AKA: University of Washington, Seattle (UW), Red Square Plaza and Parking Garage, Seattle, WA; University of Washington, Seattle (UW), Central Parking Garage, Seattle, WA

Structure Type: built works - infrastructure - transportation structures; landscapes - cultural landscapes

Designers: Halprin, Lawrence and Associates, Landscape Architects (firm); Kirk, Wallace, McKinley AIA and Associates, Architects (firm); Sellen, John H., Construction Company, Incorporated (firm); Walker and McGough, Architects (firm); Lawrence Halprin (landscape architect); Paul Hayden Kirk (architect); John Witt McGough (architect); David A. McKinley Jr. (architect); John Henry Sellen Sr. (building contractor/civil engineer); Bruce Morris Walker (architect); Donald Sheridan Wallace (architect)

Dates: constructed 1969-1970

3 stories

Pierce Lane
University of Washington, Seattle, Campus, Seattle, WA 98195

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During the late-1960s, University of Washington (UW) planners knew that the $13.9-million ensemble of buildings (and an underground parking garage) known as the Central Plaza would become the heart of the campus. It stood at the intersection of the main axes composed of the arts and humanities and science quadrangles. Since its completion, it has become a key meeting place, a place of political demonstrations, and site of celebrations. Criticism has been made consistently of its barren character, due to its notable lack of vegetation, in sharp contrast to the rest of the campus. Limitations on surface vegetation in Red Square remain necessary to restrict drainage leaks into the capacious, multi-tiered parking garage below it. Retrofitting the surface to provide more greenery and to insure proper drainage would prove costly and has not been considered a priority on a campus where money has chronically been in short supply.

Building History

The Central Plaza Parking Garage and Plaza was conceived during the late 1960s at the same time Kane and Meany Halls and Odegaard Undergraduate Library were being planned. The paved plaza had three levels of parking underneath it, to accommodate about 1,000 autos. From the beginning, the plaza has had the feel of an Italian piazza, an extensive public expanse located nearby to key civic monuments such as cathedrals or city halls. In this case, Suzzallo Library, the symbolic Gothic Revival heart of the campus, the repository of scholarship from all departments, presides above this piazza.

Planning for this ambitious ensemble of buildings began following the Puget Sound Earthquake of 04/29/1965. University of Washington architectural historian Norman Johnston described the Central Plaza as the university's spatial and social heart in a 1980 Seattle Times column. He wrote: "The design processes began in mid-1960s. They were delegated to no one firm but were the joint efforts of individuals and groups. The professional team included the architectural firms of Kirk, Wallace & McKinley (Seattle); Walker & McGough (Spokane); and the San Francisco landscape architectural office of Lawrence Halprin. The university's team was composed of the members of its Architectural Commission plus the administration, most notably former President Charles E. Odegaard. Confronting this group were three existing factors: Suzzallo Library, the Administration Building and the large open and unplanned space which they faced. To be added to their equation were five new variables: a teaching auditorium building, an undergraduate library, a performing-arts building, an underground garage, and a designed open space that all these structures in parternship define. Within the context of the university's 1915 campus plan, that space would play out its assignment as a kind of knuckle joining the axis springing from out of the Liberal Arts Quad with a second axis southward down Rainier Vista to Frosh Pond and distant Mount Rainier. What other campus offered such a superb design opportunity? Events moved swiftly, and by 1974 the plans were realized in today's Central Plaza." (See Norman Johnston, "Quad, Plaza are U.W's spatial heart," Seattle Times, 07/20/1980, p. H1.)

A Seattle Times article of 09/1969 described the bustling activity near the Central Plaza construction site: “Earth us being moved out of the ‘Great Hole,’ formerly known as the Suzzallo Quad, at the rate of 1,500 cubic yards an hour, on a double-shift 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. day on the University of Washington campus. The John H. Sellen Construction Co., the contractor, has to gouge 250,000 to 300,000 yards of earth out of the center of the campus as fast as possible to beat the onrushing academic year and the rainy season. Adding to the campus confusion, construction continues on the student services center [Schmitz Hall] and a major city sewer project near the route which the dump trucks use to move the fill to the Montlake fill. The dirt is being used to extend playing fields and parking areas. The Suzzallo project will provide underground parking for 1,000 cars and a service area for university vehicles on three levels. The quad will be resurfaced with brick and exhaust from the parking area will be dispersed through a 100-foot-high campanile-like cluster of stacks.” Three garage ventilation stacks, reminding some of Italian bell towers and ranging in height from 121 to 141 feet tall, were built on the plaza's northwest corner to safely vent car exhaust well above the plaza surface. (See Rae Tufts, "Sometimes functional works become art," Seattle Times, 05/23/1982, p. F14.)

The article continued, ""...Work goes on within shouting distance of the library and the administration building. Bulldozers and other heavy equipment have been specially muffled to keep noise at 86 deibels 50 feet from the source, Gil Braida, the university's project manager, said. Dust, the other nuisance connectd to the Great Hole, is being fought with a sprinkler system in the excavation and by street sweepers following the truck route across the campus, and the entrance on 15th Avenue Northeast, down to Northeast Pacific Street and along Montlake Boulevard Northeast to the dump." (See Polly Lane,"University Developing a Hole in Its Heart and Tired Eardrums" Seattle Times, 09/07/1969, Real Estate & Industry section, p. 6B.)

