Posts tagged with "Seattle":

Placeholder Alt Text

Seattle’s Key Arena granted landmark status

The Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board has granted landmark status for the city’s iconic Key Arena, a move that will help guide recently-proposed renovations for the 55-year-old structure. Earlier this year, Los Angeles–based developers Oak View Group unveiled a speculative bid to renovate and update the aging structure in an attempt to lure professional basketball and hockey teams to the Emerald City. The $564 million scheme was selected by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray in lieu of a competing bid from AEG and Hudson Pacific Properties, partially because Oak View’s proposal sought to keep intact more of the structure’s historic, character-defining features, like its hyperbolic paraboloid roof. The recent landmark designation is expected to aid in this endeavor by creating a predictable and orderly scope for the renovations to proceed. Potentially, the landmark status could also allow the development to benefit from historic tax credits. The structure, according to Arena Digest, was recognized by the preservation board for meeting all six thresholds for historic designation, with the building’s roof, exterior walls, and structural trusses receiving official status. Key Arena was designed by architect Paul A. Thiry in 1962 as the Washington State Pavilion for the Century 21 Exposition. The structure became a sports arena in the years after the exposition and played home to the Seattle Supersonics professional basketball team from 1967 until 2008 when the team decamped for Oklahoma City. The structure received extensive renovations in 1995 that partially impacted the now-historic roof structure. It is unclear how or if the new renovation scheme will seek to repair these changes.
Placeholder Alt Text

Booming Seattle dominates nationwide crane count

The latest “crane index” report from construction industry tracking firm Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB) reveals the ongoing construction boom across the American West, as the region's major cities see broad increases in the number of cranes on the ground. RLB’s biannual skyline count has tallied nearly 400 fixed cranes in operation across the U.S. and the Canadian cities of Toronto and Calgary. Toronto topped out the list, overall, with 72 cranes in operation. Seattle fell one spot to second overall, with Los Angeles, and Denver, Colorado—tallying 58, 36, and 35 cranes, respectively— rounding out the top three American cities on the list. Chicago; Portland, Oregon; Calgary; and San Francisco follow closely behind with the list with 34, 32, 29, and 22 cranes each. Seattle’s count has held steady from the last report in October 2016, when the city first captured top ranking. The cities of Calgary, Denver, Los Angeles, and Portland, according to the report, saw increases while crane counts over the period since, with counts for Boston, New York, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Toronto remaining the same. In Seattle, the city’s emerging Denny Triangle neighborhood and regional growth associated with recent upzoning measures aimed at alleviating the regional housing crisis there helped to keep the city’s crane count high. Wolfstreet recently reported that an estimated 67,507 apartment units are in various stages of development in the city. In Los Angeles, meanwhile, a city-led push to add 8,000 hotel rooms to areas surrounding the Los Angeles Convention Center is responsible for many of the gains there, as several projects like the Gensler-designed Metropolis, Fig + Pico, and 1020 Figueroa developments climb out of the ground. High rise developments going up in surrounding downtown areas, as well as the ongoing construction of the new Los Angeles Rams National Football League team stadium by HKS Architects, account for some of the other gains. Overall, the RLB report cites strong growth in residential construction as an overall driver for the general increase in cranes across the region. RLB’s next report is due January 2018.
Placeholder Alt Text

LMN Architects unveil new renderings for Seattle Aquarium expansion

Seattle-based LMN Architects has released new renderings depicting the firm’s planned 50,000-square-foot addition to the Seattle Aquarium complex. LMN’s $100 million design focuses on adding a new wing adjacent to the existing aquarium to boost capacity at the 40-year-old institution, which has been operating near capacity in recent years. The so-called Ocean Pavilion will house new exhibits focused on tropical and reef ecosystems and will include a 350,000-gallon warm-water tank that can house larger aquatic specimens such as sharks. The shark tank will come outfitted with several viewing platforms and will be located within a larger, flexible gathering space that can hold up to 200 people in a variety of configurations. The new addition will also include smaller “jewel” tanks that will highlight rare species with the help of new interpretive technologies. This space will also include smaller, more intimate gathering spots for “hands-on educational activities and interpretation,” according to a statement from the architects. In the statement, Bob Davidson, CEO of the Seattle Aquarium said, "LMN Architects brings a rich history and commitment to community-focused civic projects, combined with a strong design approach that connects public-focused building programs with the crafting of urban space and experience.” Mark Reddington, partner at LMN Architects, said, "The Seattle Aquarium is a leader in education and advocacy for the health of the world's oceans. For the City of Seattle, this project will create a prominent civic presence for the Aquarium and form the primary public connection between the new waterfront promenade to Pike Place Market." The proposed addition comes as work on the Seattle waterfront redevelopment plan by James Corner Field Operations (JCFO) progresses toward construction. JCFO’s plan would bring a network of pedestrian trails, streets improvements, and plaza spaces to an area currently occupied by the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a section of Interstate-5 that is in the process of being buried below the proposed improvements. Once the new tunnel is completed, the expanded aquarium complex will sit at the end of a generous pedestrian plaza and will have direct access to the improved waterfront areas and the newly reconnected downtown. The aquarium expansion is due to finish construction in 2023.
Placeholder Alt Text

