Posts tagged with "Seattle":

Placeholder Alt Text

A smartphone-controlled responsive shading system prototype

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

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.
Placeholder Alt Text

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.
Placeholder Alt Text

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.
Placeholder Alt Text

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.

Placeholder Alt Text

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.