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Brutalism & The Future Of The UW Nuclear Reactor Building

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Photo: By Joe Mabel

Should ugly buildings be saved? UW wants to build a new Computer Science and Engineering building to double the number of graduates, and it makes sense to put the new building beside the existing one. The best site, according to UW, is the site of More Hall Annex, a building originally and accurately called the Nuclear Reactor Building. It can seem obvious to remove a reactor building built for a declining industry, at least in terms of enrollment. The counter-arguments, however, are that the building represents a bit of Cold War history and also is an example of an uncommon architectural style called Brutalism.

Brutalism is known for living up to its name, and wasn't brutal for the sake of ugliness, but as a backlash to more frivolous and supposedly less functional buildings that preceded it. Given a bit of time, brutal seemed appropriate. Brutalism, the Cold War, and nuclear reactors seem made for each other, and More Hall incorporated all of them.

In 2009, the case for preservation was strong enough to earn the building a place on the National Register of Historic Places and the Washington Heritage Register. Preservation preserved. UW, however, contends that universities aren't subject to preservation ordinances. Will Computer Science and Engineering get its new building because it is as trendy now as Nuclear Science and Engineering was decades ago; or, will official preservation designations, and maybe Architecture, History, and Nuclear studies mean a Brutal building is saved - if for no other reason than to remind us of ideas and an era that we may never want to repeat? The reactor which inspired the building and its name operated for years, and helped many students learn was less than one cubic yard. The ultimate symbiosis is the Computer Science Department's plan to create a 3-D model of the exterior and interior of the building, no radioactivity required.
· UW regents vote to demolish old reactor building listed as historic [ST]
· Brutalism [wikipedia]
· Washington Heritage Register [DAHP]
· National Register of Historic Places
· The history of UW's own nuclear reactor [UW]