My visit to Smith Tower inspired me to check if Columbia Center has an observation deck. It does! So today I took advantage of a cloud-free lunch break and went to check it out. The view was spectacular! At 1049 feet, the Columbia Center tower is nearly twice as tall as the Space Needle and the admission is considerably less. For $9 (general admission) I was able to visit the 73rd floor of the building.
The view was spectacular! I could see from the Cascades in the east to the Olympics in the west, with a view across Lake Washington to Bellevue and across the sound to Blake Island. I was able to see the full extent of the port (it’s huge!), and the tangle of highway where I90 meets I5. The day was clear enough that Mount Rainier was visible. I really got a sense for the shape of the land. From that height, the highway cuts a stark line between the industrial part of the city and the greener suburbs. The one disappointment was that the deck does not offer a complete 360 degree panorama, but a representative at the front desk told me there is a plan to remodel the deck soon to include the full floor.
Actually, there was one other disappointment. The tower itself is nowhere near as beautiful as Smith Tower. It is pretty much completely devoid of decoration. The Columbia Center’s observation deck is bland in comparison to Smith Tower’s ornate Chinese Room. It looks like any other office building; plain beige walls, generic office furniture, and nothing but drop ceiling overhead. Unlike the intricate brass elevator facades in Smith Tower the elevators in Columbia Center are strictly functional with no room for ornamentation or whimsy. I was thankful, however, that Columbia Center’s elevators were completely enclosed. At Smith Tower I could see the floors flying by as passed them. That would probably have been quite unsettling in Columbia Center where the elevator travels 40 floors in less than a minute!
The one nod to art that I saw on my visit was a hanging sculpture which looked out of place and unappreciated in its location under the stairs. Columbia Center, whose nicknames include “Darth Tower,” is the embodiment of the faceless corporate cliché. From a distance it is certainly impressive; all shiny and black and enormous. However, there is no reward for looking closer. There are no floral motifs hiding in the molding, no geometric designs engraved in the doorknobs, no latticework in the ventilation grates. Columbia Center is meant to tower above the skyline (which it does), but it isn’t meant to be scrutinized.