Lawrence Halprin’s Freeway Park in Seattle to undergo wayfinding-focused renovation

Seattle's Freeway Park, a pioneering work of modernist landscape architecture by Lawrence Halprin and Angela Danadjieva that is widely recognized as the world’s first freeway cap park, is preparing to undergo a series of wayfinding-oriented renovations over coming months. The renovations are being undertaken by the Freeway Park Association (FPA)—a nonprofit organization created in 1993 “in response to the community’s demand for greater public safety in their aging neighborhood park.” The FPA recently completed a RFP for the project and hired Seattle-based landscape architects SiteWorkshop to perform the improvements and proposed alterations to the iconic Brutalist park. The 5.2-acre park opened on July 4, 1976, spanning over a depressed stretch of Interstate-5 in downtown Seattle. The park was expanded over the years, including the construction of a major addition in the 1980s and implementation of a tree canopy minimization plan in 2005; the original designers remained involved variously throughout these changes. When originally built, Danadjieva’s and Halprin’s designs symbolized the city’s effort to weave highway-adjacent areas back together following the route’s destructive beginnings. As a result, the park is organized as a web of stepped and zig-zagging walkways and terraces that surround a central walking path directly above the depressed highway. These walkways link the central path to formal park entrances, lawns, and plazas that are scattered on surrounding blocks and footholds. These areas are individually programmed to provide various types of leisure spaces. Architecturally-speaking, the park’s hardscapes are of their time and follow a Brutalist material palette. Throughout, the park features board-formed concrete surfaces—Halprin envisioned the park as a type of “freeway vernacular” that was inspired by and built from freeway-associated forms and materials—that become the retaining walls, planters, and knee walls that give the park its stark character. These terraces and planters are filled with broadleaf trees and shrubbery in mounds that rise and fall according to the surrounding natural and human-made geographies.
The park is also well-known for a magnificent cascading raw concrete fountain that originally emptied into a deep pool that park-goers used as a swimming hole. The fountain’s steep and angular surfaces are based on the abstracted geologic forms of western mountain ranges and the fountain bears much resemblance to the Ira Keller Fountain designed by Halprin and Danadjieva in Portland, Oregon.   At the time of design and construction of Freeway Park, Danadjieva was a project manager at Halprin’s office; the scheme was carried out by the firm with assistance from Peterson Landscape Architects. One big issue with the contemporary park is a byproduct of its “freeway vernacular” aesthetic and site arrangement: many of the park’s formal entrances are located behind blind corners, at the feet of steep staircases, and without direct sightlines through the park’s interior spaces. Further, Halprin pursued a landscape-based narrative strategy for arranging the park’s interior rooms that has resulted in closed-off spaces, as well as picturesque arrangements. These former qualities are seen by FPA and some in the community as opportunities for crime. As a response, the design team has been tasked with not only increasing wayfinding strategies within the park to highlight paths but also with transforming each of the park’s 12 main entrances into urban beacons that use signage, pavement graphics, and other placemaking approaches. There are concerns regarding how far some of these changes might go and which aspects of the park are changeable, given its importance as a work of landscape architecture. At 41 years old, Freeway Park is too young to meet the 50-year age eligibility requirement for the National Register of Historic Places, though it does meet the City of Seattle’s age requirement for historic status. One note—Although Freeway Park is less than 50 years old, it might be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places due to individual and exceptional merit. Pershing Park in Washington, DC by M. Paul Friedberg is such an example. The park is described as “one of the most compelling treatises on post-war landscape architecture” by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), an organization that raises awareness about historic landscapes around the United States. Charles Birnbaum, founder of TCLF, said the potential changes should bear in mind that Freeway Park is "not just as a National Register of Historic Places candidate but also a potential National Historic Landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site." Halprin, always looking forward, was reportedly “enthusiastic and supportive” of upgrades performed to the park’s tree canopy in 2005, according to the Daily Journal of Commerce. Perhaps, the designers will take a page from Halprin himself and embrace some of the park’s rougher qualities, following a line from the designer’s 1966 book, Freeways, where he writes, "The trick is to perceive the old freeway as a part of the cityscape and tame it, rather than complain about it." For now, FPA is engaging in community outreach to ascertain which aspects of the park nearby residents want to see amplified and upgraded. The organizers held a public meeting last week, with more scheduled throughout the summer. For more information, see the FPA website.   This post has been edited with updated information.
Placeholder Alt Text

