Brooks, Kenneth W.
(1917 – 1996)
Born in Cedarvale, Kansas, on June 9, 1917, Kenneth William Brooks attended high school in Independence, Kansas, and received his Bachelor’s degree in Architectural Engineering from the University of Illinois in June of 1940. While in school, he received some drafting experience, working for Naramore & Brady Architects (the forerunner of NBBJ) in Seattle. Upon graduation was awarded the prestigious Francis J. Plym Fellowship for six months of travel in Europe. However, due to the war in Europe, he postponed the fellowship.
During WWII, Brooks joined the U.S. Engineers Department where he served in various capacities from 1940 to 1943, and the U.S. Marine Crops from 1944 to 1946. Upon leaving the military, Brooks spent over a year in the New York office of Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM), working under Gordon Bunshaft. While working with SOM, Brooks passed the National Council of Architectural Board examination in 1946 and became licensed in New York in 1947. Shortly thereafter he left SOM, and moved to Spokane. He first went to work for George M. Rasque, a longtime Spokane architect who specialized in school construction. However in 1948, after working for Rasque a few months, he decided to take advantage of the Plym Fellowship. In Sweden, he volunteered to work in the Stockholm and Goteborg Town Planning Offices.
Brooks then returned to Spokane where he was employed for a short period by the architectural firm of Carroll Martell Architects. He soon left to pursue a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Illinois, which he received in 1949. By 1951 Brooks had returned to Spokane and opened his own practice. The firm’s services included architectural design and urban planning for individual clients, corporations, schools, and the federal government.
Brooks was interested in simplicity and materials, and he designed and developed a line of low-cost plywood furniture from 1949 to 1953. He consulted with Charles and Ray Eames and the Herman Miller Company on its marketing, then patented his design and worked with the Weston Company to produce it. Called “Westies: America’s Versatile Storage Cabinet” the design was for a convertible storage cabinet that could be assembled into a variety of combinations to form tables, boxes or bookcases.
Young and ambitious, Brooks was anxious to elevate architectural design in the Spokane community. He became involved in a variety of community activities in the city and the Inland Empire, and lectured frequently on variety of topics to hundreds of different community organizations. He also served in many civic roles: President of the Spokane Municipal League, member of the Spokane Planning Commission, President of the Spokane Chapter of the AIA, member of the Washington State Arts Commission (1961-68), member and first chairman of the National Urban Design Committee (1960-65), Chairman of the Jury of Fellows for the AIA (1971), member of the Governor’s Executive Committee “Design for Washington” (1965), and member of the Spokane Parks Board.
Brooks was actively involved in the Spokane Expo ’74. He designed several structures at the fair and was one of the primary planners of the event. By the 1970s, he had taken on partners Joseph Hensley and Fred Creager. Together the Brooks, Hensley, Creager firm received high architectural praise at the local, regional, national, and international levels, and in a thirty-year period, the firm designed twelve award-winning projects. Brooks’ two most distinguished projects were the 1959 Washington Water Power Company in Spokane, and his 1977 Art-Drama-Music Complex at Columbia Basin Community College in Pasco. Both of buildings received National AIA Honor Awards. Other notable projects include Rogers-Orton Dining Hall at Washington State University in Pullman, and an urban design for downtown Spokane, “A Place in the Sun.” In 1965, Brooks designed the Intermountain Gas Company Headquarters in Boise, Idaho. The project received a National Award of Merit in 1966 from the AIA.
With the respect and admiration of his fellow colleagues, Brooks became a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1967. He retired from practice in 1991 and passed away in Spokane on August 8, 1996.
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– Michael C Houser