By Meghan Hall
One of Seattle’s busiest architecture firms has departed its longtime home in South Lake Union in search of greener pastures—almost literally. With a focus on environmental and sustainable design at its helm and an expiring lease on the horizon, Weber Thompson made the jump from The Terry Thomas to Watershed, an award-winning Living Building Pilot Program building in the Fremont neighborhood. The move will usher in a new era for the company as it continues to live its ethos of environmentally-friendly design.
Completed in 2008 and designed by Weber Thompson, The Terry Thomas building became the architecture firm’s home after it vacated another South Lake Union building known as the Wright Schuchart Building. At the time, the four-level Terry Thomas was nationally recognized for its sustainable design—a factor which promptly shifted Weber Thompson’s goals as a firm. When it came time to move after more than a decade, Weber Thompson wanted to up the ante once again.
“[The Terry Thomas] was such an innovative, pioneering, sustainable project at the time, and it really ended up changing the course of our practice in pretty significant ways…” recalled Weber Thompson Managing Partner and Principal in Charge, Kristen Scott. “…But we were looking for our next chapter…Watershed was going to be a Living Building Pilot project, so it was the next step in sustainable design and really pushing our knowledge and skills in a way that we wanted to continue.”
As luck would have it, the same client group that Weber Thompson worked with when designing the Terry Thomas building was in charge of Watershed, bringing the move full-circle. Additionally, Turner Construction was the general contractor for the core and shell of the full building, while Schuchart served as the general contractor for Weber Thompson’s own space.
“It was a great fit. It was a no-brainer,” added Scott.
Watershed’s environmental goals are far more rigorous than those of The Terry Thomas building 10 years ago. Watershed was designed to meet Seattle’s Living Building Challenge program, which has rigorous qualifications for materials, water and energy usage and more.
“When we designed The Terry Thomas, LEED was just barely a twinkle in people’s eyes,” laughed Scott. “It was hardly a program at that point, and at least for developers, sustainable design was this giant, scary unknown. The energy code was not really a factor in design at that point…Today, the idea of sustainable design is part of the baseline of every building that we do…”
The result is that the building uses 25 percent less energy over a baseline building. Watershed’s energy usage will be tracked and displayed in real time on a dashboard in the lobby, for all to see its progress. Other features include high-functioning mechanical systems and operable windows.
In addition, for their own tenant improvement space, Weber Thompson is pursuing the FitWel certification, which evaluates projects based on how well a building functions in terms of both sustainability and occupant wellness.
Weber Thompson moved into its 9,000 square foot space on the second floor just this past week. The office layout is connected through a central circulation between the break room and lobby, while five new conference rooms and three focus rooms provide more options for meetings, phone calls and breakout work. The rooms feature navy blue felt and task lighting as well as maple-slat walls and ceilings in the conference rooms. One conference room is decorated entirely in wood. Additional one-on-one collaboration spaces are scattered around the perimeter of the office.
“[While] we all enjoy the open office, because we do so much collaboration and teamwork, we definitely knew we needed more collaboration spaces, more breakout spaces and more places to focus,” said Scott. “We didn’t have that in The Terry Thomas.”
A “Fab Lab,” which houses VR tech, a 3D printer, cutters and model-making tools offers another creative, collaborative space for Weber Thompson’s employees.
The materials palette reflects a variety of blues and charcoals, white, and pops of turquoise. The colors are complemented by neutral tones evocative of what Weber Thompson has deemed “Pacific Northwest minimalism.” Concrete columns have been left unfinished and exposed, as have the floors. Wood has been added for warmth; a 14-foot tall section of flooring salvaged from the firm’s former lobby at The Terry Thomas creates a feature wall. The floorboards are naturally patinated and are encased in a steel frame. Another wall, which visitors see immediately upon entry, is covered with pictures of Weber Thompson’s staff.
Pattern carpet tiles add texture to the floor, while a ceiling system in a deep blue and indigo color provides movement and interest as it draws the eyes upward.
As part of the Living Building Challenge, materials were closely evaluated for their environmental impact. All materials must be reviewed for Red List compliance, and many have to be sourced from within a 500-mile radius of the site.
“We went as simple as possible because every material you add is one more you need to vet,” stated Scott.
While very few people are currently able to work in the new office as a result of the pandemic, Scott stated the entire team has been by the building to view the space, and everyone is excited to embrace the company’s new home when the time is right. Weber Thompson is also looking forward to settling into Fremont after the chaos of South Lake Union, which Scott described as a “construction warzone” over the past few years. Fremont, which has grown in its own right, has a number of shops and restaurants, as well as residential pockets—all factors that Weber Thompson is keen on taking advantage of in the future.
“We were in South Lake Union for more than 20 years; we really saw the changes there,” said Scott. “It was really exciting, but we were ready for a change. Fremont is an incredible neighborhood, and I think it has an authenticity and a richness to the variety of uses and the fact that people live there as well as working and shopping…it’s going to make it a great place to have our office.”