Kirk was very much a builder’s architect, designing buildings with their construction in mind. He adapted to his work Mies van der Rohe’s joins, which indirectly deliver the stresses of beam and support. Grant Hildebrand and T. William Booth, in A Thriving Modernism, praised Kirk for his “delicate wooden modernism" and his “remarkably slender” wooden structural members.
Kirk used the Pacific Northwest’s natural resources in an almost decorative manner. His exteriors are often long expanses of wall with traditional Pacific Northwest building methods – shiplap, clapboard, and cedar shingle – whose surface interest he further exploited with a crisp, clean look. He chose the simple rectilinear geometry of Modernism for its low cost and worked it as elegantly as possible. This relationship of Modernist geometric form and the texture of the natural material is one of his trademarks.
Kirk was critical of the International Style and its known problems in heating and cooling. He emphasized awareness of the environment and the relationship to outdoor spaces, landscaping, and site. His experimentation with low-cost and low-impact housing resulted in new roofing methods, requiring no interior load-bearing walls or perimeter foundation. To maximize light in Seattle's temperate climate, he expanded windows from floor to ceiling.
Kirk was a modernist who honored the human response in his architecture. He admired Scandinavian and Japanese design. In the Scandinavian, he saw the warmth and humanity of buildings. In Japanese buildings, he admired screening, modular systems, large simple windows and doors, and the integration of inside and outside living spaces. In his own words, he characterized his particular style as "sculptural, muscular, and flamboyant."
Other early Kirk buildings include the Blakeley Clinic and Group Health Cooperative Clinic at Northgate. Later buildings include many on the University of Washington campus, such as the Faculty Center and Meany Hall. (For a gorgeous photograph of Meany Hall, click here at Otto Greule Photography.) He designed the French Administration Building at Washington State University, the familiar Intiman Playhouse, and the Seattle Library Branch in Magnolia.
Other churches designed by Kirk are the Japanese Presbyterian Church and the Church of the Brethren. (Church of the Brethren interior.) Kirk won a national American Institute of Architects' Merit Award for his design of the Japanese Presbyterian Church in 1965. The UUC interior and the interior of the Japanese Presbyterian Church share many similarities.
Eventually, Kirk also shared a personal affiliation with the church through marriage. Walter and Helen Richardson, members of Seattle's First Unitarian Church, served as soloist and organist for UUC. Their daughter, Helen, was born during that time and received a silver baby spoon as a gift from the congregation. Many years later, she married Paul Hayden Kirk. He was a friend of UUC, his memorial was held at the church when he died in 1995.
Image from University of Washington, Special Collections, ARC0764.