Posts tagged with "Seattle":

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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.
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Seattle to up-zone U District, paving the way for 5,000 new units

The Seattle City Council unanimously voted yesterday to approve a long-planned increase in overall residential and commercial zoning densities in the city’s University District neighborhood. The plan will allow certain areas of the neighborhood around the campus of the University of Washington to rise up to between 240- and 320-feet in height and will mandate new developments set aside nine percent of new units as affordable. The region is bubbling over with development and has absorbed roughly 700,000 new inhabitants between 2000 and 2014. Seattle is also home to a slew of tech companies like Amazon and—perhaps most importantly—recently passed a ballot initiative aimed at expanding the length of its transit system by a factor of five. Though the change toward higher-density development has been controversial with some residents, it was strongly supported by housing activists from across the political spectrum. The zoning change is expected to bring roughly 5,000 new housing units across a broad swath of medium-to-low density areas surrounding the university. The University District—which will be connected to the region’s growing Sound Transit system in 2021 when the Northgate Link Extension opens through the neighborhood—is poised to act as a test run for Mayor Ed Murray’s plans to get developers to build additional affordable housing. It’s not a bad deal for the developers, either: The plan will neither require affordable units be built on site nor in the same neighborhood. If developers do not wish to build the affordable units themselves, they will be able to contribute funding so that the city’s Office of Housing can build them. The new measure, called Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) is part of the city’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) plan, which is focused around the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Planning document, a guide that envisions a region-wide urban agglomeration collected around “urban villages” organized along the Sound Transit system. The HALA plan aims to generate up to 50,000 new housing units—20,000 of which would be affordable—across the city by 2025. Of those 20,000 affordable units, it is expected that MHA will generate about 6,300 units. For the University District, that means roughly 5,000 new units overall, including between 600 and 900 affordable apartments. As the first section of the city rezoned under HALA, officials and the public will be watching how the neighborhood changes very closely. The up-zone measure was passed with a caveat allowing for it to be revisited in the future, depending on the nature of change in the area. The City of Seattle is expected to begin to rezone the entire city in 2018, with four other districts undergoing the rezoning process this year.
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City of Seattle votes to divest $3 billion from Wells Fargo over Dakota Access Pipeline

The Seattle City Council has voted to divest $3 billion in municipal funds from Wells Fargo in response to the bank's financial support of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project. The city council’s unanimous decision comes as the Trump administration greenlighted approvals for the DAPL project—something the Obama administration officials had derailed in 2016. The $3.7 billion, 1,172-mile-long DAPL project is highly controversial and is seen as environmentally-destructive by environmental groups and indigenous peoples. Over the last year, protests at the Standing Rock site have been violently broken up by law enforcement officials. The DAPL is planned to run within less than a mile of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s reservation and leaders of the tribe are fiercely opposed to the project. Research by Richard Stover at the Center for Biological Diversity indicates that between 1986 and 2013, over 8,000 significant pipeline spills and incidents occurred, resulting in nearly $7 billion in damages. Stover’s research indicates that an average of 76,000 barrels per year (over 3 million gallons) of oil spill each year, roughly 200 barrels every day. The Stranger reports that Seattle’s current financial contract with Wells Fargo expires in 2018 and that when it does, the city will move to formally withdraw its municipal funds from the bank. The city has until then to find a new place to hold those reserves and to handle various financial aspects associated with running a municipality, such as issuing the city’s payroll checks. The move marks likely the largest divestment move for a DAPL-related financial institution and, due to its size, it has the potential for wide-spread ramifications. The Seattle City Council resolution also targetted the bank due to its financial support for private prison companies as well as the financial institution's recent fraudulent account scandal. Considering that the Trump administration's so-called infrastructure spending is heavily weighted toward ventures like private prison detention centers and fossil fuel-related enterprises, it is unlikely Seattle's move will stand as an exception for long. The liberal, West Coast city has been fighting the new administration's socially conservative and anti-immigrant policies; this divestiture positions the city's finances—biweekly payroll accounts total roughly $30 million for about 12,000 employees and the city's average daily balance with the bank is about $73 million—in line with the municipality's other recent moves to resist the Trump administration. The move also comes as other municipalities and even entire countries move to divest financial resources from institutions that support politically- and environmentally-toxic ventures. The country of Ireland moved to fully divest its Ireland Strategic Investment Fund away from coal, oil and gas investments. The €8 billion fund, part of the Ireland's National Treasury Management Agency, will move to sell off its dirty energy investments over the next five years. The country of Norway moved in 2015 to partially divest from the fossil fuel industry, as well.
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Seattle’s YIMBY movement brings intersectional urbanism to the fore

Like many regions across the country, Seattle is still recovering from the Great Recession, especially when it comes to housing construction.

