By Meghan Hall
On both sides of Interstate 5, a slew of glossy high-rise projects are popping up along the freeway, creating a corridor of change that spans from Seattle’s popular Capitol Hill neighborhood to the east and the decisively urban Denny Regrade and South Lake Union neighborhoods to the west. This roadway boundary will become even more transformed with the expected addition of a 456-unit residential tower located at 1370 Stewart St. just across the street from the renowned REI building. For now, however, the proposed development by Vancouver, B.C.-based developer Arbutus Properties, alongside designer Perkins + Will, still has a ways to go before it advances further in its design review process.
Located at the intersection of South Lake Union, the Denny Triangle and Capitol Hill, the tower will include 442,000 square feet of residential space, 134 underground parking stalls and roughly 9,100 square feet of retail area. The project team hopes to maximize the site’s unique location to create what it deems a “compelling pedestrian environment,” that blends with the emerging development occurring in the surrounding neighborhoods.
The project will act as a gateway site, blending the more suburban, commercial and high-rise personalities of the Denny Triangle and South Lake Union with the less dense, more residential neighborhood of Capitol Hill. The development team’s preferred massing scheme has a smaller podium footprint but uses sculptural massing achieved through the use of balconies to orient the building and provide for sweeping urban views. An ovular shape, the tower would be composed of two curving sides, an ode to Seattle’s maritime history, according to design documents. The proposed development would also include a rooftop amenity, with views to Lake Union, Puget Sound and the downtown skyline. The building would be modern and sleek, pulling from numerous other high-rise projects proposed for South Lake Union and the Denny Triangle, including the 1223 Minor Ave., 1812 Boren Ave. and 2014 Fairview Ave. projects.
“We’re excited to be here and start this process. We think it’s a really extraordinary opportunity on a gateway site,” said Erik Mott, design principal at the Seattle office of Perkins + Will, who led the development presentation on behalf of the project team. “There’s an objective to create an extraordinary pedestrian environment in this neighborhood, as well as to create an extraordinary experience and a memorable architectural response on this site.”
In order to connect the building to the streetscape, the proposed development will feature a podium with large areas of glazing and terraced floors along the streets to improve walkability. Programmed retail on two levels along Stewart St. will further encourage community interaction. A landscaped plaza, located at the northeast corner and landscape zones along John and Yale streets will connect the building to the popular REI garden trail.
The board, however, did not see the initial design as fully baked. For one, the podium massing and the tower element did not seem to connect very well. The concentration of the structure toward one part of the triangular lot was another issue that the board had with early design, as well as the east side of the building, which had a significantly different expression to the rest of the structure.
The only public comment came from the General Manager of the REI building across the street. The property features a landmark forested landscape that is a hallmark of the outdoor retailer’s location in Seattle. While REI was pleased that the project referenced their wooded oasis, the company representative also expressed concern about the trees’ survival given the scale of the proposed project across the street. The board took this into account, as well, and reinforced the development team’s efforts to focus on the landscape preservation.
Only one departure was requested at the meeting, which the board was inclined to grant. Arbutus and Perkins + Will requested a departure that would allow for the podium of the building to be set back greater than 12 feet from the street lot line. According to Perkins + Will, this allows for an enhanced pedestrian environment due to the addition of open space, however, the updated design may change that request in the future, so an approval at this point was premature.
Overall, the design took the proposal in the right direction, and the board, despite its critical feedback on several issues, generally approved of the direction that the design team proposed. Arbutus and Perkins + Will will, however, have to reconvene for a second early design review meeting before they can proceed with applying for a Master Use Permit and finishing out the rest of the entitlements process.