A smartphone-controlled responsive shading system prototype

facadeplus_logo1
Brought to you with support from
Sean McKeever, a senior associate at NBBJ, works between architecture and energy modeling in the firm’s corporate and digital practice studios. "One of the things I appreciate the most about architecture is not its static state. I love to see a building that is clearly 'living' with its occupants. There's beauty in letting users have a certain amount of control over the building." In response to a growing desire for clients to produce more user control over their workplace, McKeever and his colleagues have released multiple apps for smartphones and a prototype for a smartphone-controlled facade-shading device.
  • Facade Manufacturer tbd, Prototyping Phase
  • Architects NBBJ
  • Facade Installer tbd, Prototyping Phase
  • Facade Consultants NBBJ Digital Practice group (concept development)
  • Location Seattle, WA
  • Date of Completion 2016-ongoing
  • System unitized curtain wall with integrated LED
  • Products pyranometer sensors; Goldilocks app (by NBBJ)
The prototype, called Sunbreak, is a responsive system of louvers that raise and lower dependent upon solar radiation, temperature, and user override variables. The project has its roots in the Seattle office, which is one of the first buildings in the country to integrate automated exterior blinds that raise and lower with pre-programmed sun paths throughout the day. Although these sunshades have been a popular feature from the start, they block employees’ views when deployed, inspiring the firm to improve them. McKeever attributes this to a lack of user control and the fact that the blinds operate without regard to radiation data. Sunbreak runs off of pyranometers—sensors measuring solar radiation and infrared light. When shading is not needed, the panelized system folds up to, in McKeever’s words, “hide from view,” while performing as a light shelf to direct daylight further into the building. The modular shades feature narrow slats that operate along vertically oriented tracks. As the system contracts, individual panels fan out to form curvilinear shapes, which NBBJ’s team has fine-tuned to produce optimum shading responses throughout the diurnal cycle. The project is panelized so that individual units can be controlled by a smartphone app, allowing authorized users to operate the shades in real time. Since Sunbreak was developed, user-control and responsiveness to sensored data has extended beyond the facade to the interior workplace. "The user-driven ultra-controllable workplace is the desirable workplace of the future and present.” In response, NBBJ’s Digital Practice group has developed an app called Goldilocks that utilizes real-time data to track acoustics, temperature, daylighting, and activity within open office environments, giving employees the option to find an ideal working environment for their current tasks. McKeever believes facade projects are more challenging to implement for the industry due to their complexity: "I think dynamic facades are still in a ‘prototyping’ phase for much of the industry. To deliver a project of this ambition at full-scale you need collaborative partnerships among teams of specialists and capital investment… I'm excited where the industry is going, but it feels like we can't get there fast enough!"
Placeholder Alt Text

New renderings released for Olson Kundig’s tactful Seattle Space Needle upgrades

Seattle-based Olson Kundig has released new renderings of the firm’s proposed renovations for Seattle’s Space Needle, the most extensive upgrades undertaken in the structure’s 55-year history. If the renovations shoot for anything, it’s more glass and bigger views—the firm’s designs aim to strip away some the aging barriers and partitions along the needle’s Tophouse observation platform, replacing old metal panels with floor-to-ceiling tempered glass. Steel metal panel partitions containing handrails along the exterior observation platform are being radically reconfigured as new structural glass barriers containing integrated glass benches that will allow for the “perfect spine-tingling Seattle selfie,” according to a project website. The existing wire metal “caging” structures that prevent people from jumping off the Space Needle will also be removed and replaced with structural glass partitions that will provide unobstructed views of the city’s growing skyline. Along the interior of the Tophouse, an existing, rotating restaurant will be refurbished and its interior finishes pared down. New York-based Tihany Design will provide interior design services for the restaurant portion of the renovation; the renderings featured here do not yet reflect those designs. The new renderings do, however, showcase all-white interiors with many of the existing partitions removed entirely. A new spiral staircase made out of wood, steel, and glass will be inserted into the Tophouse; this will allow visitors to climb between its multiple floors. Down below? A glass-floored oculus will showcase the Space Needle’s structure, the workings of the elevator systems, and the city below. A new Americans with Disabilities Act–compliant lift will also be added to the structure. The first phase of the $100-million project will begin in September 2017, with the work due to be completed in June 2018. For more information, see the project website
Placeholder Alt Text

A whole new breed of architecture can help fight drug addiction and save thousands of lives every year

On January 13, 2016, police found the body of a 31-year-old man, who had been dead for “at least” 12 hours, in a car parked on Pike Street in Capitol Hill, Seattle. He had died from a drug overdose in the shadows, which is common, as drug users often are too ashamed to seek help or use in the open. In the United States, 52,404 people died from overdoses in 2015.

