Fred Bassetti designed much of Western's campus

Famed Northwest architect Fred Bassetti, whose architectural style played a massive hand in shaping the Western Washington University campus throughout the 1960s, has passed away. He was 96.

Bassetti was architect for a number of buildings on campus, including the Viking Union in 1959. In a 2003 interview with Steve Inge and Tamara Belts for the Western Libraries, Bassetti called the VU remodel his first major project.

"Of course it was a great opportunity for me; it was probably my first building of any consequence," Bassetti said.

In addition to the Viking Union, Bassetti also was architect for:

  • Carver Gym (1959) - as part of the Bassetti & Morse firm
  • The Associated Students Bookstore (1960) - Bassetti & Morse
  • Fraser Hall (1962) - Bassetti & Morse
  • Humanities Building (1962) - Bassetti & Morse
  • Ridgeway Residential Housing complex - Bassetti & Morse
  • Weight Training Building (1962) - Bassetti & Morse
  • Ridgeway Commons (1962) - as Fred Bassetti & Co.
  • Wilson Library southern façade (1972) - Fred Bassetti & Co.

As part of the 1972 Wilson Library project, Bassetti created the "Alphabeta Cube" sculpture now located at Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies.

"In the early days of commissions on campus -- Western's own art allowance from a capitol project before the state percent for law -- architects selected the artist for their building," said Sarah Clark-Langager, director of the Western Gallery on campus, via email. "Bassetti created his own  'Alphabeta Cube' for the art project of the newly renovated Wilson Library."

Bassetti's work on the Ridgeway residential complex won a national award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1966, according to the book "Perspectives on Excellence" by Lynne Masland and Linda Smeins. In that book, Masland and Smeins wrote that the Ridgeway design design "recapitulates an Italian hillside village theme."

That Italian village presence is reflected elsewhere on campus in places heavily influenced by Bassetti, Mansland and Smeins wrote, such as in Red Square and on Vendor's Row, the covered walkway area "reminiscent of a small Italian village marketplace where local craftspeople could sell their products."

Rick Benner, Western's current campus architect, said Bassetti's vision was a departure from university trends in the 1960s.

"When many campuses were heading towards an international modern style of architecture, that at times felt out of place, Fred was able to capture the uniqueness of the Western experience and express it in his architecture throughout campus, from the Viking Union to Wilson Library to the Ridgeway residence halls," Benner wrote via email.

In addition to his extensive work at Western, Bassetti also designed buildings at the University of Washington, Washington State University and Central Washington University (though he did say, in the 2003 Oral History Project interview, that Western was his favorite of them all). 

Bassetti also was the architect for a number of buildings throughout the Pacific Northwest, especially in Seattle. Credited to Bassetti are the Henry M. Jackson Federal Building, the Seattle Aquarium and the Seattle Municipal Tower, among many others. He also designed the American Embassy and Consulate in Lisbon, Portugal, and some schools in Samoa.

Bassetti was born in 1917 to immigrants who met in Seattle; his father was from Italy and his mother from Norway. He was shipped off to his father's hometown of Turin in 1932 for a year of education abroad. Upon returning to Seattle, he finished his schooling at Garfield High School and went on to the University of Washington for his bachelor's degree.

He finished up at UW in 1942, just after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and then worked for the U.S. government designing housing for workers who were building ships and airplanes for the war effort.

After World War II, he returned to school, this time at Harvard. After graduation, he worked for the architectural firm NBBJ in Seattle while competing in small architectural competitions on the side (he was often so tired from the extra competition work that he'd fall asleep at his desk, he told Belts and Inge during the 2003 interview).

After winning a Seattle Times-sponsored contest to design a small house in 1946, Bassetti partnered with his friend John N. Morse, who had an office across the street. Together, Bassetti and Morse worked on a number of projects in the Pacific Northwest, including at WWU.

Fred Bassetti, second from the right, stands onstage at a dedication ceremony for Carver Gymnasium in 1961. Photo courtesy of Special Collections / WWU
Fred Bassetti, second from right, takes part in a 1972 dedication ceremony for the Wilson Hall addition. Photo courtesy of Special Collections / WWU
Fred Bassetti, 2003. Photo courtesy of Special Collections / WWU
The Viking Union was designed by Fred Bassetti. In a 2003 interview, he called it his first significant project. File photo by Matthew Anderson / WWU
The Humanities Building at WWU, built in 1962, was designed by Fred Bassetti. File photo by Matthew Anderson / WWU
The Ridgeway residential complex was designed by Fred Bassetti. File photo by Matthew Anderson / WWU
Carver Gymnasium, built in 1959, was desinged by Fred Bassetti. File photo by Matthew Anderson / WWU