Construction History on the Frontier, Seattle, July 20-22, 2017

The 2017 Construction History Society of America Members Meeting will go to the frontier. Hosted by the Departments of Construction Management, Architecture, and the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington, this meeting will explore the innovative construction history of the west coast.  With the region shaped first by pioneering families and resource extraction economies and later transportation networks and local urban growth, presentations of this conference reflect this growth.

Leading construction historians and independent scholars will address the theme of Construction History on the Frontier – exploring construction history in the American West, with particular focus on Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. With topics interesting to architects, engineers, construction historians as well as subcontractors and suppliers, this multi-track program begins the afternoon of Thursday, July 20th and runs until noon on Saturday, July 22nd.

Keynote speakers will anchor the conference, with presentations on central historical themes. Our plenary session presentations will address a broader scope of construction history in the west. Presentations will discuss the massive infrastructure that made life in the west possible, such as hydroelectric dams (like the Grand Coulee Dam), bridges over waterways of the Puget Sound (like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge), and military encampments (like Fort Casey) – important markers of development.  The region is also famous for its use of timber, first as logging old growth woods, then innovating engineered wood products. Presentations will show this history while indicating how this process continues today.  Other presentations will dive into the personalities of builders on the frontier, older methods of construction that have been forgotten, and periods of innovation in specific materials (like precast concrete).

Keynote presentations

The opening lecture will be presented by Jeffrey Ochsner from the University of Washington, with invited presentations from Mike Lombardi of the Boeing Company, Knute Berger of Crosscut, and Jon Magnusson of MKA.

Jeffrey Karl Ochsner FAIA, professor in the Department of Architecture at the University of Washington, will discuss the architectural history of the region through the lens of construction history.  In the Northwest, changing styles often accompanied a change in building material, charting the progression of architecture from the 19th century to today. Ochsner served as Chair of the Department of Architecture from 1996 to 2002 and is Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, College of Built Environments. He is author of H. H. Richardson: Complete Architectural Works (1982), editor and co-author of Shaping Seattle Architecture: A Historical Guide to the Architects, co-author of Distant Corner: Seattle Architects and the Legacy of H. H. Richardson (2003), and author of Lionel H. Pries, Architect, Artist, Educator: From Arts & Crafts to Modern Architecture (2007), and Furniture Studio: Materials, Craft, and Architecture (2012). He has published articles in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, JAE: Journal of Architectural Education, Fabrications, Pacific Northwest Quarterly, American Imago, ARCADE and other journals. He has twice won the College of Built Environments Lionel Pries Award for teaching excellence and is a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and a recipient of the Association of College Schools of Architecture (ACSA) Distinguished Professor Award.

Knute “Skip” Berger, journalist and historian, will speak on the history of the Seattle Space Needle – the iconic, sky-line defining monument of the city.  Berger will discuss how the Space Needle enabled Seattle to be perceived as being on the cutting edge of technology, a high-tech branding that continues today. Berger is a Seattle author, columnist, and commentator. He is the award-winning “Mossback” columnist for the online non-profit news site where he focuses on the intersection of Pacific Northwest politics and heritage; Editor-at-Large and columnist for Seattle magazine; and a regular commentator on Seattle’s NPR affiliate KUOW-FM. He is consulting historian for the Space Needle. His books include the ebook Roots of Tomorrow: Tales of Early Seattle Urbanism (2014), Space Needle, Spirit of Seattle (2012) and Pugetopolis: A Mossback Takes on Growth Addicts, Weather Wimps and the Myth of Seattle Nice (2009). He also has long established interests in world’s fairs (he’s attended nine) and time capsules (he was chief “architect” of the Washington Centennial Time Capsule Project).

Jon Magnusson, former CEO of Magnusson Klemencic Associates (MKA), comes from a long family history of construction in the Northwest. Magnusson, currently Senior Principal at MKA, went from walking around construction sites as a boy to leading a world-renown structural engineering firm responsible for iconic works in the Northwest and around the world.  Projects include the Seattle Public Library, Safeco Field, Century Link Field, Experience Music Project, Key Arena, Seattle Federal Courthouse, Husky Stadium, and Benaroya Hall.  He received the Designer Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Institute of Steel Construction, is an honorary member of the American Institute of Architects, and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He served as CEO of MKA for 25 years. The firm was founded in Seattle in 1920 and has provided engineering services in 46 states and 54 countries from its headquarters in Seattle.

Michael Lombardi, historian at Boeing, will present the history of the most important company in the history of the northwest. Boeing’s innovation has driven the Northwest economy for decades, providing a highly-trained work force, and continuing to innovate with new materials and processes in creating airplanes. Lombardi started at Boeing in 1979 and has been the Senior Corporate Historian for the Boeing Company for the last 20 years. He is also the corporate historian for North American Aviation and manager of Boeing Historical Services which includes the company’s historical archives. He has presented lectures on aerospace history to the AIAA, the Royal Aeronautical Society, The Air League of the UK and several air museums. He is a regular contributor to the Boeing Frontiers magazine and has published a book on the history of Strategic Airpower. Lombardi is currently working on a history of Boeing Plant 2 in Seattle. As a spokesperson for Boeing, Lombardi has appeared in documentaries for the Discovery Channel, PBS, Smithsonian Channel, and BBC as well as in Germany, Russia, Japan and China. He is also currently on the board of trustees for Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry and serves as a guest curator for the Museum of Flight.


We Built Seattle – Panel Presentation

Thursday, July 20th, 5:30pm to 7:30pm

Sponsored by the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Washington

Moderated by Len Holm, University of Washington, with Panelists Jim Crutcher of Lease Crutcher Lewis (1891), Rick Redmond of Sellen (1941), and William Bain, Jr. of NBBJ (1943), and more.



In addition to eight academic sessions, CHSA will present four guided tours on Friday, July 21 in Seattle and the surrounding region. Led by local expert historians, registrants will select from one tour included in their registration.


Poster Session

Thursday July 20 from 4:00 to 5:00pm in Gould Hall.  The poster must fit the meeting theme and participants must RSVP to Melanie Feerst at


Click here to register

Early registration begins March 1

Late Registration begins June 1

Speakers receive a 20% discount on registration fees.

Category Rate
CHSA Members - Early Registration $155
Non-Members - Early Registration $210
Students (must provide valid student ID) $35
CHSA Members - Regular Registration $185
Non-members - Regular Registration $240
Single Day Registration $150

CHSA has not reserved any accommodations. We suggest you contact these hotels near the University of Washington, Seattle campus:

Hotel Deca

  • 4507 Brooklyn Ave NE, Seattle; 800.917.1145 or 206.634.2000
  • Historic 1930’s art deco hotel
  • 2 queens $249/night*
  • Studio single $130/night (prices will probably rise in the summer)*
  • Free wireless

Watertown Hotel

  • 4242 Roosevelt Way Northeast Seattle; 855.580.8614
  • 2 queens – (no single rooms) July 20-23 – $119 / night double*
  • Free wireless, free bicycle rental

University Inn

  • 4140 Roosevelt Way Northeast Seattle; 855.614.8286
  • July 20-23 – $205 /night one queen*
  • free wireless, outdoor pool, free bicycle rental

Silvercloud Inn – University District

  • 5036 25th Ave NE Seattle; 206.526.5200
  • July 20-23 – $249 -259 /night for one king or two queens*
  • free wireless, indoor pool

*rates are estimates and are subject to change


Inquiries about the Meeting

Melanie Feerst, Executive Director;, 847.894.3589