By Meghan Hall
Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood originally rose to popularity long before skyscrapers dotted the City’s skyline given its easy accessibility to downtown and Seattle’s retail core. However, the neighborhood, is becoming increasingly urban in and of itself as a number of new high rises are working their way through the city approvals and permitting process. Adding to the mix will be a 28-story, 276-unit apartment building with parking for 102 vehicles proposed by architecture firm MG2 on behalf of the property developer, an entity associated with the Liu family based in Medina, WA. At its second early design guidance review at the end of November 2018, the East Design Review Board moved the project, located at 815 9th Ave., on to the permitting phase of the approvals process on the condition that MG2 worked to better define the architectural concepts driving the tower’s massing and design.
During the meeting, MG2 presented three separate massing options to the community and board, and in its deliberations the board supported the proposed third option called “Angled Scheme.” The exterior design of the development featured a distinctive roofline and all glass façade in a nod to other towers currently in construction in the neighborhood. The podium of the building is composed of punched openings, and angled bay windows are also included in the façade’s design.
The materials’ scheme for the preferred option also featured metal panels and soffits, a hidden mullion window wall system and a terracotta colored exterior for the podium level.
While the board was generally supportive of the Angled Scheme presented by the design team, they felt that the massing lacked a clear architectural concept. In its guidance, the board asked MG2 and the developer to use the materials to unify the design of the building and simplify the tower’s massing to create a more muted design given its proximity to Saint James’ Cathedral. The board hoped that with these modifications a better vertical relationship between the podium and the tower could be achieved. The board also suggested creating a more substantial presence for the lobby entry by updating the number of bay windows and fenestration pattern or pushing back the glazing on the upper level to create a two-story expression for the entry.
MG2 also requested two departures: The application team proposed no setback along the street for the podium structure, when normally a seven-foot minimum is required, and decreased setbacks along the street and alley and an increased setback along the north and south property lines. While the board was supportive of the first departure, believing it would provide more breathing room at the pedestrian level, they requested further study should the design team present a more simplified massing for the tower in a revised iteration.
The project site is just blocks from Interstate 5, the Seattle Public Library and the Frye Art Museum. Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square are both about a ten minutes’ drive away, while St. James Cathedral sits right across the street from the site.
With approval to apply for a Master Use Permit in hand, the project will add to the increasingly urban nature of First Hil,l which will change rapidly over the next couple of years with numerous high-rises in the works such as: 800 Columbia, Westbank Frye Highrise, Skyline 2, Plymouth on First Hill and 901 Madison all approved for construction. All five developments are located within one to two blocks of 815 9th Ave., an indication of First Hill’s vertical growth.