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Campus myths

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When the UW was founded nearly 150 years ago, the entire school was housed in a two-story building on 10 acres in downtown Seattle. Since the construction of Denny Hall in 1895, the campus has expanded to its size of more than 700 acres. As the campus has grown, so have local legends surrounding its imposing, beautiful and somewhat cryptic buildings. The Daily has taken some of the most common rumors and attempted to discover which are based in fact, and which are mere myths.

CAMPUS LEGEND: Red Square was purposefully paved with slippery red brick in the 1960s to inhibit large gatherings of protesting students.


Red Square — and the parking structure underneath it — was constructed in 1971. Paul Hayden Kirk, a 1937 UW graduate and influential Northwest modernist architect, designed Red Square and much of the surrounding area, including Meany Hall and Odegaard Undergraduate Library. According to Kirk, the design was actually conceived to promote gathering. The plaza "should be open for the people to use and the big groups to get together," Kirk told Don C. Miles in a 1987 interview.

"Kirk is widely recognized as a leader in the development of regional modern architecture in the Northwest," said professor of architecture Jeffrey Ochsner. Oschner is the author of Shaping Seattle Architecture, an illustrated guide featuring many of Kirk's local designs.

The name "Red Square" was actually proposed before the bricks were even laid. In 1969, the "Central Quadrangle" was still a grassy field and a common meeting place for student activist groups. Daily staff writer Cassandra Amesely successfully launched a campaign to refer to the area with the more political and simple moniker "Red Square."

Kirk was also open to adding a fountain or sculpture to the area as time went on. Today, the widely recognized Barnett Newman sculpture, Broken Obelisk, which was donated to the University of Washington by the Virginia Wright Fund, is now an essential visual component of Red Square for the modern-day UW student.

CAMPUS LEGEND: Haggett Hall was designed by a prison architect.


Kirk's firm, Kirk Wallace McKinley Associates, designed Haggett Hall and won an honor award from the American Institute of Architecture Seattle for the building in 1964. The dormitory was hailed as an example of architectural modernism in the area. The firm was never employed to design a prison.

CAMPUS LEGEND: Frank Lloyd Wright designed the campus.


Carl F. Gould was the actual mastermind behind the conceptual layout of the UW's campus. He drew a plan in 1915 using an axis to zero on the Mt. Rainier scenic vista as a central theme of the campus' architecture. He then led the commission that chose Collegiate Gothic as the official architectural style. He designed Raitt Hall, the Liberal Arts Quadrangle and most of its surrounding structures, as well as Suzzalo Library. Gould also served as a professor at the UW's school of architecture.

Much of his vision for the campus remains to this day, almost 100 years later. Gould's concept of framing the Rainier vista with two buildings south of Drumheller Fountain recently became a reality with the construction of the new Chemistry and Paul Allen Computer Science & Engineering buildings.

"It is the most beautiful campus in the country," said architecture professor emeritus Norman Johnston. "How can you beat out a campus that has Mt. Rainier as part of the plan?"

CAMPUS LEGEND (PART ONE): Padelford's architect killed himself shortly after designing the building.


The building and parking structure were designed in the early 1960s by the Spokane firm Walker & McGough. Neither of the firm's partners killed themselves. However, unlike Haggett Hall's designers, Padelford's architects were in fact involved in the construction of prisons. The firm was later renamed Integrus Architecture, and their Web site boasts they have "provided criminal justice planning, design and security design services ... since 1953."

John W. McGough, who established the firm in 1953, has designed state buildings and correctional facilities in Washington, Montana, Oklahoma, Minnesota and Kentucky. He still resides in Spokane.

Firm partner Bruce Walker was a graduate of the UW School of Architecture, and passed away in 2005 at the age of 81.

The firm also planned Kane Hall and the Plant Services building. They received a merit award from the American Institute of Architects Seattle for Padelford's design in 1967.

CAMPUS LEGEND (PART TWO): Padelford was designed to be riot-proof.


No documentation could be found stating an explicit plan to design Padelford to withstand riots. However, in the University's official safety plan manual, Padelford and the Health Sciences building are singled out. In case of emergency in one of these buildings, the alternative to evacuation by way of first-floor exits is simply to move to an unaffected wing of the building.

Walt Crowley, a UW student during the 1960s and author of more than a dozen books on local history, agrees that some campus buildings are "certainly not conducive to human habitation."

"A lot of the architectural decisions were made before the protesting," he said, "but there was certainly awareness by 1967 that you didn't want big plate glass windows or anything. I can't absolutely confirm that, but I would say that yes, the new campus architecture was intended to withstand and discourage student protests."

Reach reporter Sarah Anderson at

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