During campus activism of the Viet Nam Era, students frequently sought to annoy campus administrators. To irritate the establishment, a student leader persuaded her peers to start calling the UW's costly new centerpiece, "Red Square." This perverse reference to the historic ceremonial square in Moscow, the site of the Kremlin, Saint Basil's Basilica and heavy-handed military parades each May Day, was promoted by a writer for The UW Daily, Cassandra Elinor Amesley (born 01/11/1950-d. 11/22/2020), beginning in 1971. Quinn Russell Brown, writing in the University of Washington Magazine,stated in 2021: "As both ASUW president and managing editor of The Daily, Cassandra Elinor Amesley, '77, '81, was an influential student leader on the UW campus. And thanks to her way with words, that influence has lasted in the decades since she graduated. Like any good editor, Amesley could spot a good idea. In 1971, The Daily solicited alternatives for the mundanely titled 'Central Plaza' (the official name for the sweeping, centrally located red-brick mall). Amesley sifted through amusing suggestions like 'The Prison Yard' and 'The Wasteland,' eventually latching on to 'Red Square.' She promoted the name in her Daily stories and it caught on. As she told the Seattle Times four years later, 'I just picked the one I thought would be best.'" (See Quinn Russell Brown, "Udub Things that Define the UW," University of Washington Magazine, vol. 32, no. 3, Fall 2021, p. 68 and Tom Griffin, University of Washington Magazine.edu, "How UW's Central Plaza became 'Red Square,'" published 06/1993, accessed 04/18/2023.) Cassandra Amesley died of COVID-19 in Roseville, MN. She was 70.

Building Notes

On 01/21/2017, three protesters engaged in a serious confrontation outside an incendiary speech by Milo Yiannopolous, held in Kane Hall on the University of Washington's Red Square. One of the right-wing protesters, Elizabeth Hokoana, came to the meeting armed with a Glock semi-automatic handgun, and when she claimed her husband, Marc, was being threatened by a left-wing demonstrator, Joshua Dukes, she shot Dukes. Just prior to the shooting, prosecutors said, Marc Hokoana sprayed pepper spray into the left-wing portion of the crowd to incite them. As a result of outrage at being targeted with pepper spray, Dukes confronted Marc Hokoana, and Elizabeth "came to his aid" by shooting Dukes. This combined incitement and shooting, according to prosecutors, had been pre-arranged.

Her side of the story was that they were witnessing left-wing protesters beating up a man nearby and that Marc used his pepper spray to free the man from the violence. She claimed that Dukes grabbed Marc Hokoana with a large knife in his hand, and she fired on Dukes to stop him from using it. Prosecution refuted this claim saying the incident "...was not an impulsive act done in a moment of fear." According to KIRO-7, however, "UW investigators say there is no evidence that Dukes had or displayed a knife. Elizabeth Hokoana also admitted to investigators that Dukes had not threatened her or her husband." (See Alison Grande, KIRO-7 TV.com, "UW Shooting suspect contradicts herself in recorded statement," accessed 11/07/2017.)

In the end, Dukes recovered and wished to have "restorative justice" occur. KIRO-7 television reported: "[Dukes] also showed reluctance to help police pursue criminal prosecution of the shooter. He told police there are enough people in prison and he would rather see restorative justice. (See Alison Grande, KIRO-7 TV.com, "UW Shooting suspect contradicts herself in recorded statement," accessed 11/07/2017.)


By 1982, reports of problems with the supports of the Central Plaza Garage began to appear. A Seattle Timesarticle of 12/11/1982 noted: "On a matter related to patches, the regents approved a $120,000 engineering study of structural problems in the Central Plaza Garage, under what is popularly called 'Red Square,' The garage was completed in 1970. Some of its support beams have cracked. The study will investiage causes of the problems, and recommend a repair program." Concern over structural problems in the garage continued into the next decade. (See Cassandra Tate, "$2 million Fluke gift sets up UW chair in engineering," Seattle Times, 12/11/1982, p. A15.)

A 1991 editorial in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer summarized recent problems with UW buildings. This editorial stated: “It may be difficult to decide who’s to blame, but it’s easy to determine that something is very wrong when a $38 million building the University of Washington built only five years ago already needs extensive, expensive repairs. After finds cracks and water leaks in the new, seven-story east wing of the Medical Center, the UW spent another $68,000 to hire a consultant to find out that the problem was caused by exterior tiles that did not expand or contract being placed over concrete that did. Now it looks as if the entire building will have to be re-tiled at a cost of millions more. Besides its cracks and leaks, the hospitals east wing suffered from sloping floors that sent wheeled hospital carts rolling off on their own. ‘New’ Meany Hall, built 16 years ago for $7.0 million, now needs $8.7 million worth of repairs, including a roof, asbestos removal and a replacement of all exterior bricks. The Central Plaza Garage under Red Square had to be shored up and Husky Stadium’s north deck collapsed during construction. The question of why no UW official was watching closely enough to catch these deficiencies in time is something to think about as the UW launches a 10-year, $1 billion-plus development program. Alan Tarr, assistant vice president for facility management, has issued assurances that the university has tightened its quality-control procedures and will closely supervise designs, materials and construction of new projects.” (See "UW's Building Woes," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 06/16/1991, p. D2.)

PCAD id: 5850