According to the Seattle Times, rents citywide went up 9.7 percent last year, outpacing increases in every other American city and fueling displacement, gentrification, and overall income inequality. At the same time, the economy has picked up: A recent report by consultants Rider Levett Bucknall listed Seattle as having 58 cranes in operation, more than any other city in the country. Not only that, but the Seattle region added roughly 700,000 residents (roughly the population of Seattle proper) between 2000 and 2014 and is expected to add at least as many in coming decades.

As the economy surges, so does development. This is especially true of projects fueled by—and for—tech-industry juggernauts like Amazon, which is building a NBBJ-designed, 3.3-million-square-foot headquarters in Seattle’s Denny Regrade neighborhood. A condominium tower suburb is sprouting up alongside the new headquarters, too, with an untold number of high-end and luxury units due to come online in that corner of the city over the next few years. There are at least 26 new high-rise developments in the works in the area, with between 10,000 and 30,000 units currently permitted or in pre-development according to a study by Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty.

In step with the building boom, a different sort of pro-growth tide is washing ashore: YIMBYism. The so-called YIMBY (Yes In My Backyard) movement is growing rapidly in many American cities, especially across the West, where high rents, increasing urban density, and social justice issues are bringing together broad—and sometimes uneasy—coalitions of more-or-less pro-development voices. The difference is that the voices at the table—anti-displacement working poor communities, pro-density yuppies, and the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement—are more focused and diverse than your run-of-the-mill “build, baby, build!” crowd.

This new crop of urbanists advocates development to address complex, intersecting issues like mitigating climate change, increasing access to affordable housing, expanding transportation options, and building design justice into the urban fabric.

The groups have rallied around disparate causes, either advocating for or against new development and so far, they’ve had several successes.

One of the groups’ most notable achievements was to block the construction of the $149.2 million North Precinct police station in Seattle. The project, designed by Portland, Oregon–based SRG Partnership, would have brought a 105,000-square-foot facility to a northern part of the city. The project, dubbed “The Bunker” by the BLM activists and a group called Block The Bunker who most fervently fought the proposal, was widely seen as an extension of the city’s ever-growing police state and represented, in the minds of these activists, a misallocation of community resources. Though these groups are not formally affiliated with other pro-development YIMBY groups, their efforts to bake racial and design justice into Seattle's urban fabric add a much needed anti-racism component to the city's chorus of urbanist voices. After a coordinated and cooperative protest in the streets and at city council meetings by anti-Bunker activists, the project was terminated. In his announcement, Capitol Hill Seattle reported that Mayor Ed Murray said the following about the station: “I inherited the [North Precinct] proposal and I made a mistake about not stopping [it].” He added that his office neglected to abide by the city’s racial equity toolkit while pursuing the project. Activists sought to redirect funding for what would have been the most expensive police station in the country toward beneficial community uses—they argued that the money should be used to build 1,000 units of affordable housing.

Another group called No New Youth Jail—also led by people of color and anti-racism advocates—is fighting to stop the construction of a new King County-funded youth detention center in the city, as well.  

A different coalition came together this fall to pass Proposition 1, a ballot ordinance to raise $54 billion to expand transit options in the city. The proposition, also known as “Sound Transit 3,” passed with 55 percent support across a three-county area. The proposition aims for a new round of permanent tax increases to fund 10 light rail extensions and three bus-rapid transit extensions across Snohomish, King, and Pierce counties by 2041. As the name implies, Sound Transit 3 represents the third such measure to pass since 1996.

Activist urbanists were also instrumental in pushing Mayor Murray to increase the zoning density allowed around north Seattle’s U-District, adjacent to the University of Washington. The change is the first to be implemented since the city adopted a new Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA-R) policy requiring developers to either include affordable units in every new multifamily residential and commercial project in upzoned areas project or pay into a fund used to build affordable units off-site. The U-District upzone calls for raising maximum building heights from 65 feet to 320 feet, among other things, and was designed in anticipation of a new Link light rail line expected to open in 2021.

