“The skyscraper on its side.”
“A natural outgrowth of the earth.”
“Eden meets corporate America.”
At first glance, the former Weyerhaeuser Corporate Headquarters in Federal Way, Washington strikes the eye as more an enigma than a piece of architecture. Nestled within an idyllic meadow between two gentle hills, the terraced, low-slung building integrates almost seamlessly into its lush surroundings. English ivy envelops its stepped roof-line of monumental concrete slabs. The building appears to exist out of time, both unmistakably modern and ancient — a quality enhanced by the fact that, since 2016, the structure has been conspicuously vacant, taking on the air of an exceptionally well-maintained ruin. Not surprisingly, the photogenic site has become a popular destination for Instagrammers and (sub)urban explorers.
Historian Nicholas Adams has characterized the Weyerhaeuser project (recently renamed Woodbridge Corporate Park) as “one of SOM’s most significantly underappreciated buildings.” But though the project may appear an outlier among the firm’s predominantly vertical icons of 20th-century architecture, the departure from a supposedly prevalent style speaks to the reality of a wide-ranging and adaptive portfolio. The building has had a profound influence on architecture in the Pacific Northwest and beyond, and its most distinctive elements have helped form the DNA of SOM’s approach to sustainable design in the 21st century.
Singular upon completion in 1971, the “original green building” was designed by SOM as a new home for the Weyerhaeuser forestry company. The “groundscraper” serves as the centerpiece of a bucolic, 260-acre site planned by acclaimed…