By Meghan Hall
As Seattle continues to densify, project teams are tasked with an array of design challenges. Chief among them are creating a scheme that will build upon the existing character of the neighborhood. City officials and community members are often vocal on this point, and it can determine the trajectory of the design meetings during which developers and architects present their plans. A 182-unit residential tower planned to rise in Belltown received similar feedback at its first Early Design Guidance Meeting at the beginning of March. Proposed by Los Gatos, Calif.-based Saratoga Capital, Inc. and global design firm GGLO, the project team faced concerns that their new tower would be at odds with the rest of the neighborhood design context.
The project, located at 2616 Western Ave. and subsequently dubbed “2616” by the project team, would replace two mid-rise structures built in 1910 and 1947. The surrounding neighborhood is mainly comprised of mixed-use residential, multifamily residential, some commercial uses and religious institutions. Western Ave. itself is considered a main arterial in the neighborhood. Structures range in height, but are typically mid-rises or high-rises, the tallest of which stands 12 stories in height. The structures, states city documents, represent a consistent, “boxy,” pattern, with strong street walls and heavy glazing at the pedestrian level and linear window patterns above.
2616 would punctuate the neighborhood grid in two primary ways, according to project documents. The first—and perhaps the most important—is the project’s sheer scale. Proposed plans show that currently, the tower will rise 18 stories. The project would be about 55 feet taller than the existing design context, making the new development denser than current development in Belltown.
The second differentiating factor is the project’s design itself. In an effort to break down the scale of the building and the consistency of the neighborhood’s character, the proposed massing would feature a slender, sculpted tower.
“Situated within one of Seattle’s most dense neighborhoods, 2616 Western seeks to design a multifamily tower that celebrates the old and the new of Belltown,” states design documents. “The unique massing of the building will be a refreshing deviation from the block-like characteristics of more recent development.”
The tower will have a “taught geometry” that steps back at the upper terrace, while the lower levels of the building will reinforce a lower courtyard established by the adjacent Banner Building.
The preferred massing option would include around 182 units, a mix of studios, one-, two- and three-bedroom units. Three floors of underground parking are also included in the plans.
Also influencing the design is the project team’s decision to pursue the Seattle Living Building Pilot Program. Should applicants take steps towards carbon neutral development, they are permitted to pursue 25 feet extra in building height for residential uses and up to 25 percent more gross floor area than the maximum otherwise allowed by development standards.
To meet the requirements laid out by the Seattle Living Building Pilot Program, project designs also account for on-site roof solar panels (as well as offsite solar panels) as a renewable energy source, operable windows to provide fresh air to each unit, bioretention planters and green street landscaped planters. The project will also include an interpretive and educational exhibit explaining the living building challenge program, as well as handcrafted building materials, to enhance the design.
The project received an array of feedback from both the Downtown Design Review Board and greater Seattle Community. The community’s commentary was robust, with many remarks given regarding the size and scale of the project. Primarily, meeting attendees were concerned that the development was too large, and did not respond to Belltown design guidelines, or guidelines laid out by the Living Building Challenge which required that a project’s design take cues from the neighborhood. Several others questioned the project’s ability to meet Living Building Challenge Requirements based on its size.
Overall, the Board expressed moderated support for 2616’s preferred massing scheme, stating in its review of the project that the voluntary setbacks and canted geometry could help to mitigate the scale of the building. The Board appreciated the idea of a strong entry plaza, and angled tower expression. However, the Board requested a more developed design and asked for additional details on several points, including how the tower’s interlocking forms would respond to the neighborhood context, as well as how the project’s solar panels would be incorporated into the overall design.
Given the extent of the community’s feedback, much of which the Board also agreed with, the Board voted unanimously to have the project team return for a second early design guidance meeting in the coming months.