Home AEC 11-Story Office-Turned-Life Science Project Faces Critical Design Review Board

11-Story Office-Turned-Life Science Project Faces Critical Design Review Board

Vulcan Real Estate, Graphite Design Group, Seattle, David T Denny, Pioneer Sand and Gravel Company, Pacific Bell, Richfield Oil, City Hardware
Courtesy of Graphite Design Group

By Meghan Hall

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many projects in Seattle’s development pipeline were moved into administrative reviews, and are just now debuting via public meetings. Under these circumstances, Vulcan Real Estate and Graphite Design Group presented their plans for 312 9th Ave. N., an 11-story building slated for life science use.

“We’re really excited to be back to show the updated design,” said Ryan DiRaimo, of Graphite Design Group. “We realize this is the first time many of you have seen this project.”

The project will transform a site previously used by a number of big-name Seattle companies. David T. Denny, for which the Denny Triangle is named, originally owned the property. In 1927, Pioneer Sand & Gravel Company constructed an office there, which then was used by Richfield Oil in 1933. In 1943, Pacific Bell Telephone and Telegraph used the building to provide maintenance and support services. The building’s longest tenant, however, was Athletic Supply Company, which called the property home for 36 years between 1953 and 1989. After, City Hardware took over as the building’s tenant and leased the property until redevelopment plans were pitched for the property.

Because the building on site is a designated historic landmark, the facade of the building will be kept and incorporated into the new development. 

“We’re really excited about the opportunity to work with this landmark structure,” continued DiRaimo. “…Old and new weave together creating a unified ground floor plan…”

The project was last reviewed nearly two years ago at an April 2020 administrative design meeting. Since then, the project team has made several changes to the project and its design. Significantly, Vulcan now pursuing life science uses at the site as opposed to strictly office. Floor heights, if approved, will be increased to nearly 14 feet to accommodate lab and mechanical. Retail at the site has also been reconfigured, and parking has been modified as well.

The scheme presented at the latest design review depicted a building defined by a “twist,” or a large cantilever culminating at the north facade to offset the central massing. The twist is meant to accentuate the building’s soffit features and connect the tower with the ground level and historic facade. Both the landmark and tower proportions are intended to read as “long,  horizontal planes.” 

“The formal gesture is an elevated movement that arises from the site and sweeps over the landmark towards the intersection, giving the historic building sufficient breathing space to maintain its architectural form and integrity,” explained DiRaimo. “Old and new are clearly distinguished, but share a common DNA.”

The building will also employ a base/middle/top strategy in an effort to layer building levels and break down the scope and scale of the mass. The building will be clad in a mix of materials, including vision and spandrel glass, metal panels, terracotta and concrete.

Overall, the design review board felt that the scheme presented during the recommendation meeting fell short of their expectations. The board felt that the design team tried to do too much with the design of the building and that the facade’s various elements were not cohesive. One board member noted that the ideas clashed and produced a “facade-ectomy,” where the building’s exterior was divvied up into various different design components. 

The board also asked for additional details about open space usage and materials, stating that the ground floor and associated landmark structure felt disconnected from the tower. 

At the end of the meeting, the board voted unanimously to have the project return for a second recommendation meeting. In the meantime, Vulcan and Graphite Design will return to the drawing board and refine their design in line with the board’s guidance.