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Summary for 4000 15TH AVE / Parcel ID T25R04E16 / Inv # 0

Historic Name: Aerospace and Engineering Research Building Common Name: Aerospace and Engineering Research Building
Style: Modern - Brutalism Neighborhood: University
Built By: Year Built: 1969


As described in this Historic Property Inventory report, this building is recommended eligible for listing in the NRHP.  It appears to meets eligibility Criterion A because of its strong association with economic heritage of northwest aerospace industry and the growth of the University's engineering programs in the post-war era.  The Brutalist style building dates from the late 1960s, and it is a well executed and award-winning  design by architect Phillip Jacobsen of the multi-disciplinary Seattle firm of Young, Richardson and Carleton (TRA).  This building also appears to contribute to the recommended Central Campus Historic District.


Engineering studies related to aerodynamics have had a long history at the University, largely in response to local industries and the presence of the Boeing Company.  Associated buildings on the campus include the Boeing Aerodynamic Laboratory (1917), Guggenheim Hall (1930) and the Kristen Wind Tunnel (1936-1937).  (These three buildings are located in close proximity to the ARE Building.) 


When the University founded the Department of Aeronautics in 1929, it was one of the first in the nation, and one of seven university programs established with assistance from the Guggenheim Fund for the Advancement of Aeronautics.  Despite losses in funding and reduction in staff and student enrollment during the Depression, engineering remained a popular field. Enrollment in the programs within the Engineering College grew during the 1930s, and during World War II accelerated courses were offered to assist the war effort.  While student enrollment dropped to low numbers during the war, it rose considerably with passage of the G.I. Bill, which funded tuition for returning servicemen.  


The aerospace program grew in the post-war era with support from local industries and national grants, and astronautics was added to the department in 1961.  It impact of the research programs on the regional economy and recent NASA grants to ten recent graduate was lauded in a local newspaper article:  Much of the research is directly to the regional economy….The value to this area of maximum University of Washington participation in aerospace research should be obvious …. Aerospace research in progress on the campus includes studies in re-entry dynamics, wave propagation in solids, solid-propellant engines and stability characteristics of vertical-take-off aircraft.”  The same editorial cited the formation of a university committee of ten departments on space-science research, and the tripling of research grant and contract funds since 1954, which then exceeded $23 million dollars annually in addition to the department’s regular budgets for research (Seattle Times, December 21, 1962).


In 1966, NSA grants of $1.5 million helped construct the new AERB, which was dedicated in 1970.   The building was designed by Seattle architect Phillip Lee Jacobsen (1928 - ) of Young, Richardson and Carleton (later known as The Richardson Associates or TRA).  Despite the type of dynamic lab studies within the structure, its design is a simple brick-clad Brutalist style.  In 1971, the building’s design was recognized by an Honor Award given to TRA by the local chapter of the AIA (Seattle AIA website).


Jacobson was born in Santa Monica and moved to Seattle with his family as a boy in 1941, and graduated from Washington State University with Bachelors in Architectural Engineering in 1952.  He also received two Fulbright Grants for continued studies in England and Finland.  Returning to the US, he worked as a draftsman and designer for Seattle architect John W. Maloney and San Francisco architect John Carl Warnecke.  He joined TRA in 1955.  Other projects at TRA included McCarty Hall, Hitchcock Hall, and Health Sciences Wings G, H and I, as well as the King County Aquatics Center in Federal Way and Washington State Convention Center in Seattle.  His civic activities included service as the AIA Seattle Senior Council President and board member of the Pilchuck Glass Studio, AIA Seattle, and Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board. He received many honors during his career, including a Knight Order from the Government of Finland and Fellowship status in the AIA, and his work was published in over 80 design journals.  Jacobson served on the faculty of the University’s Department of Architecture and Urban Planning from 1962 to 2000 (Michelson, PCAD).


Presently known as the William E. Boeing Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the school offers the only aerospace degree program in the Pacific Northwest, with an undergraduate Bachelor of Science degree, professional master’s degrees in several fields and a doctorate degree. Its faculty includes 19 core members and research faculty, in addition to adjunct and affiliate faculty, and ten post-doctoral research assistants.  In 2016, undergraduate enrollment numbered 226 and graduate enrollment 234; women students made up approximately 18.5% of the students.   Research areas focus on controls, fluids, plasma science and structures.


