Fred Bassetti

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Fred Bassetti FAIA, (January 31, 1917 in Seattle – December 5, 2013 in Oregon)[1][2] was a Pacific Northwest architect, teacher and a prime contributor to the regional approach to Modern architecture during the 1940s-1990’s.[3] His architectural legacy includes some of the Seattle area's more recognizable buildings and spaces.[4][5] The American Institute of Architects (AIA) described his role as a regional architect and activist as having made significant contributions to “the shape of Seattle and the Northwest, and on the profession of architecture.” [3]

Seattle Municipal Tower, completed 1990
Henry M. Jackson Federal Building, completed 1974
Franklin High School, major renovation 1990

Early life, education, and career[edit]

Born in Seattle to Norwegian and Italian immigrants, Bassetti grew up south of Seattle and spent several years with his paternal family in Turin, Italy.[6] After graduating from Seattle’s Garfield High School he studied engineering for a year before switching to architecture, earning a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Washington in 1942. During World War II, he worked as a draftsman with the Federal Public Housing Authority and with Seattle architect Paul Thiry.[6] After the war he studied at the Harvard Graduate School of Design under Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, was in the same class as I.M. Pei, and graduated with a Masters of Architecture in 1946.[7]

Bassetti worked for Alvar Aalto in Boston before returning to Seattle where he worked for Naramore Bain Brady Johanson (NBBJ) 1946-1947.[6][8] Within his first year there, a Bassetti-designed house won an award sponsored by The Seattle Times and the local AIA office.[6] In 1947 he established his first firm by renting space in the office of friend Jack Morse; together they established the architectural firms of Bassetti & Morse, Architects (1947–1962), with Wendell Lovett as one early employee, and later Honolulu-based Bassetti, Morse and Tatom, Architects.[6] In 1962 Bassetti and Morse separated, with Bassetti first practicing as Fred Bassetti & Company, Architects, later as Bassetti Norton Metler Architects with partners Skip Norton and Richard Metler, then also with Karlis Rekevics as Bassetti/Norton/Metler/Rekeviks Architects.[6] In 1990 Lorne McConachie became a partner.[9] By 1994 Bassetti and all other titled principals had retired.[8] The firm has since operated as Bassetti Architects under McConachie and new partners.[6][9][10]

Bassetti's teaching career included positions as a guest critic at Columbia University, lecturing at Columbia University, MIT, Rice University, and the Universities of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia.[6]

Architectural legacy[edit]

Fred Bassetti hails from the “Northwest School”, the collective drivers behind the new regional identity that began to emerge in the late 1940s, that included Arne Bystrom, Wendell Lovett, Gene Zema, and Ralph Anderson.[11] All were graduates of the University of Washington School of Architecture and were subjects of the 2010 documentary Modern Views - A Conversation on Northwest Modern Architecture. Key features of the Northwest School's work are the influence of the Pacific Northwest climate and landscape on modern design, materials selection, and a legacy of environmental responsibility. This approach to design became known as Critical Regionalism.[12]

Concrete and steel are hallmarks of modernism, but in the Pacific Northwest there was also a passion for natural materials. Wood shingles were used extensively in many of Bassetti’s early projects. An easily recognizable feature of many Bassetti designs is a softening of edges, from the chamfered corners of the Jackson Federal Building, Key Tower (now Seattle Municipal Tower), and dormitory buildings at Western Washington University and of Central Washington University, to rounded corners that to Bassetti feel "good to the human hand." [13][14]

When asked in 2009 which of his projects he takes greatest pride, Bassetti cited “the Forrest and Martin Residences, the Lisbon Embassy (“the building, on a great site, draws together Portuguese and American characteristics, using local materials”) and the award-winning East Pine Receiving Station (for Seattle City Light). [15]

Selected projects[edit]

(List of AIA award-winning projects and collaborating firms):

Major projects (1947–1994):

Residential projects (1947–1994):

  • G. J. Armbruster Residence (Lake Stevens), *Gamma Rho Apartments (North 44th & Fremont, Seattle), *Marshall Forrest Residence (Chuckanut Drive, Bellingham), *Walter F. Isaacs Residence (Hilltop Community, Bellevue), *Gerald Martin Residence (Seattle), *John O'Brien Residence (Seattle), *Gerald Martin Residence, *Theo. Caldwell Residence (Bellevue), Schlosser Residence (Star Route #1, Union), *Georgia-Pacific Idea House (Seattle), *Doris and Jack Robertson Residence (Seattle).


Prior to his retirement, Fred Bassetti and his firms received nearly 100 awards, including: AIA Fellowship (1968); AIA Seattle Medallist (1988); Academician of the National Academy of Design; "Best Local Architect" by readers of Seattle Weekly (1988); Pritzker Architecture Prize nominee (1989); Inductee, University of Washington, College of Architecture and Urban Planning, Roll of Honor, (2007), and 27 Awards of Merit or Honor Awards from AIA Seattle.[16][17]


Bassetti created and led Action: Better City (ABC).[18][19] A design discussion initiative Bassetti started during his tenure as chairman of the Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Architects, ABC started during the post-1962 Worlds Fair push for progress in response to the stagnation of Seattle's urban core. [20] [21]

“The question that Bassetti has been answering, in his own way, for these four decades: how does an architect serve his home town? ... They can look to their own circle for mutual support and guidance, with Bassetti as a lifetime example.“ [22]


  1. ^ "Pacific Coast Architecture Database". Retrieved 2 August 2013. 
  2. ^ Architect Fred Bassetti dies; he leaves indelible mark on Seattle, Seattle Times, November 6, 2013. Retrieved 2013-12-06
  3. ^ a b "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2010-06-20. Retrieved 2010-10-09. 
  4. ^ Seattle Community College Television - ArtWork, Billy King interview with Fred Bassetti, 2004; retrieved online September 2010
  5. ^ Dean Stahl Architects at home | On the bay, openness makes room to breathe, Seattle Times, April 13, 2008
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h AIA Seattle Archived 2010-06-20 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ I.M. Pei
  8. ^ a b U. of W. digital library
  9. ^ a b Joe Nebbefield in Design Intelligence 1999
  10. ^ Bassetti Architects
  11. ^ Modern Views - A Conversation on Northwest Modern Architecture - synopsis
  12. ^ Brewster, David (April 13, 2008). "Fred Bassetti and 'warmed-up modernism' in architecture". Crosscut. Retrieved August 20, 2011. 
  13. ^ David Brewster
  14. ^ Dean Stahl in Seattle Times, Architects at home | On the bay, openness makes room to breathe, April 13, 2008
  15. ^ Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Carol Smith Monkman in 1988 interview, published online at []
  16. ^ AIA Seattle Honor Awards 1951-1991 Archived 2011-07-24 at the Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ Pacific Coast Architecture Database
  18. ^ Clair Enlow, Seattle Celebrates Architecture Week, Architecture Week, 20 December 2000 retrieved online July 25, 2010]
  19. ^ AIA Seattle Memories
  20. ^ AIA Seattle retrieved online July 25, 2010
  21. ^ [1] Bizjournals 11/01/1999
  22. ^ [2] ArchitectureWeek 12/20/2000

External links and bibliography[edit]