In the eyes of some, this man’s death would have been preventable if he had attended a harm reduction facility—a new typology emerging in the developed world. Just over 100 miles away from Seattle, in Vancouver, one such facility oversees at least one overdose incident every day, on average. In its 14 years of operation so far, the facility has seen more than 5,000 overdoses, yet no one has died there.

The facility, called InSite, is a public place where drug users can go to consume their own substances in a safe, secure, and welcoming environment in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. For 13 years, the self-described “supervised injection facility” was the only one of its kind operating legally in North America. As of this May, three more facilities—all in Montreal—received approval and two are scheduled to open later this year.

There are now more than 100 legally operating supervised injection facilities across the world, the majority of which can be found in Continental Europe. The first opened in Bern, Switzerland, in 1986, and many European cities have slowly been adopting similar schemes.

None currently exist in the United States, but several models operating abroad and one prototype stateside might offer clues about how to make these places palatable for a U.S. political environment that is more centered around fighting a war on drug “crime” than on treating addiction as a public health issue.

Inside InSite

Canadian architect Sean McEwen designed InSite in 2002. With high ceilings, dark walls, and no Plexiglas inside to separate staff from visitors, the space eschews the notions of traditional medical institutions. Russell Maynard, who has been working at InSite for eight years, said that, “from a design perspective, it’s all about controlling the flow; that is more important than security.”

Three-phase-oriented circulation is a constant throughout almost all official drug-consumption spaces and can be summarized as: pre-consumption, consumption, and post-consumption.

Upon entering InSite, visitors are greeted by a receptionist. After providing a name (which can be fake), they are asked if they want to inject or detox and then are placed on a waiting list. The wait time is approximately seven minutes. According to Marilou Gagnon, a nurse at InSite and an associate professor at the School of Nursing, University of Ottawa, this is the period when InSite sees some visitors leave to shoot up outside, in a nearby alleyway, often using puddles to clean their needles.

“Needing to get a hit is like having chopped your finger off—you’re not going to want to wait very long or travel very far to fix it,” Gagnon said. Vancouver is a city of alleyways, and drug users favor them because they are discreet and easy to find. As Gagnon explained, however, this is problematic for two main reasons: Shooting up in an alleyway is unhygienic, and if you overdose, it’s not a great idea to be hidden.

Designing for anonymity and privacy, unfortunately, is paradoxical to health and well-being in the context of addiction. There is no hiding at InSite, but this is a good thing. Within the injection room, there are 13 booths, which line the interior perimeter, allowing nurses a clear line of sight into each.

These booths, each with their own lights, are mirrored to provide nurses and users with better visibility; this is particularly important for users, to help them avoid being surprised by approaching staff and when injecting into their necks. (Staff are not allowed to actually inject for users but can provide advice, prepare drugs, and clean needles, among other things.) Additionally, female users, who on average constitute a quarter of the visitors, often use the mirrors to do their makeup.

As the designer, McEwen also specified comfortable and easily cleanable chairs. “This may be the best seat users sit in all week,” he said. After injecting, users exit to a “chill-out” room, where they can speak to peers (usually former users), counselors, and nurses and find out about detox programs. Maynard stressed that visitors only enroll in such programs of their own accord.

Easing the Stigma

Politically, injection facilities are toxic. InSite went through a court case when the federal government attempted (unsuccessfully) to shut it down. “A common misconception is that people are shit-faced here; that’s not the case,” explained Maynard, speaking of InSite. “There are consumption sites everywhere for alcohol—they’re called bars. When you go into a bar, not everyone is off-their-face drunk, and that’s the case here.”

To avoid public conflict, almost all facilities have anonymous facades, with little or no signage. At InSite, zoning requirements for storefront retail meant the facility had to pretend to be a coffee shop to get development approval. More recently as a trial, the Canadian government funded the Narcomane Research and Help Center in Montreal, which provided heroin to registered users—a first for North American facilities. It was shrouded in secrecy at the time, and is now closed. “Not even the neighbors knew about it,” said its architect, Ron Rayside.

Margot Young, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, is interested in this aspect of the typology. She argues that the sight of InSite fuels the “larger political goal of putting injection drug addicts ‘in the sight’ of policy makers and governments.”