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Controversial youth jail gains preliminary approval in Seattle

The City of Seattle approved preliminary permits this week for a controversial, King County-funded youth jail and detention center to be located in the city’s Central District. The proposed complex, euphemistically-dubbed as a “Children and Family Justice Center” has faced vocal public outcry over not only its proposed cost—$210-million—but also its program. The complex proposes to replace an existing youth jail, dubbed the Youth Services Center, currently located on the same site. The proposed penal structure would include, along with 112 new beds for incarcerated youth, a collection of community and supportive service spaces. According to a project website, the complex will be configured with a  flexible design so that its space can be converted to non-detention space in the future, if desired. The approvals pertain to a preliminary land-use application; designs for the complex have yet to be revealed. However, a cohort of social equality-focused activists has sought to derail the project before it gets off the ground. The #NoNewYouthJail Coalition has sprung up to oppose the development and is currently circulating an online petition to raise awareness on the issue and voice outcry over the proposed plans. The complex was approved in 2012 via a voter referendum that sought to levy new taxes for the construction of the project. Organizers against the complex state (via the petition website) that the proposition “promised to build a facility that ‘services the justice needs of children and families’—with no mention that its primary aim was to incarcerate children under the age of eighteen. So, voters passed a levy to provide funds for youth justice... but unfortunately, those funds will support the opposite: continuing the injustice of incarceration of our most vulnerable young people.” Activists, many of which are aligned with the Black Lives Matter movement, argue that the project represents the perpetuation of fundamentally unjust—and racist—design and law enforcement practices. They argue that while black youth in the Seattle make up approximately five-percent of the overall population, they represent roughly half of the incarcerated youth population. The activists also contend that building a new jail facility would further enshrine these racist practices across the region. The Stringer reports that the center held an average of 55 youths between January and September of 2016, with as few as 27 during the month of December. Recently, musical artist Macklemore came out against the jail, as well, issuing a series a tweets in opposition to the project and stating to The Emerald, “Instead of spending over $200 million on a new jail facility, imagine if we invested in solutions that truly promote rehabilitation, like restorative justice practices, mental health services, education and job training for youth.”  The proposed complex has touched off fierce debate across the city and follows the local Black Lives Matter movement’s successful fight against Seattle’s bid to construct a $149.2 million North Precinct police station designed by Portland, Oregon-based SRG Partnership. That structure would have been the country’s most expensive police facility and was resisted by an equally-vocal group of protesters who took issue with the complex’s size and architectural features. That project, dubbed “The Bunker” by community activists, was stopped earlier this year by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who halted the station’s progress.
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New details emerge on expansion and renovation of Seattle’s Asian Art Museum

On September 30, LMN Architects revealed renderings for a planned $49 million expansion and renovation to the Seattle Art Museum’s (SAM) Asian Art Museum, the first time in the 83-year-old institution’s history that its flagship art moderne structure will be renovated.

The building, located in the city’s verdant Volunteer Park, was designed by Carl F. Gould of the architectural firm Bebb and Gould to house SAM’s original art collection. After SAM’s principal collection was relocated in 1991 to a downtown Seattle flagship designed by Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates, the 1933 building was rechristened as the Asian Art Museum. That move left the original Bebb and Gould building languishing, a product of a bygone era when buildings relied heavily on natural ventilation as a means of climate control and the needs of only a small portion of potential building occupants were considered. As a result, the structure lacks the sophisticated temperature and climate control systems typical for a world-class art institution and is out of compliance with Americans with Disability Act (ADA) legislation.

LMN’s renovations aim to fix those discrepancies and more by rebooting the structure through the addition of a new wing along the existing eastern side containing a 2,650-square-foot gallery for Southeast Asian art, a community meeting room, and a set of new office spaces. The renovation will also add teaching spaces and possibly an Asian art conservation studio. Importantly, the extension will be clad in expanses of glass and aims to increase the connections between the museum’s interior and its park setting.

Regarding the complicated renovation plans for the structure, Sam Miller, lead architect for the project at LMN, said, “On the renovation side, our goal is to be true to the original intent of the building and to transform the [Bebb and Gould structure] into a fully functioning, 21st-century museum while also being entirely respectful of the historic fabric and the design quality the building represents.” He added, “In another way, our work is to make sure you would never know we were there.”

