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

The 2017 Construction History Society of America Members Meeting went to the frontier. Hosted by the Departments of Construction Management, Architecture, and the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington, this meeting explored 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 at this conference reflected this growth.

Leading construction historians and independent scholars addressed 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 began the afternoon of Thursday, July 20th and ran until noon on Saturday, July 22nd.

Keynote speakers anchored the conference, with presentations on central historical themes. Our plenary session presentations addressed a broader scope of construction history in the west. Presentations discussed 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 showed this history while indicating how this process continues today.  Other presentations dove 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).


Conference Location
Architecture Hall
University of Washington Seattle
3943 Stevens Way W
Seattle, Washington


Keynote presentations

Five keynote speakers anchored the conference, with presentations on central historical themes.

Jeffrey Karl Ochsner FAIA, professor in the Department of Architecture at the University of Washington, presented The Architectural / Technical History of Seattle and Environs, 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 at Crosscut presented The Civic History of Construction on the history of the Seattle Space Needle – the iconic, sky-line defining monument of the city.  Berger discussed 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), presented Six Decades Living Northwest Engineering and Construction. Magnusson comes from a long family history of construction in the Northwest. Currently Senior Principal at MKA, Magnusson 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, the Senior Corporate Historian at The Boeing Company, presented Making Dreams into Reality: The Epochal Stories that Define the Boeing Company, 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.

Dr. Carrie Sturts Dossick presented The Past and Future Practices in Construction. Dr. Dossick is a Professor of Construction Management at the University of Washington, College of Built Environment and Executive Director, Center for Education and Research in Construction (CERC). She has over a decade of research and teaching experience primarily focused on emerging collaboration methods and technologies such as Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) and Building Information Modeling (BIM). She is an active member of both the National Institute of Building Sciences and buildingSMART Alliance. Current research projects include technology and collaboration strategies for green building design and construction; global team collaboration with Virtual Reality; operations applications of BIM and facilities data in maintenance management and life cycle planning; and rebaselining BIM and asset data for existing buildings. She has received funding from the National Science Foundation, U.S. Army, U.S. Department of Education, Mechanical Contractors Association of Western Washington, Sound Transit, Skanska USA Building, University of Washington Royalty Research Fund, University of Washington Capital Projects and Facilities services.

We Built Seattle – Panel Presentation

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

A highlight of the Members Meeting was the ‘We Built Seattle’ panel discussion on Thursday evening, July 20th, celebrating the specific firms who have contributed to the history of construction in the Northwest.

Dean John Schaufelberger opened the event which was moderated by Len Holm (both of the University of Washington). The panel was composed of representatives from significant legacy firms, including Rick Redman (Sellen Construction), Jim Crutcher (Lease Crutcher Lewis), Bill Bain (NBBJ), Terry Deeny (Deeny Construction) and John Holmes (Manson Construction). These builders and their firms have shaped the Seattle landscape through their innovative projects for over 60 years.

The Construction History Society of America is grateful to AGC of Washington for their generous sponsorship.

Dean John Schaufelberger, University of Washington – Introduction

John is the Dean of the College of Built Environments, where he has taught since 1994. A licensed professional engineer, he served thirty years as an officer in the US Army Corps of Engineers prior to joining the University of Washington faculty. John has managed major public works construction projects all over the world and has represented the United States in negotiations with foreign governments. He is the author of Construction Business Management and Construction Equipment Management, both works published by Prentice-Hall. He is co-author of Construction Cost Estimating: Process and Practices, Construction Project Safety, and Professional Ethics for the Construction Industry, and Management of Construction Projects: A Constructor’s Perspective.

Len Holm, University of Washington – Moderator

Len received bachelor degrees in both Building Construction and Economics, and a Master’s degree in Construction Management, all from the University of Washington. Previously with Bechtel and the Baugh Construction Company (now Skanska), he founded Holm Construction Services in 1994. Len has taught construction management classes for the University of Washington since 1993, and conducts in-house training seminars for private construction firms, clients, and associations. Len has authored ten books on project management, estimating, and dispute resolution which receive world-wide popularity. He has been active in Cost Engineering and the Disputes Resolution Board Foundation and has served as a member on DRBs for major projects such as the University of Washington’s indoor practice facility.

Bill Bain, NBBJ – Panelist

A graduate of Cornell University — where he studied under Phillip Johnson, Buckminster Fuller, Paul Rudolph and Aldo Giurgola — Bill won the university’s York Prize and Charles Goodwin Sands Memorial Medal. After serving with the Army Corps of Engineers, he returned to Seattle and joined the nascent firm of NBBJ, which was cofounded by his father. Bill is a past president of both the Seattle Chapter and the Washington State Council of the American Institute of Architects. He has lectured or taught design at Cornell, NYU, Harvard, University of Washington, Washington State University, and the Technology Transfer Institute of Japan and has served on a number of AIA and other design award juries. He has received the AIA Seattle Chapter Medal, the highest honor the Chapter can bestow, and was recently presented with the Filley Award for Excellence by the honorary land-economics society Lambda Alpha International.

