When it comes to modernist architects from the Pacific Northwest there is one name that that should be included in any conversation on the topic, Paul Thiry. This man was a warrior for modernism, uncompromising in his designs and vision, even in the face of community criticism. Finding words to express our love for this mans work has been challenging but not impossible. Thiry’s work is very close to our heart, as he designed the campus layout and several buildings at our Alma mater, Western Washington University. Looking back on the classes taken in the buildings he designed gives clarity to our appreciation for modern architecture. Discovering that Thiry’s work was our stomping ground for many years gives rise to an urge to return immediately in memory, and in person, to campus.
Obviously Thiry’s work is still inspiring design today. Hopefully this post can further elucidate his impact on the modernism movement in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.
Paul Thiry was born in Alaska in 1904. He received all of his early education near Olympia, but for college he attended the University of Washington.Upon enrolling at University of Washington, he planned to follow a career in medicine. His interests soon changed, however, and in 1928 he graduated with a degree in architecture. Thiry initially found work in Seattle designing within the Beaux Arts principles. Unfortunately, commissions soon dried because of the depression, prompting him to take time off and tour Europe. While touring Europe, Thiry meet Charles-Edouard le Corbusier and his contemporaries and began studying the principals of the avant-garde movement shortly thereafter. Thiry quickly embraced these new views and understandings, which later became known and classified as International Style.
Upon returning to Seattle, Thiry immediately set to work asserting his fresh ideas in the Seattle area. He began by redesigning his home with a strong emphasis on multi-pane continuous windows, and a strong horizontal axis. These details, central to Thiry’s design style, were a radical change from the current Seattle design culture. While Thiry eventually became internationally known for his progressive views and the stalwart guard of his principals, none of that changed the initial criticism his vision received early on.
Thiry went on to design many notable commissions in Seattle including;
Museum of Histroy and Industry, 1952 (now demolished for expansion),
The Frye Art Museum, 1952 (then),
and The Frye Art Museum (now)
Thiry also became renowned for work designing religious centers like the ones below.
Catholic Northwest Progress Chancery Building, Seattle, August 11, 1939
St. Demitrios Greek Orthodox Church, Seattle, 1963
Before Thiry’s commercial business took off, many of his early projects were residential buildings such as this:
Nichols home, Seattle, 1937
Later as Thiry’s commercial and residential work began to receive more acclaim he gradually became more and more sought after. Earlier I mentioned Thiry’s portfolio included WWU in Bellingham, it was there Thiry was contracted to assist with campus planning and building design. Thiry’s work on the campus was from 1957 thru 1962, in that time he, designed a new science building, library additions, Highland and Higginson Halls. Previous to designing for WWU Thiry designed buildings at University of Washington (Electrical Engineering Building (1947-1948) and Wilson Ceramic Laboratory, 1946) and Washington State University (Regents Hill Dormaitory, 1952).
It was what Thiry did at the Century 21 Exposition, Seattle’s World’s Fair from 1957-1962 that really cemented his place in Seattle history. During that time he was the fair’s principal architect and helped with the planning and architecture.
The Century 21 Exposition of the Seattle World’s Fair took place in 1962 and people from all over the world viewed Thiry’s Coliseum and what is now know as the Pacific Science Center. That same year a Thiry house was built in Normandy Park, Seattle, it is this home (pictured below) that inspired us to profile Paul Thiry. The reason this particular Thiry home is receiving so much attention of late is because of it’s impending doom. If a buyer (the home is being sold for a dollar) for this home is not found who can have the home relocated to another location by the spring, this monument to Seattle modernism will be demolished like much of Thiry’s work has already been (if you would like further info on this home email moderntom[at]yahoo[dot])com). If you are interested in seeing more of the Thiry Normandy Park home the next post will be wholly dedicated to it.
After the completion of the World Fair project Thiry was recruited to work in Washington D.C. on a project for the U.S. Government, planning further development of the Capitol Building and city. In 1963 Thiry was officially appointed to the National Capital Planning Commission, where he was responsible for overseeing development of the Capital City plans.
After completion of his work for the government Paul Thiry continued working in the Pacific Northwest, including several buildings on the campus of Lewis and Clark College in Portland, OR. Right up until his death in 1993, Thiry continued to work and design, leaving behind a legacy of uncompromising modern style.
The closing photos are of Thiry’s weekend home in Ellensburg, WA.