I will talk first about the nature of industrial buildings,
and then turn to early twentieth-century laundry buildings
in general and the Seattle Empire Laundry Building in
Context of Industrial Buildings
nineteenth- and early twentieth-century commercial and
industrial buildings do not always grab our attention
the way other building types of that era do. And yet
these functional structures can provide a good deal
of important information about our cultural heritage,
albeit in a more subtle way. Much more so than residential
buildings, the hardworking commercial and industrial
buildings of the early 1900s epitomized the dictum of
contemporary architect Louis Sullivan, "Form Follows
buildings, in fact, tend to fall more within the realm
of engineering rather than architecture. A bridge,
for example, is the epitome of form following function.
The function of some buildings is almost as easy to
read. For example, a late nineteenth-century fire station,
now a theater, displays two elements clearly required
by its function: broad doors to accommodate fire engines
and a tower to dry fire hoses. In other cases, the clues
are not as apparent. If this building didn't have
a sign indicating that it was a tobacco warehouse -
about the last thing you'd expect to see along
the Mississippi River in rural Wisconsin - most people
would probably not have a clue as to its identity. However,
the reflective silver paint is a hint: it helps deflect
the sun's rays to keep the tobacco inside cool.
laundries are another case of form following function.
A historian of the laundry industry has observed that
technology "gives the industry its specific shape
and character". The steam laundry industry is defined
by technology: by what it does and how it does it...".
The Seattle Empire Laundry building retains significant
features that reflect this technology and distinguish
it as a unique building type.