31 October 2009


All the paperwork has finally come through..... the Nuclear Reactor Building has been added to the National Register of Historic Places! Although this official designation does not afford the building any legal protection, it is an honor and recognizes the building's historic and architectural value. The achievement carries extra significance as the building was added to the Register despite being a few years shy of the 50 year age requirement. Hears to you, Nuclear Reactor Building!


The Nuclear Reactor Building has been approved for the Washington State Register of Historic Places and has been recommended for the National Register of Historic Places. Although this listing does not afford the building any actual protection, it does recognize the building's historic and architectural siginificance, and its value as part the physical record of our history.

art installation

art installation

advocacy installation

On May 16th, 2008 the Friends of the Nuclear Reactor Building designed and constructed an art installation to draw attention to and to celebrate the building. The installation was a success, encourage people to watch us and ask questions as we dressed the building in red balloons on a gorgeous day. At night we invited anyone interested to come to a barbeque at the site, and it was amazing to see the building's steps full of people enjoying the weather and the space.

party at the reactor

party at the reactor

Why the Nuclear Reactor Building Matters...

The Nuclear Reactor Building on the University of Washington campus was built in 1961 to house a small research reactor for the newly established Nuclear Engineering Program. At that time nuclear power was regarded with optimism, promising cheap and reliable energy without dependence on fossil fuels. Many research reactors were installed on university campuses around the United States, but the Nuclear Reactor Building at the University of Washington is the only case where the reactor was made visible to the public, situated in the center of an active academic institution.

The Nuclear Reactor Building was designed by important designers of the Pacific Northwest, including architects Wendell Lovett, Daniel Streissguth and Gene Zema. Along with two other colleagues, structural engineer Gerard Torrence and artist Spencer Moseley, these professionals collaborated as The Architect Artist Group, or TAAG. The Nuclear Reactor Building is the only building designed by TAAG, the group dispersed soon after it was completed.

The structure and form of the Nuclear Reactor Building is an iconic and compelling example of architecture of the Modern Movement. Its dynamic form embodies the optimism for technology that was a continuous theme throughout Modern architecture.

In the 1970s, nuclear power fell out of favor with society. Along with a general fear and aversion to nuclear power, there was a lack of jobs for nuclear engineering students. The Nuclear Engineering Program at the University of Washington was closed after little more than two decades of existence, and the Nuclear Reactor Building has stood empty since that time.

The Nuclear Reactor Building is burdened by negative attitudes about nuclear power, and the lack of historic value society places on Modern architecture. The building, along with many buildings of its time, is viewed as easily disposable. But the building has an unique history, an intimate relationship with the rise and fall of nuclear power, and architectural merit. If the building is demolished, it will be a great loss. To save the building offers the chance to leave a landmark, a frame of reference, a link to attitudes and ideals of the past. There are not many cases where a building has so much to offer as a physical artifact, and the Nuclear Reactor Building should not be quickly thrown away.

Open Letter in support of the Nuclear Reactor Building

Mark Emmert, President
University of Washington
301 Gerberding Hall
Box 351230
Seattle, WA 98195

Dear President Emmert,
This letter is signed on behalf of the University of Washington’s Nuclear Reactor Building. The building has exceptional significance as an uncommon combination of historical and architectural value. Not only is the building a unique artifact of the Nuclear Era and an excellent example of Modern Architecture, it was designed by important Modern architects of the Pacific Northwest who were also faculty of the University. It is not a replaceable building.
The Nuclear Reactor Building embodies attitudes and aspirations of a specific time in history when optimism for the future and promise of technology were far-flung, and in which the University of Washington played an avid role. The building is a landmark of the campus as well as our collective historical thinking, and should stand as a reference point for future generations of students.
Although the Nuclear Reactor Building is smaller and more specifically designed than most campus structures, it has great potential for adaptation while preserving its integrity as a historic building. Potential uses for the space include a bike station, a campus café, an interdisciplinary workspace, an exhibition space, or a new home for the Daily. Recently Western States Public Radio has put together a proposal for the Nuclear Reactor Building as the new home of the Washington Nuclear Museum and Educational Center. Such a broad spectrum of possibilities and interest is worth further deliberation.
With this letter I urge you to consider preserving the Nuclear Reactor Building and allowing it a chance to play a vital role in campus life.