The sight of InSite, though, is in need of work. According to Maynard, the facility is operating at above full capacity, sometimes seeing more than 1,300 visitors a day; Hannah Leyland, a Master’s student covering InSite in her thesis, described it as looking “low budget,” noting chipped paint. InSite has annual operating costs of $2.15 million. A 2010 study into its financial wellbeing touched upon how the facility’s hygienic provisions prevent HIV infections. The study concluded that if InSite were closed, HIV infections would increase by 46 percent, costing Canadian taxpayers $12.9 million (CDN$17.6 million).

Ad hoc America

In the U.S., however, a cheaper solution is more politically viable. Dr. Gregory Scott, a visual sociologist, who has 17 years of experience in the field of drug-use harm reduction, is pursuing this route. He is traveling the U.S. with SAFE SHAPE, a “pop-up public health exhibit” that acts as a mock safe-injection site.

Scott designed SAFE SHAPE with architect Andrew Santa Lucia, of Portland, Oregon–based firm Office Andorus. The ten-square-foot pavilion uses two-inch-thick aluminum tubes to compose a white frame over which a bright-white, translucent spandex shell is stretched. It weighs less than 100 pounds and can be broken down and packaged into four ski bags and two storage tubs, allowing it to be easily transportable by plane.

“For me, design and aesthetics become heavily politicized in terms of the stigma associated with drug addicts,” said Scott. He wanted something that didn’t leap out at people as a place for users, instead adopting a “high-design” look that, semiotically, didn’t reference preconceived ideas surrounding drug addiction.

“Using a taut skin, we were able to produce a bright image that stands out in almost any landscape and becomes an icon,” explained Santa Lucia.

So far, only one SAFE SHAPE has been built. Scott erected the pavilion in Chicago as an actual consumption facility for both injectable and smokable (usually crack cocaine) drugs, albeit temporarily and illegally. Despite its small size, SAFE SHAPE is able to cater to two injectors or three smoking users at a time. The latter is a rarity for the harm reduction typology, due to issues of ventilation. SAFE SHAPE’s varied-height apertures, however, allow for such use.

Additionally, its size may be an advantage in terms of providing a safe place for drug consumption that can cater to drug users quickly and efficiently, but one thing SAFE SHAPE doesn’t provide is permanence. Many visitors to drug-consumption spaces do not have registered addresses, and time spent in such facilities can provide private moments to feel at ease and escape street life.

Scandinavian Sample

Another site that caters to smoking users is H17, in Copenhagen, Denmark. Occupying a former slaughterhouse in the gentrified, artsy district of Vesterbro, H17 cost $4.4 million and opened in August. It is more than 1,000 times larger than SAFE SHAPE and was designed by Copenhagen firm PLH Arkitekter. To Scott, “H17 is a fine example of bringing design and function together for the purpose of interrupting a criminalizing, moralizing discourse that really does harm people.”

PLH used a technique the firm calls “nudging” to encourage visitors on a linear path through the building and to separate pre- and post-consumers. “There are no 90-degree or smaller corners,” explained Lars Toksvig, a partner at PLH Arkitekter, which worked on H17. The facility’s entrance is open and employs a palette of cool “calming” colors.

The injection booths at H17 are wide and mirrored, and each has a hole on its stainless-steel desk that allows easy and safe disposal of used syringes, etc. A chill-out space is also provided, where inflatable furniture and warmer colors create a calm and less-clinical environment. “When we looked at precedents, we found many were insufficient in size,” said Toksvig. “When they get too small, users can become stressed inside and outside. It is important to cater to this.”

What is Next?

In Canada, some architecture firms are becoming more familiar with designing injection sites. Rayside said his Montreal practice, Rayside Labossière, has worked on five such facilities, most recently Spectre de Rue and CACTUS, both in Montreal and on course to open this year.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., in Seattle, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Mayor Ed Murray granted approval for two injection sites, officially known as “Community Health Engagement Locations.” The two facilities could be America’s first. Currently, officials are in the process of finding the right locations and working out funding.

However, according to Mark Townsend, former executive director of the PHS Community Services Society, NIMBYism can slow proceedings. “Ideally, you want these spaces established before there is an overdose epidemic,” he said.

In addition to saving lives, drug consumption facilities can serve as paradoxical stepping-stones toward detox. They bring the very real work of designing for harm reduction into the public eye, while also providing private, dignified spaces that benefit both users and nonusers. Though these facilities are sadly only born out of crises, the progress in their design represents a change in public and political attitudes, an area in which the U.S. still has a long way to go.

