Fred Bassetti & Company
Fred Bassetti, Partner-in-Charge
Richard Metler, Principal: Project Designer, Project Manager
Christopher Kirk, Associate: Project Designer, Interior Designer
James Mueller: Project Architect- Historic Buildings
Bassetti Embassy Team (1980)
Row 4: Peterson (in bushes) | Hoffman
Row 3: Kirk | Bassetti | Metler | Thompson
Row 2: Regnier | Mueller | Webster
Row 1: Dunlap | Parrett
Not pictured: Bisbee, Stimson
The design team was led by Fred Bassetti & Company, Architects. We were awarded this project after Fred Bassetti met William Slayton, director of FBO, at an AIA event in Washington, D.C. in 1978, and asked for the firm to be considered for FBO projects. Following interviews and an FBO visit to the office in Seattle, we were selected from a list of recognized architectural firms.
The firm was relatively small- two partners, two principals, two associates, and about 15 architects and support staff. By today's standards, it was old-fashioned, non-hierarchical, and informal. New employees were often shown tools and lumber and told to build their own drafting tables. Senior architects worked as generalists and usually followed projects from start to finish, working on all levels of design and all phases through construction. The embassy was so important to the firm that a partner, a principal, and an associate were involved throughout the project.
The firm was chosen because of its reputation and history of successful projects in the Pacific Northwest, and a design philosophy that the client deemed appropriate for the project. The design philosophy was based on several principles:
- Contextual design, where a building fits naturally into the site contours, vegetation, and surrounding structures
- Use of local, natural materials such as wood, tile, stone, brick, and concrete
- Clear, honest expression of a building’s structure and construction
- Preservation, integration, and adaptive reuse of historic structures
- Blending of contemporary forms such as expressed structure, cantilevers, and large glass areas, with functional, traditional elements, such as sloped roofs, overhanging eaves, balconies, and opening windows
- Attention to humanistic details that make buildings comfortable to touch and inhabit
In simple terms, our challenge was to synthesize FBO's functional requirements, it's formal Architectural Policy, the rich cultural and architectural heritage of Portugal, the natural and historic features of the site, and our firm’s design philosophy and style. It was a challenge for architects from the damp, dark northwest U.S. to create a fitting design for the warm, sunny, ancient, Moorish-influenced location in Portugal.
At that time, it was unusual for most architects, at least in our experience, to design projects outside their local region, much less overseas. When the project began, Metler and I were about 30 years old and, aside from Bassetti, most of the rest of the architectural team was even younger. It was bittersweet to realize that at that age we might be working on the most remarkable project of our careers, and to this day the project is on the resume of everyone who had even a small role in the design.
Fred Bassetti, Partner-in-Charge
Bassetti was the founder and philosophical leader of the firm and was responsible for building the “brand”: its design philosophy and reputation. He attracted good designers, many of whom later became well-known in their own right, and fostered the environment in which we created the project. He was a critic, mentor, advisor, and client liaison, particularly in the critical early phases of design. He publicly and eloquently championed the design, and provided inspiration to the team.
In his 60s during the project, Bassetti was in the prime of his career. He was active in Seattle civic affairs and a leader in the movement to save and restore the Pike Place Market. His energy and enthusiasm were inspiring. He was articulate and had a wide range of interests, but was also a bit eccentric and sometimes impulsive and easily distracted. Rich Haag, the renowned landscape architect, toured Portugal with him, and said the rental car people always freaked out when they came in because Bassetti usually "modified" their cars. Bassetti had a skiing accident in the winter of 1979, and, when Metler and I went to visit him in the hospital, his first comment was that it would have killed a younger man.
Like many noted Pacific Northwest mid-century architects, his career started with residential projects, and his design philosophy and many of his trademark design features - sloped roofs, extensive use of carefully-detailed wood and brickwork, and the chamfering of virtually everything - sprang from these intimate, residential projects. As his practice grew into larger, commercial work, these original design elements were adapted to larger, commercial buildings with results that varied with the scale of the project, and the skill of the architects working under him.
As with many partners, Bassetti’s most direct contribution to this project was getting the job and acting as a critic and advisor. His time was spread across many projects and outside activities, and he couldn’t spend much time on even an important project like the embassy. Because his involvement was at a high level, he would often drop in unexpectedly and want to make changes which conflicted with the program, engineering requirements, codes, or the client’s instructions. Managing Bassetti was a key responsibility for Metler and me.
Richard Metler, Principal
Metler was the proverbial Renaissance architect- an excellent designer, artist, and craftsman who worked equally well with aesthetic design concepts and complex engineering systems. He was responsible for much of the building’s character, and as Project Manager he also managed fees, contracts, etc.
Christopher Kirk, Associate
I was co-designer with Metler of the overall project, from the first visit to Lisbon with Bassetti, through construction, and I traveled to Lisbon for final documentation of the completed project. I was also responsible for interior design and furnishings selection with FBO.
Together Metler and I developed the concepts and details for the site plan, floor plans and sections, building massing and elevations, and for structural and MEP systems. We also managed the work of other architects and consultants through all phases of detailing and documenting the building and following it through construction.
James Mueller, Architect
Mueller was drafted as project architect for the existing buildings because of his historic preservation experience, and he managed design of the renovations of the 17th Century manor house and chapel. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity to work on a project with graves in the floor.
A group of other talented architects helped design the project at all levels. Architects Dick Petersen, Mike Hoffman, and Jeff Thompson designed and detailed many important elements of the building's interior and exterior. Larry Parrett, John Bisbee, Hope Dunlap, Kristina Stimson, Julie Regnier, and Craig Webster were intern architects that worked on many specific parts of the project.