Home AEC 108-Unit Residential Development in Seattle’s First Hill Neighborhood One of First to...

108-Unit Residential Development in Seattle’s First Hill Neighborhood One of First to be Designed with Mass Timber

Pryde Development Co., Clark Barnes Architecture, Seattle, First Hill, Mass Timber Micro-Units, Lauren Garkel, King County Superior Court
Rendering Courtesy of Clark Barnes Architecture

By Meghan Hall

An aging office asset just outside the main commercial corridor of Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood is gearing up to become the home of a new, 12-story residential building, according to design documents submitted to the City of Seattle. Proposed by Pryde Development Co. and Clark Barnes Architecture, the project would demolish the one-story building and adjacent parking lot to make way for the project, which would include 108 small efficiency dwelling units (SEDUs). The proposal, which if approved will be one of the first to incorporate the use of mass timber into its structure, underwent its first early design guidance meeting on Wednesday, and received solid feedback from the East Design Review Board, permitting the project to move onto the next phase of the design process.

Project documents show that no commercial retail space, no live/work units and no parking will be included in the development. The SEDUs will be approximately 158 square feet in size. The goal of the project, states Clark Barnes and Pryde, is to cater to existing mass transit. The project site is located within the densely populated First Hill neighborhood, and is close to many historic sites, including the Knights of Columbus building, First Baptist Church and Firehouse 25 Condominiums. Seattle University is also within walking distance, as are restaurants ranging from HoneyHole to Chipotle to Momiji.

The project site, while accessible via Interstate 5, is just a block from the First Hill light rail station; four bus lines are also within immediate walking distance.

“The proposed 12-story structure is appropriate at this location to transition into the neighborhood scale from high-rise to the west into the mid-rise and low-rise structures to the north and the east,” explained Lauren Garkel, associate with Clark Barnes Architecture. 

The massing and design of the building will largely be driven by its position on a corner site, marking an entry point to the neighborhood. The development team’s preferred massing option will total about 51,237 square feet. The residential units will face the street frontage to provide the greatest visual interest, while a setback from the property line provides relief between the tower and the adjacent Historic Seattle Preservation building, which is three stories in height. Vertical circulation mass will respond to the spire of the iconic Seattle First Baptist Church, and unit windows will be used to provide additional articulation. 

The project will also be built using mass timber, a building typology in which the main load-bearing structure of a project is solid or engineered wood. The Board enthusiastically backed the concept, stating that mass timber is becoming a larger deal in construction, and that the building’s design will continue to  push the envelope of design and engineering in Seattle. Currently, there is only one other project underway in Seattle, a hotel project in Ballard.

“We are proposing a mass timber structure…which permits up to 12 stories. The structural system requires a rigorous building organization, which plays into our massing strategies,” explained Garkel. “We are proposing an iconic design that will respond to the scale of the Church Spire, particularly in our preferred massing option.”

Garkel continued, “The team has selected mass timber as the structural system because it is a renewable material, reducing carbon footprint, and it is prefabricated. It lends itself to small, urban restricted sites, and it creates beautiful interiors.”

Overall, the Board was also appreciative of the project’s design, and thought the massing, height, open scale and relationship to the neighborhood were a good fit for the community. The Board did ask the design team to leave some room for a more unique or innovative exterior feature, so that future generations will see it as an example of innovation. However, the community was quite vocal that it did not support the design of the project, and in particular, the development team’s use of materials. The community thought the building would be best clad in brick, which the Board disagreed with. Despite community feedback, the Board voted 3-1 to move the project forward to the next round of the design review process.

The rapidly rising cost of housing in tech-centered cities around the country, including Seattle, have made SEDUs increasingly appealing to both developers and tenants, who are both watching their bottom line. Seattle itself has been spearheading the creation of such units in an effort to maximize density, and according to a report released by Colliers International in the fall of last year, Seattle has led in the amount of micro-housing developed since 2009. As of the third quarter of last year, Seattle had a total of 6,297 SEDUs, most of which range from between 240 to 320 square feet, according to the report. Efficiency Dwelling Units, or “EDUs” are slightly larger and can range up to 400 square feet. The Colliers Report classifies units smaller than 250 feet as micro-units. Often, they incorporate a bedroom and bathroom, with other household requirements such as a living room and kitchen in the common areas.

In September 2014, the King County Superior Court ruled that developments composed of micro-housing units needed to go through the design review process as part of a wider-spread effort to discourage the development of congregate housing.  The City also passed the “70-7” rule, which regulates the size and layout of specific rooms, preventing most units from being smaller than 300 square feet.

However, there is no denying their popularity, especially among young professionals or those looking to save. And, while Pryde Development Co. and Clark Barnes have cleared the first phase of the design review process, the development will be subject to subsequent design reviews as the project moves forward.