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AIA Seattle Medalist 1998: Arne Bystrom FAIA

In presenting the nomination to the AIA Seattle Board of Director of Arne Bystrom to receive the AIA Seattle Medal, the Honors Committee Chair Mark Hinshaw FAIA presented this statement, drawn from an impressive assembly of testimonials, offered by 1996 Medallist John Morse FAIA:

"The life and work of Arne Bystrom, a Seattle native of Scandinavian heritage, express clear and important ideals for Northwest architecture: his consistent design philosophy, the inspired structures he creates, and his dedication to excellence in practice and service express integrity. The work he has created throughout his lifetime make unsentimental use of the ruggedness, natural materials, and unique environment of the Northwest, applied with bold scale and rhythm - all wrapped together to inspire happy living and confidence.

"Over the decades, his projects - most often residences featuring the masterful handling of wood - have garnered local, national, and international awards. Publications ranging from Progressive Architecture to Sunset and Popular Science have featured his projects.

"Frequently the subject of study and emulation, his work appeared recently in an exhibit at Seattle's Nordic Heritage Museum ("To Dwell with Nature, The Residential Architecture of Arne Bystrom") and became the subject of a Masters of Architecture thesis by Are Oyasaeter, at the University of Washington. His Pike Place office, generally regarded as a jewel box, has provided a nurturing nest for ideas that drive commitment to community service - both for Arne himself and for others sharing his concern for grace in human habitation at all scales, from room to region."

* Arne Bystrom served as AIA Seattle President in 1984.
* In 2004, the University of Washington Press published A Thriving Modernism: The Houses of Wendell Lovett and Arne Bystrom, by Grant Hildebrand and T. William Booth.

* Remarks by Arne Bystrom FAIA on receiving the Medal, May 1998:
"I'd like to start by telling you an ironic story. In 1984, I had the good fortune to serve as President of this Chapter. I went to the AIA Convention as part of my duties, and there I attended the dinner awarding the national AIA Gold Medal to Nathaniel Owings. Later on the flight home, it occurred to me what a wonderful thing it would be if we, the Seattle Chapter, had something like it. I presented the idea to the Board, who loved it. We got Jack Sproule to design and sculpt the medal, and that first year we awarded medals to two very deserving local architects, Paul Thiry & Paul Kirk. As far as I know, we were the first Chapter to do this - and it is obviously a pleasure to see this tradition continued.

"By now I'm sure that you have all seen the irony that tonight - 14 years later - I am the recipient of the award that I thought up on that plane ride home to Seattle. Little did I know at the time. I still have a copy of the speech that I gave at the October meeting that year, outlining the criteria for this award. But none of you are going to see it - because if you did, you might have second thoughts! No, I'm keeping my mouth shut. I just want to thank you very, very much - with a special nod to Jack Morse and the others who so graciously supported my nomination.

"I have also had the good fortune lately to have had Are Oyasaeter, a fine Norwegian architect, select my residential work as the subject of his thesis at the UW Department of Architecture (which by the way for those interested, will be on display at the AIA Seattle Gallery through the month of June). Are concludes that "to create theoretical architecture that is not site specific is beyond his [that is, my] interest." But rather that "the sensitive dialog between nature and structure [that] creates places" is the designing of rich and magical structures that are concerned with history's lesson rather than historical forms has been the focus of my architecture.

"This should not be taken to mean that I am not concerned with ideas, but rather that in my own way, I am perhaps searching for a more profound and meaningful architecture in a sometimes superficial age. Light, space, expression of structural components and connections, native and natural materials in their original condition, a respect for the site, the quality of light and the defining of space. The pure joy of building and the pleasure of fine craftsmanship - these are principals that guide me.

"A concern for the planet. A reverence and passion for nature. A conservationist's sensibility and a desire to merge site and building with minimal disruption of that site - this is my design philosophy.

"By choice and circumstance, my practice has been mainly limited to residential and small commercial building (although I have wondered many times what I could have done with a major commission and a sympathetic client: without a sympathetic client, as you all well know, there is no way we can create fine buildings). In 40 years of practice, I consider myself lucky to have had, out of many commissions, some clients that had the necessary faith and trust to make us a design team composed of friends charged with a common quest: to build well.

"I have also practiced long enough to be resistant to the ever-changing trend-setting ideas from the East and West Coasts or wherever. I have seen too many hot new architects and movements to be more than superficially interested in the latest ideological dialog. Not that I'm without influences of strong architectural ideas learned from the architects who, I believe, have been been able to first express their collective experience of our history, culture and civilization in their designs; second, have understood tectonics and made the act of building an exciting issue, creating art and poetry out of construction; and third, architects who marched to their own drummer, who knew who they were and were not chasing fads, styles, and fashions, and whose clients can wake up every morning finding something else new and magical in their lives. They are Carlo Scarpa, Sverre Fenn, Louis Kahn, Alvar Aalto, the architect of Katsura, and Frank Lloyd Wright. These are architects capable of creating 'the extraordinary in the ordinary.' They are, to quote my favorite critic Ada Louise Huxtable, 'truly creative ... open to the full range and richness, to all history and the invention of architecture and art.'

"We have many and various tastes in architecture, and this makes the profession more challenging and interesting. To some, my architecture may seem out of the mainstream or even anachronistic. Yet I would remind them that in a greater sense we are merely visitors here, and maybe we should tread lightly on this ground. And that pursuing a humane architecture at home with nature and respectful of place isn't a bad legacy for our children.


Arne Bystrom FAIA

The Bystrom office on Post Alley


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