Plymouth Congregational Church
1217 Sixth Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101
The content below is from Docomomo US/WEWA’s Modern Sacred Spaces public tour of Plymouth Congregational Church on May 11, 2016.
The second oldest congregation in Seattle, Plymouth Church, United Church of Christ’s first services were held in 1869 in the second story of a building in Pioneer Square. Now in its third location, Plymouth has anchored the corner of Sixth Avenue and University Street for over 100 years. After the original masonry Neoclassical structure suffered damage in the 1965 earthquake, Plymouth replaced it with the current white concrete Modern structure constructed in 1967-1968.
Divided into three distinct shapes, the building’s asymmetrical exterior has a “form follows function” clarity defining the interior organization: a small circular chapel, rectilinear office/hall, and the oval main sanctuary. The main facade, with its low main entry leading to a lobby with low ceilings resembles the entry to a cave. However, these features are an intentional contract to the main features: the voluminous sanctuary and the vast urban views from the plaza on the west side.
The main sanctuary is a concrete Gothic-like creation, soaring in height and expressive in light. Similar to a cathedral, the height is achieved with slender columns leading to a triangular tracery roof and ceiling structure. Taking advantage of the plasticity of the material, the curved concrete walls are perforated with decorative openings recalling the texture of small glass pieces in Gothic stained glass windows.
At the west end of the building, the church’s solid walls along Sixth Avenue are contrasted with tall transparent walls offering dramatic views toward Seattle’s central business district. The integrated siting with the IBM Tower plaza is a grand urban design gesture underscoring the congregation’s commitment to its urban community and highlighting both buildings, as well as the Rainier Tower across Fifth Avenue.
The mid-2010s renovation, designed by LMN Architects and built by RAFN Company, made accommodations for the new organ by lowering and extending the chancel and adding new acoustical improvements. Structural upgrades were completed to address the failing glu-lam beam roof structure. New tile floors, lighting and HVAC distribution were added.
Plymouth Church was originally designed by the architecture firm of Naramore Bain Brady & Johanson (NBBJ), a Seattle-based partnership co-founded by Floyd Naramore, William Bain, Sr., Clifton Brady and Perry Johanson. Naramore and Brady, after practicing independently in Neoclassical and Art Deco styles, partnered in 1938 to design modern housing and schools. After many successful partnerships with the firm Bain and Johanson, the four architects permanently joined forces in 1943. The office was known informally as “the Combine.”
Donald Arthur Winkelmann, who served as the primary designer for Plymouth Church, joined the firm in 1961 and became a partner in 1970. The firm, which eventually became today’s NBBJ, was one of the nation’s largest architecture firms and is responsible for designing many Seattle Modern structures including the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco building (1951), Veterans Administration Hospital (1952), Public Safety Building (1951; demolished), First Presbyterian Church (1965-1970) and Seattle First National Bank (now named Safeco Tower) (1967).
Plymouth Congregational Church is an outstanding and unique example of NBBJ’s vast portfolio.