Home AEC 226-Unit Residential Project Proposed by Carmel Partners and Encore Architects Struggles in...

226-Unit Residential Project Proposed by Carmel Partners and Encore Architects Struggles in Design Review

Carmel Partners, Encore Architects, Seattle, First Hill, First Baptist Church
Rendering Courtesy of Encore Architecture

By Meghan Hall

Nearly six months after a 226-unit project proposed by San Francisco-based Carmel Partners and Encore Architects was given a procedural green light to move forward with the design review process, the development team found itself once again facing a critical design review board at a design recommendation meeting in January. And, despite three previous design review meetings, the Board voted 5-1 to bring the project back four a fourth review, an uncommon move in the City’s design review process.

The project, located at 1100 Boylston Ave., seeks to redevelop a surface parking lot into an eight-story residential building in the First Hill neighborhood in Seattle. While the site is zoned for high-rise development, Carmel and Encore have proceeded with plans for a mid-rise building in an effort to more gracefully transition between high-rise buildings in the surrounding neighborhoods to smaller structures, such as the adjacent First Baptist Church.

The massing of the building will be anchored by a vertical composition with a distinct separation between base, middle and the top of the project. An upper level setback at all sides of the building will aid in reducing the development’s perceived bulk and emphasize the differentiation between the middle and top-elements. The majority of the façade will be clad in a regular, rectangular grid. Overhead canopies and balconies will add further visual interest and façade activation and will be accented with dark-colored metals and ornamental ironwork.

Pulling from the neighborhood context, the building will be clad in a combination of brick and metal panels. The brick will be modular in size and will have a lighter color at the base and a darker color on the upper levels. The metal panels will be deeply ribbed and contrasted with finer-textured panels in the courtyard. Metal canopies with wood soffits and aluminum storefronts are also outlined in the project plans.

Despite an effort to update their designs and provide more adequate details about the project, the Board felt, overall, the design of the development had not significantly progressed from the previous early design guidance meeting. The Board noted that the changes to the building’s massing and modulation were minor and are currently insufficient in addressing the bulk and scale of the project or the neighborhood context. The Board further added that the three-part organization of the façade was not easily distinguishable. This, stated the Board in its deliberations, is important due to the site’s heightened neighborhood visibility at the top of the hill and its location next to the landmarked First Baptist Church.

The Board also noted that the plans currently presented no adequate secondary fenestration or materials and lacked a depth in modulation, particularly in regard to materials. 

“The Board agreed that the complex and unrelieved pattern of materials and fenestration, the lack of modulation, insufficient secondary architectural detail, and lack of shadow and texture resulted in a heavy and monolithic appearance that was out of character for the neighborhood and appeared institutional or commercial rather than residential,” states the City in its report of the meeting.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Board voted 5-1 to bring the project back for another design recommendation meeting. Previously, Carmel and Encore had presented their plans at two early design guidance meetings, proceeding past EDG to January’s recommendation meeting after the Board granted the development team a procedural green light to proceed. However, despite asking the project to return for a second recommendation meeting—making it the fourth design review the project would endure—by Seattle City Code, there is a recognized maximum of three design review meetings. Based on current law, Carmel’s proposal could only be required to complete up to two early design guidance and one recommendation meeting, leaving the decision to return in the developer’s hands.

Should Carmel and Encore choose to bypass their second recommendation meeting, the Board listed 20 condition for approval to ensure the proposal sufficiently responds to design guidelines. Among them included strengthening the expression of the base with a significant differentiation between the bottom and middle portions of the façade, simplifying and revising the materials palette and doubling the size of the project’s proposed courtyard to mitigate the bulk of the building. How precisely Carmel and Encore will move on in the coming months to revise their designs has yet to be seen, but from the Board’s feedback the development team will need to carefully consider their options moving ahead.

Carmel’s 1100 Boylston Ave. project is not the firm’s first foray into the Puget Sound market. In January of last year, Carmel’s 171-unit proposal for a new waterfront complex in Ballard ultimately received approval, but only after the design review board spent some time debating the finer details of the project such as the duality of the facades and window sizes. In July of 2019, Carmel finished building out its first Puget Sound project, Hyde Square, the largest multifamily project to open on the Eastside in 2019. The project, designed by Ankrom Moisan Architects, was well-received by the community.