Placeholder Alt Text

Seattle to renovate iconic Key Arena speculatively to lure NHL, NBA teams

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has selected a proposal by Los Angeles–based Oak View Group to redevelop the city’s Key Area as part of a $564 million scheme aimed at remaking and updating the aging sports complex. The city is hoping to lure National Hockey League (NHL) and National Basketball Association (NBA) franchises to Seattle by transforming and expanding the existing arena. Key Arena was originally designed by architect Paul A. Thiry in 1962 as the Washington State Pavilion for the Century 21 Exposition, the same world’s fair event that saw the construction of the Seattle Space Needle and other notable structures across the city. The structure became a sports venue after the expo and hosted the Seattle Supersonics NBA team from 1967 until 2008, when the team left Seattle for Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Murray chose Oak View Group’s proposal against a competing bid from AEG and Hudson Pacific Properties. According to Murray, the Oak View Group proposal was better for the city due to its design and financial details, including plans to have the arena renovation be entirely privately financed. The competing bid, according to Murray, required extensive public bonds to pencil out and threatened the building’s architectural and historic integrity while simultaneously not going far enough in its overhaul. According to King 5 news, Mayor Murray said, “Oak View Group really is building an entire new arena under the current roof. It's not just a remodel, but a completely new arena.” Oak View Group’s proposal, on the other hand, would dig down 15-feet below the arena’s existing bottom in order to expand the facility to 660,000 square feet. The existing roof and other heroic structural elements on Key Arena will be left entirely intact under Oak View Group’s proposal—unlike the competing bid, which sought to pierce a portion of the roof with a new structure. The arena complex will be expanded underneath the roof to include new raked seating and will ultimately be able to accommodate concert, NHL, and NBA seating configurations. The public plaza areas surrounding the arena will also be renovated under the scheme. In a speech announcing his selection of Oak View Group’s bid, Murray said, "I chose this proposal because I believe it is a proposal that will bring the Sonics back to Seattle eventually, a track and NHL team, and give us the best entertainment that this world provides.” Following Murray’s decision, Oak View Group’s bid heads toward the Seattle City Council for consideration. It expected that once approved, construction on the arena would take three to four years to complete.
Placeholder Alt Text

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson’s SOMA Towers

facadeplus_logo1
Brought to you with support from
In a unique collaborative partnership with Bellevue, Washington-based Su Development—who participated as client, developer, and contractor—Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ) has completed its second and final phase of development for the SOMA Towers project in Seattle. The team’s shared interest in pairing high design with efficiencies in construction sequencing has resulted in a unique mixed-use development involving two residential towers, a multilayered podium of tiered public plazas, and below-grade parking.
  • Facade Manufacturer Su Development; Northglass Industrial (glazing)
  • Architects Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
  • Facade Installer 288 Soma LLC
  • Facade Consultants Morrison Hershfield (facade); KPFF + DCI (facade structure)
  • Location Bellevue, WA
  • Date of Completion Phase 1 (2014); Phase 2 (2017)
  • System Window Wall Modules
  • Products Slab Closure/Louver Extrusions: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (design); Su Development (procurement)
The facades of the towers are carefully composed of five-foot window wall modules that utilize a range of clear and frosted glazing. The outcome is a compositional strategy of varied mullion subdivision spacing within each stacked module, visually disrupting a repetitive modular system achieving what Robert Miller, principal at BCJ, called “a real trickery of the eye." The facade is shaped by post-tensioned concrete slab floor plates, whose curvature is a response to structural optimization of cantilevered distances. The architects worked with structural engineers and analysis software to evaluate stresses on the cantilevered slabs early in the design process. The project team would extend cantilever distances on under stressed areas of the slab and shorten distance or add back spans to areas of the slab that were over-stressed. This game of pushing and pulling yielded floor plates with a unique curvature optimized to a material and structural efficiency. Floor plates were further refined through repetition to allow formwork to be reused over many floor levels. Perimeter curvature was rationalized into a faceted geometry corresponding to the roughly five-foot-wide window wall units, which were designed to be installed from the interior side. This allowed for a safer and more cost-effective installation process. One of the challenges of the facade design was in the composition of the elevation, which sought a varied and dynamic grid at odds with the modularity of the construction assembly. The project was designed to prescriptive energy codes, which only allowed for a maximum open area of 40-percent at the time of Phase 1, and 30-percent by the time the second tower was under construction. In order to make the facade feel like it contained more glass, the architects created a matte black spandrel to simulate the aesthetic of glass. The change in energy code standards from Phase 1 and Phase 2 introduced another level of compositional rigor to the project, which sought aesthetic compatibility between the two towers. A horizontal wainscot band located 30-inches above the floor plate also helped to cut down op open glazing percentage. To avoid an unwanted horizontal aesthetic, the architects integrated full height spandrels to the window wall composition to break up the grid. The corners received full height glazing at a slightly wider width than the modular window wall units to accommodate tolerance in the floor slab perimeter geometry. One of the unique details of this project was Bohlin Cywinski Jackson’s treatment of the slab edge. The detailing of the slab edge is a custom extrusion - a channel assembly with an infill panel on the face that performs as a louver composed of 90-degree angles to appear visually crisp. This detail allows a consistent aesthetic that integrates otherwise random vent openings into the compositional logic of the facade. Kirk Hostetter, Senior Associate at BCJ said the detail "articulates the top and bottom of the slab edge, and introduces a crispness to the edge that you don't typically see." Elsewhere, at the main entrance to the podium, a 70-foot circulation “cone” and 80-foot-long suspended leaf-shaped canopy of glass, aluminum, and steel, were also designed with the same approach to construction efficiency. These custom entry components were fabricated and pre-assembled in Taiwan, then disassembled and shipped to the site where they were reassembled. On the unique design process that marries development, client, contractor, and architectural thinking from day one, Miller said "Our buildings conceptually are strong enough that they can take a looser approach to the details. If some details get modified along the way, we can usually work together to make something that works for John Su's business plan and our design ambitions." He concluded, "Su Development has a keen interest in design. The fact that they value design allows us to do our job well. Shared admiration for skill sets and willingness to collaborate is what made this project possible."
Placeholder Alt Text

