Kenneth W. Brooks

Born in Cedarvale, Kansas, in 1917, Ken Brooks grew up in a family whose Protestant values emphasized hard work, perseverance, and public service. In 1941 he graduated in Architectural Engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (later he became a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects); he would soon use this degree to serve his country in time of war. Between 1941 and 1943 he served with the U.S. Engineers in the Caribbean, and from 1944 and 1946 with the U.S. Marine Corps as a night fighter director and construction officer. Brooks was first exposed to architectural practice in New York, at the Office of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. In 1948 he spent seven months traveling in Europe on a Plym Fellowship, most of which was spent in Sweden working under the tutelage of Sven Markelius, a Swedish city planner and architect who was instrumental in reshaping Stockholm in the immediate post-World War II period.

After visiting an uncle in Seattle, Brooks arrived in Spokane, Washington, in 1948. Keen to make Spokane his future hometown, he took an immediate and lifelong interest in its urban prospects and problems (and would not relinquish this preoccupation until his death in 1996). Throughout this period he was a tireless public advocate of architecture and urban design as an essential means to improve the quality of life in Spokane. Brooks' civic voluntarism was also evident in the lectures and visual presentations he made before different audiences in that city. While most of his ideas remained invisible, his immersion in urban themes ultimately found expression in "Expo 1974." This project resulted in Spokane River being cleaned and in the amelioration of pockets of urban blight in the downtown area; perhaps more importantly, in "Expo 1974" Brooks articulated a vision of Spokane that forever changed its image and its possibilities.

Views from the exhibit

A cover for a brochure on a traffic study for Washington State University. Lloyd L. Carlson, art director of the Spokane advertising firm of Divine, Miller, Carlson & Donaldson, who has been handling the firm's graphics for many years, says he tries "to make each piece right for the project."

Sketchbooks & Inventions

Brooks did not see himself as a specialist; instead, he considered himself primarily as a generalist with humanitarian concerns whose worldview embraced a variety of perspectives. His goal was to formulate human solutions to human problems. In these notes we see him consider traffic congestion and the environment, for example, with a view to integrating these two urban features in a way that would improve the quality of life for the citizens who live in a given environment. Throughout his life he kept sketchbook diaries. He used these to sort out many of his ideas and preoccupations, all with a view to ameliorating some problem in the public sphere. In this selection of sketches we are invited to view Brooks' mind in operation, to see the manner in which he formulated matters of particular concern to him.

Washington Water Power Headquarters. Spokane, Washington

In 1956, Brooks was approached by Washington Water Power to design their headquarters. Due to the enormity of the commission, Brooks asked Bruce Walker to join with him in the design effort. The project is noteworthy for the way that indoor and outdoor spaces are intermingled to give the campus a sense of compositional balance and social community. Also important is the manner in which water is integrated into the landscape, and ultimately siphoned to cool and heat the interior environment.

 

Environmental Study of Coulee Dam

Commissioned by the Bureau of Land Reclamation in 1966, Brooks led a generalist team of architects, cultural critics, and engineers (among others) to evaluate the environmental and cultural impact of Coulee Dam on its immediate vicinity. Careful analysis of the Dam's role in transforming both the natural setting and regional culture led to a proposal in which engineering and environmental concerns were synthesized into a symbolic whole designed to maintain the integrity of the local ecosystem. Brooks was intent on giving the public access to the core of the Dam's structure, thereby exposing and demystifying its technology and inner workings.

 

Intermountain Gas Company, Boise, Idaho

Brooks' success on Washington Water Power project led, in 1965, to a similar commission for the Intermountain Gas Company. In this design he employs a minimalist expressive configuration¾ in effect a "modernist classicism"¾ to create the campus-style arrangement of buildings in a corporate setting. Noteworthy is the manner in which conical-shaped brick turbine room becomes the ambient focal point of the campus: its placement inside a shallow moat promotes a kind of cool silence and quiet elegance throughout the environment.

Spokane: A Place in the Sun

Beginning in 1959, Brooks put together a series of graphically accessible boards titled "Spokane: A Place in the Sun". In these displays Brooks proposed an array of themes and solutions that embodied his broad vision of urban renewal for Spokane, Washington. He also used this project to make civic architecture and urban principles more prominent to the public for whom they were intended.

Highways and Cities

The Highway Act of 1957 initiated one of the largest construction projects in the history of the United States. Highways were to criss-cross the country and unite major cities in a whole transportation network. This project mainly resulted from military necessities, and exhibited very little concern for its impact on urban settings. In Spokane, where the urban fabric was (and remains) fragile, a major highway project of this magnitude could very easily obliterate the scale and historical texture of the city. Brooks was so concerned about this that he proposed convening a national committee of engineers, architects, and politicians (among others) to address and resolve some of the problems that might result from the development of the interstate highway system. At one point he envisioned a formal civic and political coalition to advise a central body of experts about ways to mitigate this problem.

In the above sketch, as well as in the renderings on the opposite wall, we see Brooks employing his imagination and his commitment to progressive political approaches to articulate and negotiate these matters.

Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth W. Brooks' residence. Spokane, Washington

Designed around a courtyard, the house combines Miesian themes openness (glass facades) and flowing spaces with a Wrightian attention to material joinery and detail. Interior design structures exhibit a pleasing combination of functionality with a smooth integration of surfaces. The house won an American Institute of Architects' Award of Merit in 1959.