Jim Crutcher, Lease Crutcher Lewis – Panelist

Jim Crutcher joined his father-in-law at Lease Company in 1957, a company founded in Great Falls, Montana in 1886, and has held many different positions over the years, most recently Chairman Emeritus. Jim has been very active with the AGC, serving as president of the AGC of Washington, president of the AGC Education Foundation, and member of the National AGC Executive Committee. Jim notes there have been many changes in the field over the years: in the early days, all the work was lump sum competitive bid; there were no copy machines or computers, only slide rules and adding machines.

Terry Deeny, Deeny Construction – Panelist

Founded by Terry Deeny’s father John in 1938, Deeny Construction Co. is a third generation family-owned underground utility contractor. Boeing and the University of Washington are two places that the firm has laid many miles of pipe over the last 79 years.   His construction career ended in 1999 when his son Jon took over, and he changed his license plate from I DIG to DUNDIGN. He was curious about the Associated General Contractors at an early age, having no idea that it would lead to a lifelong involvement leading to the presidency of AGC of Washington and then president of ACC of America. In retirement he spent many days involved with the Construction Management program at the University of Washington.

Rick Redman, Sellen Construction – Panelist

Rick Redman received his degree in Business Administration from the University of Washington in 1965. After a distinguished football career at the University of Washington and nine years in the NFL, Rick joined his stepfather, John Sellen, at Sellen Construction in 1975 as the director of marketing. He was named president and chief operating officer in 1982; chief executive officer in 1988; chairman of the board in 1993; and chairman emeritus in 2008. Rick has served as officer and board member of many community and professional organizations in the Puget Sound over the years, including United Way, the US Bank Community Board, the Downtown Seattle Association, the University of Washington Alumni Association, Safe Crossings Foundation, the Pacific Northwest Ballet and the Washington Athletic Club.

John Holmes, Manson Construction Co. – Panelist

John has spent his entire 40 year career in the heavy civil marine construction and dredging industry with Manson Construction. He started as a laborer in Manson’s Seattle equipment yard working summers during college. After receiving a degree in Civil Engineering and an MBA from the University of Washington, he began working full time at Manson as an engineer and estimator. In his time with Manson, he has seen the company grow from a family-owned northwest marine construction company to an employee-owned marine/dredging contractor with operations on the west, gulf and east coasts. During that time, Manson has assembled one of the largest marine equipment fleets in the U.S. John works closely with Manson’s joint venture partners on large marine infrastructure work but stays involved with most of Manson’s projects including those in the Northwest.




In addition to eight academic sessions, CHSA presented four guided tours led by local expert historians on Friday July 21st in Seattle and the surrounding region.

Tour #1: Boeing Assembly Plant (bus)

The Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour is located in Mukilteo, Wash., 25 miles north of Seattle. The Everett facility is home to the 747, 767, 777 and 787 Dreamliner production lines and is the world’s largest building by volume. Visitors saw airplanes being built for our worldwide base of airline customers. This tour offered the only publicly available opportunity to tour a commercial jet assembly plant in North America.

Tour #2: 1962 Seattle World’s Fair (walking)

The Century 21 Exposition – also known as the Seattle World’s Fair – was held in 1962 and drew 10 million visitors, with architect Paul Thiry designing the fairgrounds and pavillions. The theme was modern science, space exploration and the progressive future, for which an ultra-modern Monorail line was developed to ferry tourists from downtown Seattle to the fairgrounds. The visual centerpiece of the fair, the Space Needle, was a 605 foot $6.5 million rotating restaurant tower, was considered a risky investment but was wildly popular among fairgoers.

This tour included the US Science Pavilion (Minoru Yamasaki), the Washington State Coliseum (Paul Thiry), and the Seattle Space Needle (John Graham Company).

Trivia: Elvis Presley shot the film It Happened at the World’s Fair on location during the Fair’s 6 month run.

Tour #3: Pioneer Square (walking)

This tour looked at Seattle’s historic downtown, constructed after the fire of 1889. The primarily stone and brick facades were built in the Richardsonian Romanesque style, with rounded arches and heavy timber interiors. As time advanced, the buildings transitioned to steel giving birth Seattle’s first skyscrapers in the 1910s.

This tour included the six-story Pioneer Building (1892), and the 38-story Smith Tower (1914) – the tallest building outside of New York City when it was completed.

Tour #4: Downtown Seattle landmarks (walking)

This tour looked a Seattle’s contemporary downtown core including the Pike Place Market and renovation (Miller Hull), the Seattle Public Library (OMA/LMN), and the Amazon Spheres (NBBJ, under construction). While the Spheres won’t be in use until early 2018, when completed they will hold a lush concentration of 3000 plant species from 30 countries and have an average temperature of 72 degrees with 60% humidity.


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