In a Seattle neighborhood of traditional family homes, Heliotrope Architects create a modern abode using local materials

In a hip and funky part of Capitol Hill—Seattle’s answer to Brooklyn—sits one new home that is unlike the others. Amid the surrounding sea of bungalow and cottage-style homes is a new residence designed by Seattle and-Portland-based Heliotrope Architects. With its stained-cedar facade and abstract gable roof, it is contemporary yet quietly different, its boldness found in soft details, a monochromatic color palette, and honest materials.

An engineer and an artist—the former an online-retailer employee and the latter a graduate of Harvard’s Graduate School of Design—initially reached out to Heliotrope for the project. The couple had big plans to create a home on an empty mid-block lot (the former cottage-style home on the lot was razed) that could house a shared art studio space and feel airy, light, and cheerful.

The interiors take inspiration from white-walled contemporary art galleries, providing a neutral backdrop to a clean, clutter-free space filled with smart furnishings and Arne Jacobsen lighting fixtures. “The approach is not indulgent,” said Heliotrope co-founder and principal Mike Mora. “It’s relatively modest.”

White-painted sheetrock adds tranquility and calmness without feeling sterile. There are Northwestern myrtlewood floors in the peripheral spaces and wood-look tile and concrete flooring (with radiant heat) in the main living areas. The kitchen features custom cabinetry and walnut butcher-block counters, and the living room has custom bookshelves, all crafted by local builder Dovetail (known for building out local Seattle eateries like Joule and Mezcaleria Oaxaca). Ample glazing and skylights bring daylight inside, valuable in a region that can have nine months of cloud cover each year.

“It’s not just a two-story box,” said Mora, explaining why they focused on keeping the house low instead of maximizing the building envelope.

There is a thoughtful balance and unity between contemporary and warm, indoor and outdoor, public and private. As Mora explained, the design relies on a checkerboard layout—a careful juxtaposition between the interior and two ground-level gardens that help distribute natural light throughout the home (there’s also a rooftop garden as well). The master suite is split between two levels: The master bedroom is on the upper floor and looks over the double-height artist studio, while the master bath downstairs includes a custom Japanese soaking tub and cedar countertops. The guest suite lies underneath the gable roof, separated from the master suite.

In the end, Heliotrope was driven by its clients’ close connection to design. “Physical objects are important to them,” said Mora. In fact, the couple is so meticulously organized that the house required just five minutes of staging before the photographer came to shoot this feature.

