Nuclear Reactor Building, University of Washington Seattle

Nuclear Reactor Building, Seattle, WA

The Nuclear Reactor Building (now More Hall Annex) is a product of the University of Washington Nuclear Engineering program, which was established in 1958 and the resulting department founded in 1965. First operated in April 1961, the two-story Brutalist building has a transparent top-floor design unlike other college reactor buildings, so outsiders can see the interior parts of the building. The concept of the building’s “openness” was to convey knowledge about nuclear power by displaying parts of it. The centerpiece of the building was a 100-kilowatt Argonaut reactor, which was one of several built for universities. The reactor was used for research and training, and for creating isotopes for medical treatments.

The building was designed by The Architect Artist Group (TAAG), which included local architects Daniel Streissguth, Wendell Lovett, and Gene Zema, artist Spencer Moseley, and structural engineer Gerard Torrence.

Starting in the 1970s, an increasing dislike of nuclear power led to decreased interest in the Nuclear Engineering program. Also, the cancelling of four nuclear power plant projects by the Washington Public Power Supply System (WPPSS) decreased demand locally for people educated in nuclear engineering. In June 1988, operation of the reactor was ended, and removal of fuel rods to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation occurred in 1989 and 1990. The Nuclear Engineering department was dissolved in 1992. With the reactor partially dismantled, the building was later used by the university’s College of Engineering for a robotics lab, office space, and storage space for a period of time.

After the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the building’s name was changed to More Hall Annex due to concerns over potential burglary. By 2006, the reactor was fully demolished and the building was fully decontaminated. The control room equipment was removed, and part of the concrete which surrounded the reactor remains.

In early 2008, the University of Washington proposed to demolish the structure during Summer 2008. Plans included removing the building and replanting the site, with the idea that a new building might be constructed on the site in the future. This resulted in preservation efforts by University of Washington architectural graduate student Abby Martin, which included covering the building in red balloons and providing hot dogs on May 16, 2008 to raise awareness.

Efforts by advocates and preservationists led to the building’s listing on the Washington Heritage Register in October 2008, and the National Register of Historic Places in October 2009. While this does not protect the building from demolition, there appears to be no current plans for razing the structure. Today, the building remains abandoned with all exterior doors locked.

There is a plan to construct a building for the university’s Computer Science & Engineering department on the lawn directly west of the Nuclear Reactor Building, but it is not known as of December 2013 if the reactor building will be affected, since the new building has not been designed yet.

(While I generally dislike Modern architecture and loathe Brutalist architecture, I think the building is worth saving given its history and its out-of-the-way location.)

Looking east from E Stevens Way NE, the building sits behind a lawn, with More Hall visible at right. Only the second floor is visible when looking east.

Looking east, NE Snohomish Lane is located on the north side of the building, and runs east toward Hec Edmundson Pavilion (Alaska Airlines Areana) and Husky Stadium.

The lawn west of the building, which may become a new building for the university’s Computer Science & Engineering department.

Located west of the building is the Paul G. Allen Center for Computer Science & Engineering.

This signholder likely had a sign which said “Nuclear Reactor Building”.

From the west, the second floor exterior appears to be symmetrical.

The surrounding pavement has a trapezoidal pattern which relates to the building.

The control room is located at the north end of the second floor, and another room with few windows is at the south end.

There are numerous buckets of sand and cigarette receptacles around the back of the second floor. The area is currently used as a place for smokers.

The university’s power plant is visible from the second floor balcony.

The balcony has somewhat low concrete panel balustrades. The corner panels are even lower, at less than 3 feet high.

Looking northwest from Jefferson Road NE, the building has a more functional appearance, with multiple rooms on the first floor.

Looking southwest from Jefferson Road NE & NE Snohomish Lane.

Looking west from NE Snohomish Lane.

The area here is now used as parking and a junkyard for the nearby More Hall.

Looking northwest, from Mason Road NE & Jefferson Road NE.

Located in the middle of the reactor room is the remains of the concrete housing, which contained the now-removed reactor.

The north end of the second floor has the control room, with another room on the south end.

Many of the ceiling tiles are falling to the ground, which is likely the result of no climate control operating in the building, and/or from a water leak.

The footprints of the removed control room equipment are still visible on the floor.

Since the photos are taken from outside the windows, reflections and clarity are a problem on some photos.

On the north end of the building is a door to the first floor hallway.

Taken from outside the window, the leftover papers and junk is likely from the building cleanup in 2006. A common characteristic of abandoned buildings is having interior doors left open.

On the east end of the building are two doors which likely served a former loading dock. A rather rickety platform and staircase for basic access currently exists today.

A sign warning of lasers is evidence of the building’s later life as non-nuclear laboratory space.

The interior of the “loading dock” room, with another set of doors leading to the reactor room. The light fixtures may be a later modification, since they do not appear to be from 1961.


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Location: Jefferson Road NE & NE Snohomish Lane

Photos taken on November 27, 2013.

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