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Arbutus Properties, Perkins + Will Receive Mixed Design Feedback on 15-Story Office Tower at Critical Gateway Site in Seattle

Arbutus Properties, Perkins + Will, Seattle, Denny Triangle
Rendering Courtesy of Perkins + Will

By Meghan Hall

The junction of South Lake Union, Denny Triangle and Capitol Hill represents the amalgamation of three of Seattle’s fastest growing neighborhoods and the transition from mid-rise to high-rise development. Vancouver, B.C.-based Arbutus Properties along with Perkins + Will, has endeavored to transform an entire city block at this pivotal gateway. At a design review meeting on December 4th, the project team received feedback from the West Design Review Board for half of the project: a 15-story office building located at 1305 Stewart Street. However, the board asked the developer to come back for an additional review meeting that would provide more details not just on how the tower will interact with the pedestrian realm, but how it builds off of Arbutus Properties’ plans for an adjacent residential tower at 1370 Stewart Street.

“Each of these two properties are in development simultaneously,” explained Erik Mott, design director and principal at Perkins + Will. “Arbutus is really committed to making this a wonderful addition to the neighborhood.”

In all, the office will total 290,000 square feet and include 13,000 square feet of ground floor retail. The goal of the project, states project documents, is to leverage the location of the site and design both towers in concert with one another to encourage a more vibrant pedestrian environment between the three neighborhoods.

“The neighborhood itself is eclectic in scale and character, and it’s been in transition for some time with a series of developments which are illustrated in [design documents,]” added Mott. “…This particular site, we think, has been overlooked because it is a bit challenging from a separation standpoint…In terms of vehicle circulation, it has been a bypassed portion of the city, and in terms of pedestrian circulation, there is not a lot of circulation there.”

Arbutus Properties hopes to encourage a sense of place by providing a physical marker in the neighborhood. The ovular-shaped building will include facades that “spill out” onto the sidewalk. Additionally, a “fifth elevation”—also referred to as a roofscape—will be included and strategically designed to minimize view impacts from the freeway and other elevated areas throughout the neighborhood. In a departure from code, the development team also requested to limit modulation on the upper stories of the tower so that the tower may be positioned closer to the lot line. The tower will be oriented away from Stewart Street, away from noise sources while also allowing for a large open space at the intersection of Stewart and Denny. El Corazon, a popular music venue that will share the site with the tower upon completion, would be allowed to maintain its current location with the preferred, proposed tower massing.

“This is a unique opportunity to create a gateway, both as a pedestrian and as an automobile [route] to enter the city,” said Mott.

The simple massing and shape are also designed to contrast with the residential tower that Arbutus Properties has proposed just across Stewart Street. The 1370 Stewart Street project will include 456 residential units and 9,100 square feet of retail. The project went up for design review in February of this year. The preferred massing option featured a smaller podium and a more sculptural tower achieved through balconies. Like its office counterpart, the residential tower was also asked back for further design review, stating that the preferred scheme needed more refinement before the project’s design could be approved.

The board’s feedback this time around also focused on the clarity of certain design elements proposed throughout the project. The board asked for more specification between the two projects on the block, and how they would interact with one another. The board also noted that more details were required to determine how the tower would interact with the pedestrian realm and adjacent structures, particularly the El Corazon. In its deliberations, the board noted that if the development team’s requested departure was not approved, the future of the music venue would be thrust into question, and that the blank facades associated with the departure did little to enhance the project’s design potential. 

Given the questions the board had concerning several major driving themes of the project’s design, the board voted unanimously to have the development team come back for a second early design guidance meeting. In the coming months, Arbutus Properties and Perkins + Will will be required to produce additional studies on tower massing and design and their connections to surrounding development—including 1370 Stewart and El Corazon—and the pedestrian realm.