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2016 Best of Design Award for Landscape > Public: Lower Rainier Vista & Pedestrian Land Bridge by GGN

The Architect’s Newspaper (AN)’s inaugural 2013 Best of Design Awards featured six categories. Since then, it’s grown to 26 exciting categoriesAs in years past, jury members (Erik Verboon, Claire Weisz, Karen Stonely, Christopher Leong, Adrianne Weremchuk, and AN’s Matt Shaw) were picked for their expertise and high regard in the design community. They based their judgments on evidence of innovation, creative use of new technology, sustainability, strength of presentation, and, most importantly, great design. We want to thank everyone for their continued support and eagerness to submit their work to the Best of Design Awards. We are already looking forward to growing next year’s coverage for you. 2016 Best of Design Award for Landscape > Public: Lower Rainier Vista & Pedestrian Land Bridge Architect: GGN Location: Seattle, WA

With the Lower Rainier Vista Project, GGN extends and completes the Olmsted Brothers’ historic vision for a monumental campus axis at the University of Washington. The project’s defining feature is the lowering of the roadway that isolated the last portion of the historic axis, reconnecting it with an elegant land bridge. This new connection allows pedestrians, cyclists, buses, and automobiles to move easily between the UW Husky Stadium light rail station and the campus heart. By creating a more generous, people-focused feel to the campus, the Vista Project reenvisions a disconnected landscape as a place to linger.

Structural Engineer and Civil Engineer KPFF

Electrical Engineer and Lighting Designer AEI/Pivotal Lighting Design Irrigation Design Jeffrey L. Bruce & Company Gabion Basket Walls Hilfiker Retaining Walls Linear LED Lighting i2Systems

Honorable Mention, Landscape > Public: Governors Island Park & Public Space

Architects: West 8 Urban Design & Landscape Architecture Location: Governors Island, NY

With an extraordinary 360-degree panoramic experience of the New York Harbor, the sculpted topography, winding pathways, and carefully planted trees of Governors Island Park create a beautifully choreographed celebration of nature while improving resilience for rising sea levels.

Honorable Mention, Landscape > Public: Newark Riverfront Park

Design Team: Weintraub Diaz Landscape Architects, Newark Planning Office, Hatch Mott MacDonald, MTWTF Location: Newark, NJ

Using a participatory design process with input from over 6,000 residents, this project transformed a brownfield adjacent to a Superfund site into an oasis meant to reflect its ethnically diverse working class community, while benefitting it socially, economically, and environmentally.

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Seattle’s Denny Triangle hosts a skyscraper building boom

Like other cities across the country, Seattle has been suffering from a severe lack of housing supply that, over the long term, has caused housing prices and rents to skyrocket. A slew of big-budget, mostly luxury skyscraper projects are in the works, however, and aim to bring many more units online over the coming years, hopefully easing the housing crunch. It might seem confusing to counter high housing prices with luxury developments. But given a multi-decade-long trend of under-building, millenials’ stunted entry into the housing market, and the fallout from the foreclosure crisis of 2008, the only way to make prices (which have increased 35 percent over the last five years in the rental market) go down is simply to build more of everything.

In Seattle, the city’s Denny Triangle—just beyond the city’s downtown—has been the recent site of a tectonic shift in real estate and development. Architecture firm NBBJ is currently working on a huge, 3.3 million-square-foot corporate skyscraper campus for online retailer Amazon here that will span three city blocks and include three 37-story tall towers, two mid-rise office buildings, and a series of “biospheres” containing exotic plant specimens. The development has jumpstarted other housing and mixed-use projects along Denny Way and the surrounding streets, laying the groundwork for a new mixed-use tower district. This summer, Dean Jones, principal at Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty told the local NBC news affiliate, “In the next five years, Denny Way is going to feel a little bit more like Manhattan,” as he shared a video showing 26 high-rise projects currently in the pipeline.

Jones is part of the team tasked with promoting the new Nexus development, a 40-story Weber Thompson–designed condominium tower that broke ground earlier this year and will be completed in 2019. The project is the first high-rise condominium to begin construction downtown since 2012 and consists of a series of stacked boxes, each slightly off-axis from the one below. The tower’s shifting volumes conceal 383 apartments, designed in a variety of configurations, ranging from studio units to multi-bedroom dwellings. As of October, 80 percent of the units had been pre-sold.

