor Building May Be Disintegrated

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The University of Washington plans to raze its Nuclear Reactor Building, empty since 1992, in the summer of 2008.

Credit: Michael Houser

UPDATE: On Friday, Oct. 17, 2008, Washington State's Governor's Advisory Council on Historic Preservation placed More Hall Annex to the state's heritage register.

The building that once housed a nuclear reactor on the campus of the University of Washington in Seattle will likely be demolished this summer.

Constructed in 1961, the nuclear reactor building, known as More Hall Annex, would have gone quietly if not for the curiosity of a graduate student of architecture, Abby Martin, who noticed the empty building a few months ago.

"I started looking into it and found out [university officials] were going to tear it down," says Martin, whose blog about the demolition threat prompted several newspaper articles. "It kind of exploded from there."

In 1958 the university commissioned five of its professors—three architects, a structural engineer, and a painter—to design the flagship building for its new nuclear engineering program. Most nuclear programs hid in windowless buildings, but the team wanted to create a glass showcase for its 100-kilowatt Argonaut research reactor. The university shut down the reactor in 1988 and closed the building in 1992.

"No formal review process occurred in terms of evaluating the building as an important historic resource since it was not (and is still not) 50 years old," Michael Houser, architectural historian at the state's department of archaeology and historic preservation, said in an e-mail. "The site is part of the overall master plan for the university which was reviewed and blessed by many folks including the Seattle City Council, University Board of Regents, and an internal architectural review committee."

The university's capital projects department confirmed that the building was scheduled to be razed in June.

"This has been in the works for three to four years," says Richard Chapman, associate vice president for capital projects. "We've got to use every square foot of land that we have in a very frugal manner, a very responsible manner."

More bulldozers are on the way. The university's master plan calls for the demolition of 25 buildings, including the former reactor structure. "This is probably the least contentious of those [buildings slated for removal]," Chapman says. "This building has leaked since day one."

Even Martin, who is urging the city to step in and insist the university appropriately study the building, says it could be too late.

"Unless they're convinced otherwise, I'm sure they will tear it down."

 

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Comments

Submitted by Pat at: April 28, 2008
Good luck. It will be a long hard fight but somebody has to save the buildings of yesterday! Our past is so important to our future.

Submitted by K at: April 18, 2008
Soon, America's mid-Century architecture will disappear. There is no rationale sufficient to destroy this unique site. We need more reactors for this cause. Mainly Palm Springs ca seems to be awakened to this period of simplicity and functionality.