Placeholder Alt Text

Seattle to up-zone Downtown and South Lake Union districts

The Seattle City Council voted this week to rezone the city's Downtown and South Lake Union neighborhoods. The proposed changes reflected the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) requirements of Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) plan that aims to increase overall housing production across the city, with a special focus on the development of affordable and rent-controlled units. The plan, as adopted, calls for the creation of up to 2,100 affordable units as a result of the Downtown and South Lake Union rezones. However, because MHA does not mandate developers build affordable units in the newly-rezoned neighborhoods, it is impossible to know if those affordable units will be located there or elsewhere in the city. The upzoning measures in these neighborhoods will allow proposed buildings, generally speaking, higher maximum heights and, for some areas, it will allow a greater floor-to-area (FAR) ratio as well. Downtown and South Lake Union make up the second set of Seattle neighborhoods to undergo upzoning as a part of the plan. The U-District surrounding the University of Washington campus was rezoned earlier this year. The plan is to increase zoning in over two dozen neighborhoods across the city over the next few years with the aim of ultimately adding an estimated 6,000 new affordable units, overall. Generally speaking, the plan mandates developers to either include a certain percentage of new units as affordable housing—two to five percent of the new dwelling units produced through the zoning changes in the Downtown and South Lake Union districts—or pay a certain price per square foot of new construction into a fund that will be used by the city to develop the units somewhere in the city. For the newly-rezoned districts, those fees average between $5.50 to $13 per square foot of new construction, considerably lower than the $5 to $32.75 per square foot to be mandated in other areas. The discrepancy, according to the Seattle Times, arose because of the mayor’s so-called “grand bargain,” that sought to wrest funds and affordable units from developers without depressing the overall production of market rate units. The new zoning measures are due to bring widespread urban change for the growing region, which like many other metro areas across the country, is suffering from staggering rent increases, housing shortfalls, and a shortage of high-density, pedestrian- and mass-transit-oriented neighborhoods.
Placeholder Alt Text

Seattle pursues new youth jail despite community opposition

Officials continue pushing for the construction of a controversial youth detention center in Seattle in the face of vocal community opposition. The new Children and Family Justice Center (CFJC)—approved in 2012 via voter referendum—in Seattle’s Central District would be a 137,000-square-foot family courthouse with ten courtrooms; a 92,000-square foot Juvenile Detention center with 112 detention beds; a 10,200-square foot “Youth Program Space” meant for non-detention youth programming; a 360-stall, partially-submerged parking structure; and 1.55-acres of open space, including a pedestrian and bicycle path. It would be located in one of Seattle’s most racially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods. The project, according to an informational site hosted by King County, aims to replace the existing, 212-detention bed Youth Service Center facility. City of Seattle and King County officials see the replacement project as an opportunity to capitalize on recent progress the municipalities have made in reducing overall youth prison populations by repurposing excess detention capacity as community-oriented space. The project also represents an opportunity to stitch the neighborhood back together via the pedestrian path and by re-opening previously-closed off streets in the area. But for many community members, these efforts are not enough. Activist groups see the complex as a manifestation of institutionalized racism, an extension of the schools-to-prison pipeline, and a misplaced source of government funds. Community members reject the project’s “detention-centric” premise and highlight the city’s recent strides in decreasing the incarcerated youth population as further reason why the new center’s focus should be on eliminating youth detention in its totality. The new jail, according to community activists, is simply unnecessary as-designed and could benefit from being fundamentally reconsidered with regards to its programming. According to the King County site, construction company Howard S. Wright has been contracted to design and build the complex. Opposition to the complex goes all the way up to the local government itself: In an editorial published in The Stranger, King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski and Seattle City Councilmember Bruce Harrell reiterated some of the community’s positions, saying, “We need a dispersed, community-based juvenile justice system,” adding that the new jail, “does nothing to address the burdens imposed on youth in the system from outside Seattle.” Moreover, activists are citing opposition to the new youth jail as part of a city-wide push to resist the Trump administration’s efforts to expand the police state. They are also calling local leaders to task for what they see as implicit hypocrisy inherent in their simultaneous public invocations of the city’s so-called sanctuary city status. In a press release from Ending the Prison Industrial Complex (EPIC), which decried recent municipal efforts to move the project through the approval process despite a community-filed appeal to revoke the previously-approved Master Land Use permit for the project, Dr. Gary Kint'e Perry, an organizer with EPIC and the No New Youth Jail Campaign said, “If Seattle is now considered a sanctuary city, I am wondering what the definition of sanctuary is. Locking up our kids in cages seems like hypocrisy to me.” The press release continues, “proclamations made by King County Executive Dow Constantine and City of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray do not mean anything to our community if the plan going forwards includes building or allowing for a jail that expands the incarceration of children of color, immigrant children, and undocumented children to be caged, deported or oppressed through upholding institutional racism.” The project’s Master Land Use permit (MLUP) was approved in the final days of 2016. That decision was appealed by neighborhood activists who sought further environmental studies for the projects. That appeal was rejected last week by a city Hearing Examiner on the grounds that the office lacked the jurisdiction to appeal the MLUP. For now, the controversy continues. A King County Public Information Officer explained over telephone to The Architect’s Newspaper that the project is on currently on-track to be granted building permits. Though a formal timeline is forthcoming, information on the King County website indicates that construction on the project will begin in Summer 2017, with the new center due to be opened by 2020.