Another development by Weber Thompson is located at 970 Denny, a 440-foot-tall mixed-use tower that aims to activate street-level areas along the Denny Way corridor with a pair of low-rise, seven-story tall office and commercial blocks flanking a mid-block tower. These smaller masses are articulated using brick cladding and large expanses of glass. They will contain 15,098 square feet of retail space, with storefronts and the apartment tower’s entrance marked by V-shaped column-supported steel canopies. The tower podium will be capped by a landscaped park, containing a freestanding pavilion structure, with a similar space located at the tower’s stepped apex. The structure will contain 461 apartment units and is being designed to LEED Silver standards. The tower itself is clad in expanses of curtain wall glass that feature operable windows. The complex is currently under construction and is set to open in 2018.

Nearby, Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Architects (ZGF Architects) are working on a two-building complex: the 11-story Tilt49 office tower and the 41-story AMLI Arc housing tower. The office building will feature 300,000 square feet of space, with the ground floor containing retail. Right next door, the $115-million AMLI Arc tower will contain 393 apartment units, a 509-stall underground parking garage, and amenity spaces on the 12th and 41st floors. The tower will offer different apartments types, including an industrially-inspired model and another unit type with more upscale, “condo-quality finishes.” The residential tower is aiming for LEED Gold certification. Construction is well underway for both buildings and is slated for completion sometime in 2017. The project is being built by Mortenson Construction’s Seattle office.

Lastly, the 41-story tall McKenzie Tower by developer Clise Properties and designed by Graphite Design Group will be located diagonally across from the new Amazon tower complex. It will feature 450 residential units and 8,000 square feet of retail. The elliptical building is designed to maximize views from within each unit, presenting a wide-set gaze over the city. The tower’s shape will also minimize the monolith’s impact on surrounding viewsheds. Like the other schemes mentioned here, the tower will rise out of a low-rise podium and will be clad in glass curtain walls.

These transformative projects portend the growing influence of the region’s technological powerhouses on the built environment. With Amazon and others adding thousands of new jobs at a steady clip, it seems like Seattle-based architects and developers will keep working like this for a long time.

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Bureau Spectacular reinterprets Marc-Antoine Laugier’s Primitive Hut

Los Angeles—based Bureau Spectacular has designed an indoor treehouse that reconsiders Marc-Antoine Laugier’s 18th-century idea of the so-called “primitive hut.” The installation—dubbed Another Primitive Hut—will be featured in an upcoming episode of the Seattle-focused travel show Been There, Made That produced by Vox Creative to highlight the city for Millennial arts and culture-focused travelers. Bureau Spectacular’s installation hearkens toward Laugier’s vision of the semiotic, platonic ideal of a primitive dwelling, where a home’s structure is made up of the trunks of a grove of trees and the roof consists of the tree canopies above. But, instead of calling for a more fundamental, stripped-down view of building and shelter as Laugier did—Laugier’s Enlightenment era treatise was written at a time of intense fascination with lavish, Baroque architectural forms—Bureau Spectacular has created an idiosyncratic melange of repurposed contemporary architectural symbols. Bureau Spectacular founder Jimenez Lai, in his design for Another Primitive Hut, combines the notion of Laugier’s idealized hut with the architectural manifestations of several other canonical dwelling spaces, namely Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye and the Roman Parthenon, by merging the forest canopy, the latter buildings's roof and the former structures's triangular pediment into an enclosed dwelling space lifted above the ground on piloti made from dimensional lumber. The space is meant to act as a “welcome chamber” for friends and family and call into question contemporary forms of humanity. The structure also draws inspiration from OMA’s Seattle Public Library, which a press release for Another Primitive Hut describes as “a floating stack of stories to accommodate the 21st century Human.” In the press release, the architects also ask, “What does Laugier’s old idea that architecture should be derived from nature even mean, when nature now consists of the materials and detritus of consumerism, rather than the perpendicular trunks of trees?” Lai and Bureau Spectacular were invited to The Emerald City exhibition by Visit Seattle, a Seattle-focused tourism group. For more information on Been There, Made That and Visit Seattle, see the Visit Seattle website.
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Seattle overtakes New York City and Los Angeles in list ranking construction cranes

