Corporate Modern / Slick Skin

(1960 - 1990)

As curtain wall technology of the 1950s continued to evolve towards smaller and smaller window framing, it approached the idea of a seamless exterior membrane for buildings. Called Corporate Modern and/or Slick Skin, the style has its roots in the work of such forward thinking architects like Mies van der Rohe, who in 1922 envisioned an all glass skyscraper which incorporated curved walls and reflective glass surfaces. However it took another fifty years for building technology to fully develop to allow for the execution of such ideas. Needed were stronger glass panels, thinner window gaskets, and various new means of assembly which included small clips and glass structural fins.

Character-defining features of the building include tinted and/or mirrored glass which was introduced in the1950s and 1960s respectively. This cladding often gives the building a slippery or wet look. The delineation of individual floors is typically unnoticeable except at night when the interior lights are turned on. Early examples of the style tend to be rectangular in form, while later buildings utilize smooth rounded elements where a surface of glass and/or metal can flow around corners and over rooftops. Often, the overall look of the building is of a freestanding sculpture which revolves around the idea of effortless mechanical control inside the building. The exterior membrane typically drops all the way to the ground, however examples can be found with articulated entries and first floor levels.

The style’s popularity peaked in the 1990s, when it was commonly used for corporate offices and high-rise structures. Smaller mid-rise examples can be found, as well as the one and two-story examples. Here in the Pacific Northwest, most Slick Skin buildings are located in larger, more urban communities.

Pacific Northwest Bell Building, Tacoma (1976) <br>Photo courtesy of DAHP.
Building, Spokane Valley (c.1980) <br>Photo courtesy of DAHP.
Building, Vancouver (c.1985) <br>Photo courtesy of DAHP.
Metropolitan Park Buildings, Seattle (1988) <br>Photo courtesy of DAHP.
Building, Seattle (c.1975) <br>Photo courtesy of DAHP.
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Pacific Northwest Bell Building, Tacoma (1976)
Photo courtesy of DAHP.