• John M Feit

A Palace on the Hill

One of my favorite Capitol Hill buildings is Cornish College for the Arts' Kerry Hall (home of their Dance and Music departments) on the corner of Harvard Avenue E and E Roy Street. The sole extant building of Cornish's original Capitol Hill campus, Kerry Hall was built in 1921 in the Spanish Colonial Revival style and was designed by Seattle architect A. H. Albertson. Its Mediterranean-inspired design reminds me of the work one of my favorite American architects, Irving Gill, as well as one of my favorite buildings, the Doge’s Palace on the Venetian Lagoon, in Venice, Italy. Kerry Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Kerry Hall East Elevation

Kerry’s charm centers on its exotic Spanish Colonial Revival style. This revivalist style evolved in a much different climate (dryer and warmer) from our own and is characterized by many exotic traits, the most evident being a stucco exterior (uncommon in our damp, maritime climate) which is painted white (better for reflecting the rays of the sun). Kerry Hall is also one of the few buildings on the Hill with a colonnade. With weather characterized by overcast skies and showers, it would be easy to conclude that the colonnade originated in the Pacific Northwest; however, it too is of Mediterranean origin. Regardless of whether it shelters the sun or rain, colonnades have important cultural associations that transcend mere utility. At Kerry Hall the colonnade marks the building’s entry and provides for a graceful transition between building and the adjacent landscape courtyard.

Kerry Hall Colonnade Entry
Kerry Hall Colonnade

The colonnade also brings to mind the colonnaded buildings of the notable early 20th Century American architect, Irving Gill, who was a contemporary of A. H. Albertson. Both Gill’s buildings and Kerry Hall’s design share similar approaches to massing and the arrangement of windows and doors, including simple, unarticulated arches contrasting richly detailed windows and openings. Gill’s stripped-down Mediterranean-inspired architecture was well suited to the Southern California landscape where he practiced, and his buildings provide a rare link between the abstract forms of the International Style and more traditional, historic forms.

Building by Irving Gill (Image Wikimedia)
Building by Irving Gill (Image Wikimedia)

The Doge's Palace in Venice provides a much older precedent and has influenced architects for hundreds of years. In most ways radically different from the Palace on the Lagoon, Cornish's building on the Hill does share an assortment of finely detailed windows set within broad expanses of subtly textured walls.

In both buildings when the windows are clustered together their details escape the confines of the window and become an additive element that defines a larger window composition. This detailing approach, which includes both subtractive and additive approaches using the same vocabulary, is uncommon and requires the deft hand of a sophisticated designer.

The Doge's Palace (Image Wikimedia)

Kerry Hall's detailing changes from east to its west with the westerly becoming simpler and sparser, bringing comparisons, again, to the more abstract precedents evident in the work of Irving Gill. The West elevation windows lack the detail of the other elevations; instead, the divisions within the window as well as the ordering of the windows themselves have a rigor and clarity that contrasts with the finesse found elsewhere. The west windows are deep-set and have unique mullion patterns which varying between the rectangular and arched windows.

Kerry Hall West Elevation (Image Wikimedia)

As one may expect from a college of the arts, Kerry Hall provides many rich lessons in design and greatly adds to Capitol Hill’s built environment. One should not be surprised, then, to find out that Cornish's support for quality design is not restricted to the Hill. Expanding to Denny Triangle over a decade ago, Cornish has continued their tradition of fine design. For an example readily viewed from Melrose Promenade or Denny Way, look for a bright yellow tower in Denny Triangle, home to the Cornish Commons.

Cornish Commons

All images by John M Feit unless otherwise noted

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