A recently-released report by construction and building consulting agency Rider Levett Bucknall has determined that for 2016, Seattle has surpassed New York City and Los Angeles as the city with the highest concentration of construction cranes in operation. The Pacific Northwest city is currently experiencing an unparalleled construction boom: In addition to high-rise, mixed-use construction projects going up across the area, a new neighborhood of high-rise skyscrapers is sprouting up adjacent to the new, NBBJ-designed headquarters for online retailer Amazon. More to the point, according to the report, Seattle has 58 construction cranes in operation. That’s more than New York City and San Francisco combined, which have 28 and 24 cranes each, respectively. This total more double Chicago's count (26 cranes) and is 18 cranes higher than the second-highest city in ranking, Los Angeles (40 cranes). The report also sheds light on the expanding scope of large-scale construction projects dotting the West Coast. Seattle’s booming Denny Triangle neighborhood, the aforementioned Amazon-adjacent condo-town, and various other downtown developments are leading a city-wide push for new construction. In San Francisco, the Transbay Center and Salesforce Tower complexes, as well as the surrounding and also-booming South of Market neighborhood, are raising the skyline higher. And in Los Angeles, luxury developments like the Metropolis, Oceanwide Plaza, and Wilshire Grand Hotel projects, each of which will ultimately cost more than $1 billion to build, are throwing up cranes there. The report also lists 22 cranes dotting the skyline of Portland, Oregon, a city with a comparatively lower skyline populated by a higher number of the mid-rise, seven-story and up structures that require cranes for construction. According to the report, Seattle has seen a 43-percent increase in crane counts since this time last year, led by the commercial, mixed-use, and residential market sectors. One unknown from the rapid pace of construction, however, is if the overall increase in development will have a noticeable impact on housing prices across the region, which from San Diego to San Francisco and Portland to Seattle remaining stubbornly high.
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Seattle’s waterfront transformation by James Corner Field Operations prepares to break ground this year

Seattle, Washington’s waterfront redevelopment, an endeavor James Corner Field Operations (JCFO) has been working on diligently for nearly a decade, is steadily moving closer to being implemented, as the $700 million project heads toward beginning construction this year. 

The development cleared a major hurdle in August when supporters of the project garnered over 80 percent of the cast ballots needed to reject an initiative that would have derailed the JCFO scheme. JCFO’s vision for the two-mile-long promenade would stitch together city’s burgeoning downtown with its isolated, post-industrial waterfront, converting the space currently occupied by the Alaskan Way Viaduct into a broad pedestrian-oriented waterfront park and roadway. The Alaskan Way Viaduct, built in 1953, is currently in the process of being replaced by a partially completed underground highway tunnel that would free up the city’s coastline for public recreational activities. The redevelopment will be funded via a new tax levied on downtown businesses and will continue a nationwide trend of replacing or repurposing aging infrastructure with a mix of public amenities and new development.

Andrew tenBrink, a designer at JCFO who has been working on the project since it started in 2010, said the firm had been “struck by the ‘big nature’ of the area,” as it developed a project for a city sitting “on the cusp of the wilderness, between the bay and mountains.”

Aside from creating a new recreational spine for the city’s downtown, the new route will also string together existing cultural destinations along the waterfront like the famed Pike Place Market to the south, the Bassetti Architects–designed Seattle Aquarium at its center, and the Weiss/Manfredi Architects–designed Olympic Sculpture Park to the north. Charles Anderson Landscape Architecture was a landscape architecture consultant for the project. 

The aquarium, built in 1977 on the waterfront’s Pier 59, can currently only be reached via a disruptive landscape of viaduct overpasses and parking lots. In the new plan, it will be located at the end of a broad public plaza accessible by a scenic lookout designed in concert with the waterfront scheme, reconnecting it to the city center.

JCFO’s redevelopment plan would also connect to the iconic Olympic Sculpture Park located at the northern edge of the development, connecting the city’s network of bicycle and walking trails, currently divided between north and south, together along the waterfront. TenBrink described the history of the waterfront as something that has “constantly evolved” over its transition from native habitat to industrial area and transportation corridor. In the near future, Seattle’s waterfront will transform once again to become a line between the “pristine nature of Pacific Northwest and a very manufactured (urban) landscape,” said tenBrink.

Another major and partially completed component of the project entails rebuilding an existing seawall used to mitigate Puget Sound’s constantly fluctuating tides. Between epic “king tides,” monthly lunar tides, and other seasonally variable waves, the water’s height can vary by as much as 12 feet, so the design team has deployed specially-designed panels, some codesigned with local artists, to create spots for tidal wildlife to live and grow. The wall also marks the area’s mean, low, and high tides and contains walkway areas with embedded glass blocks that allow for daylight to permeate the water, as to not disrupt sensitive spawning grounds.

