Urban Design

Skyscraper Branding

A sneak preview of Russell Investment’s design for Seattle’s skyline.

By Eric Scigliano December 14, 2010

Russell’s proposed sign, rendered by G.Scott!Design. Skyline photo: Spike Mafford.

Here’s the first nighttime peak at what may soon be downtown’s most visible artwork (construing the term very broadly) and one of Seattle’s most prominent landmarks: a 1,080-square-foot, brightly illuminated sign promoting the city’s new favorite hometown company, Russell Investments. Depending on whom you talk to, it will be a much-needed signal that the city welcomes new business post-recession and WaMu collapse. Or an open door to the sort of skyscraping, high-tech, super-lit billboards the city’s so far managed to keep off its skyline—Times Square, here we come.

No problem, say two sometime nemeses, City Council president Richard Conlin and Mayor Mike McGinn. Last year Conlin and the then-Nickels administration assured Russell they’d change the sign code (which currently bans skyscraping signs unless needed for "way-finding," as at hotels) if Russell would up stakes in Tacoma and move here. McGinn likes this Nickels legacy better than the waterfront tunnel; at a press conference yesterday he called the sign “a very small ask” on Russell’s part and suggested it might become an object of nostalgia like the P-I globe and Rainier “R.” The Stranger eagerly endorsed the sign; a front-page Seattle Times story trivialized objections. With so many strange bedfellows backing an idea, how could it miss?

The big picture. Photo illustration: G.Scott!Design. Skyline photo: Spike Mafford.

The Stranger and Times merely printed a daytime mockup of the sign supplied by Russell. The Times story called it “understated as corporate letterheads.” But Russell’s letters will stand out more at night—perhaps as far as Alki—as in this rendering provided by the signs critics, who include many local designers and architects. They argue that, for a thousand-dollar permit fee, Russell will get the sort of visibility KeyBank, Qwest, and Safeco paid millions for at their respective arena and stadiums: It will in effect brand the Seattle skyline, at least until other big firms enter the race to get their logos atop office towers. And how will those buildings’ other tenants feel about being outshone?

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