The Aerospace Engineering Research Building was built for $1,516,240 in 1969.  A later $1,742,000 addition, completed in 1990, also designed by TRA, added 10,900 square feet to the building’s east side. The building’s construction was funded from a grant by NASA for an aerospace and energetic research program and it was built to house a number of laboratories in an increasingly technical filed of study: the Autonomous Flight Systems Lab, Computational Plasma Dynamics Lab, Computational Fluid Mechanics Lab, Helicity Injected Torus – Steady Inductive (HIT-SI) Lab, Nonlinear Dynamics and Controls Lab, and its facilities included a shockwave reactor (UW College of Engineering). 


The AERB appears intact and well maintained, and it is expressive of its original design.  It exemplifies the Brutalist style, and appears to meet Criterion C for National Register listing.  Because of its historical association with the region’s aerospace building, it may also be eligible as a historically significant component in a district, along with the nearby Guggenheim Hall,  Kristen Wind Tunnel, and Aerodynamics Laboratory.




Johnston, Norman J.  The Fountain & the Mountain: The University of Washington Campus, 1895 - 1995.  Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1995, p. pp. 60, 136, 157, 159.


Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl, ed.  Shaping Seattle Architecture: A Historical Guide to the Architects, 2nd ed.  Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2014, pp. 447, 465, 472, 487, 489, 494. 


Seattle AIA website, Honor Awards, (accessed October 25, 2016).


“U. Research: Key to New Industry,” (editorial) Seattle Times, December 21, 1962, p. 10.


Michelson, Alan. University of Washington Libraries Special Collection. “Pacific Coast Architects Database (PCAD) (accessed December 29, 1016).


UW College of Engineering website, “Aerospace and Engineering Research Building,” (accessed October 27, 2016).


William E. Boeing Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics, “About Us,” (accessed December 29, 2016).





The large, four-story building is situated among a group of buildings associated with the University’s aerospace programs, in close proximity to the older Kristen Wind Tunnel and historic Aerodynamics Laboratory to the east, and Guggenheim Hall to the northwest.  A triangular-shaped front yard and deep plant bed extend from Benton Lane along the front of the AREB’s east façade, and along its south side yard.


The brick veneer clad concrete structure features asymmetrical massing, varied roof levels and features on each façade.  The footprint is generally square.  Deep recesses at four locations near the corners create three seemingly separate sections set around the  taller primary mass that faces west.  Roof heights vary to express these sections; all are flat with the exception of those of the staircase shafts at the northeast and southeast corners, and a single story section along the middle of the primary west façade, reflected in a section at the uppermost roof, which are shed shapes fitted with greenish copper metal cladding.  The same green-colored material is used as a horizontal parapet cap around all of the perimeter roof edges.


The primary entry on the west façade and secondary entry on the east both lead into a simple linear lobby space.  The entries are expressed on the exterior by a vertical plane of glazing, which contrasts with the solidity of the smooth-faced red brick masonry.  Fenestration is limited largely to windows on the east and south facades, and along the first floor of the west facade, while the north façade and upper walls of the west are largely opaque, expressing the building’s interior laboratory functions.   The windows are large, aluminum framed units, consistent in size and fitted with dark bronze-colored glass.  They are set close to the wall planes on the east, while on the south and west they are deeply recessed and placed above  angled brick-clad sill sections.  The heads at these locations are detailed with corbelling and a soldier course.  The stair shafts are treated simply as opaque towers.


The building  expresses its Brutalist style through its massing and facades, where the recesses emphasize its sculptural qualities.  This style, particularly when clad with brick masonry, was popular on college campuses in the 1960s and it is reflected in the design of the Modern era buildings on Central Plaza as well the AERB.



This building retains a high level of integrity.

Detail for 4000 15TH AVE / Parcel ID T25R04E16 / Inv # 0

Classication: District Status: NR
Cladding(s): Brick Foundation(s): Concrete - Poured
Roof Type(s): Varied roof lines Roof Material(s):
Building Type: Education - College Plan: Rectangular
Structural System: Masonry - Unreinforced No. of Stories: four
Unit Theme(s):
Major Bibliographic References

Photo collection for 4000 15TH AVE / Parcel ID T25R04E16 / Inv # 0

Photo taken Oct 27, 2016
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