The remaining areas that feed into the promenade and roadway will also receive improvements to their streetscapes in order to facilitate the pedestrianization of surrounding areas while also inserting key landscape components.

This article was part of our Oct. 12 issue which focused on how water is shaping today’s landscape architecture and urbanism. Communities face deluges and droughts—for some, the stakes can be survival itself, but others see opportunities for decadence. To explore these stories from around the U.S. and the world, click here.

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Perkins+Will integrates healthy materials into their new Seattle office

On an early May day, Perkins+Will Seattle gave The Architect's Newspaper a tour of their new offices in downtown Seattle, the first of their global offices designed to incorporate their in-house healthy materials initiative research. The Seattle office moved east in April from their prior space on First Avenue above the Seattle Art Museum, to Minoru Yamasaki’s 1977 Rainier Tower on Fifth Avenue. The relocation gave Perkins+Will the opportunity to live-test their healthy materials initiative—putting their research on toxic building chemicals into action on themselves. In 2009, Perkins+Will developed a precautionary list of harmful building materials, compiling governmental agency information about building chemicals that may harm our environment and ourselves.

“We wanted our workspace to reflect who we really are, and to some extent use ourselves as a little test lab. Can we walk the walk?” said Ed Palushock, associate and senior project designer at Perkins+Will who heads up the firm’s Material Performance Research Lab.

“There were a bunch of people who did some research and started recognizing, hey, these chairs that we’re putting in the space have flame retardants [in them] that have a fallout for people’s health. Or, we’re using copper on exterior roofs, and noticing some research being done about elevated copper levels in runoff water. Some copper is good, but too much copper is not so good,” said Palushock. “The goal was to take ourselves out of the equation.”

The Perkins+Will Vancouver office led the Seattle office design, working with Perkins+Will’s Seattle team. The precautionary list informed how the firm approached their new space on a micro level: 32 of the 34 products and finishes met the firm’s healthy materials standards. The vetting process involved a bit of investigation, as some product manufacturers’ ingredients lists were proprietary or incomplete. (Two products that didn’t meet the architecture firm’s requirements: A chromium alloy plating process used to lend a chrome finish to products, and the solar shades. The firm found out after installation that the shades contained 15 percent PVC.)

There was a slight up-charge for specifying healthier materials. “But once [these materials] become an industry standard, it will level the playing field,” said Oliver Wuttig, an architectural designer at Perkins+Will. “The more we ask manufacturers about these products, the less it becomes a commoditized item.”

The Seattle office spans two floors. The main office is 16,500 square feet while a lower level houses a 1,400-square-foot materials library and model shop. But even with close to 120 employees working in the office, the main level—with most of the surfaces white and soft gray—is bright and spacious due to an open, square-shaped floor plan. Workstations with employees organized by teams, a corner kitchen, and meeting and conference rooms run along the perimeter with direct access to natural light and views of downtown and Puget Sound. The firm also has phone rooms for privacy. “We sit people together who are working together,” said Palushock. “Every month or every other month there is a switching around in the office.”

At the core are elevators and an entryway featuring white perforated branded metal screens backlit by LEDs. Along the outer core walls, the firm can display projects and hold critiques. There’s also a social component to the design. Each corner of the office is reserved for flexible workspaces—a kitchen in one corner can double as a meeting room for the whole office. “The kitchen engages people and gets them from their desk, said Wuttig.

The sustainable building industry has made headwinds in the past decade—the United States now has an abundance of certification opportunities such as LEED, the Living Building Challenge, and Cradle to Cradle—the presence of toxic chemicals in products is a persistent issue. “We have wiring lined in polyvinyl chloride (PVC), but it can contain endocrine disruptors like phthalates and Bisphenol A,” Palushock explained. A safer alternative to PVC may be polyvinyltulene (PVT). But it’s not ready for market. “It’s one thing to design a building in terms of the orientation and use healthy materials, but the question is, what are those healthy materials?” he continued.

Perhaps we lag behind Europe on the healthy materials front because of our legal framework and mentality. As Palushock put it, Europe’s approach is to “prove this material is not harmful” while in the U.S., it’s “safe unless deemed otherwise.”

Resources General Contractor: Turner Construction Company Lighting Consultants: Candela Corporation and Stantec Electrical Consultant: Evergreen Electric HVAC, Plumbing Consultant: American Mechanical Corporation