801 2nd Avenue
Initially conceived as a high-rise addition to the neighboring Exchange Building with an interconnected lobby level, the Norton Building, with exterior elevations uniform in design, materials and construction method, offered rental office space on all four sides with access to natural light and views to the Puget Sound. The high-rise office tower was separated from the 23-story Exchange Building by a 47’ wide landscaped plaza at the Second Avenue level and a one-story entrance lobby pavilion. To maximize flexible office rental space, the structural design was developed with no internal columns. The solution involved a steel column and girder system of high strength concrete beams spanning 70’ wide bays and steel and concrete shear walls at the service core. The crisp rectangular form of the office tower ascends elegantly on tall slender lobby level columns above a monumental base. The Norton Building also included an innovative curtainwall construction utilizing 1,792 pre-glazed spandrel and window panel units, the longest escalators outside of New York City, and an internal underground parking facility for 300 cars. During and immediately after the completion of construction, the Norton Building was recognized for its architectural character by numerous local and major national publications. Architectural Record featured the innovative design and compared it favorably to three contemporary high-rise office tower designs in an April 1959 article, “Four Office Buildings: Four Different Schemes.”
Compared with massive suburban real estate development, relatively few new buildings were constructed in downtown Seattle in the post-war years. During this era, commercial construction only occurred at scattered downtown sites as several highly notable projects reflecting modern zoning changes and international architectural trends were built, including: the Logan Building (1959); the Washington Building (1960) and the IBM Building (1961-64). The Norton Building, built in 1958, is a highly significant example of International Style architectural design and widely recognized as Seattle’s first modern office tower. At the time of its construction, it was considered a highly innovative example of modern building technology due to its composite steel and concrete structural system and curtain-wall design.
Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill (SOM) was the nation’s preeminent practitioners of high-rise design. Elliott F. Brown served as SOM partner-in-charge, Alan S. Robinson, as SOM project manager, and Myron Goldsmith, the SOM project structural engineer. The Norton Building follows in style and precedent to the dramatic Lever Building, the first curtain wall designed building in New York City and is widely considered an icon of modernism and the International Style.
The Seattle architectural firm of Bindon & Wright served as local associate architects on the design and construction of the Norton Building. Leonard William Bindon first established his own architecture practice in Bellingham and quickly became very well-known. In 1956, Bindon and John LeBaron Wright formed the Seattle architectural firm of Bindon & Wright. The partnership began to receive many large commissions that were executed in the Modern style and led to partnering with the San Francisco office of Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill to design the Norton Building.