Hello everyone! My name is Valerie Stewart, and I have just completed my Bachelor of Arts degree in Architecture at the University of Washington. I am so excited to work with Docomomo US/WEWA and Professor Tyler Sprague this summer to research and present my findings on Asian American designers in the Pacific Northwest. During my time in school, I studied architecture with an emphasis on History and Theory; looking at and thinking about the built environment through these lenses has helped me appreciate the stories behind our everyday surroundings, as well as their designers. Some of my favorite classes that I took at UW included 20th Century Architecture, History of Seattle Architecture, and Paris Architecture, because they all explained how certain architectural styles originated, and how they have been adapted and repurposed over time to stay relevant. I hope to do the same for my audience through my research position, and not only add on to the existing database of mid-century modern designs in the Pacific Northwest, but also explain just why these designers and their work are so influential in this region.
I moved to Seattle from California four years ago, at the start of college. The small town where I grew up is hot, dry, and flat. In Seattle and the rest of the Pacific Northwest, the climate is much more humid, and is much more mountainous. These geographical differences have allowed me to appreciate and understand the architectural language and significance of buildings in the Pacific Northwest. Relative to where I grew up, Seattle buildings have much more character and more dynamic interactions with their natural environments, which is what makes them so unique to learn about.
This year’s research topic, Asian American designers and their impact in the Pacific Northwest, is especially significant to me. Being biracial – half Taiwanese and half Caucasian –, I have always had strong ties to both white and Asian cultures, languages, traditions, etc. Something I first noticed about Seattle, and something that made it easier for me to adjust to living here, is that there is a prominent and diverse Asian population both in the city and its suburbs – the community is not restricted to one single area or neighborhood. Any large city is bound to be racially diverse to an extent, but what is unique about Seattle is that its Asian residents have contributed largely to the character of regionally-specific, Seattle Modern design, and provided much of the labor used to develop the land in the first place – the Asian community is so strong in this city, and has done so much to aid its growth. So why do we almost exclusively hear about and promote successful white architects, but almost no designers of Asian descent? This question is just one driving force of why I look forward to bringing these stories and inspirations to light as the summer goes on, and further exploring my interests with Docomomo members and the larger community!
Image: Courtesy Valerie Stewart