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As Designs for New 10-Story Office Building in South Lake Union Take Shape, Review Board Asks: “What About Lab Space?”

Trammell Crow, CollinsWoerman, Seattle, 1916 Boren, South Lake Union, Brotman Building, Boren Lofts
Courtesy of CollinsWoerman

By Meghan Hall

Another new office project is in the works in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, adding to change in the area. Proposed by Trammell Crow and designed by CollinsWoerman, 1916 Boren is expected to rise 10 stories and include around 235,000 square feet of office space. At the project’s first Early Design Guidance meeting on October 19th, there were a number of items discussed by the Downtown Review Board, but one in particular was indicative of development around downtown as of late: Will this project also offer lab space?

In addition to the office space, plans indicate that the development will also include 7,800 square feet of retail and 222 parking stalls. The goal of the project, according to CollinsWoerman’s Pat Logan, was to create a flexible office space for innovative users while contributing positively to the neighborhood through an thoughtfully scaled and well-designed building. 

“We’ve developed four guiding principles for the project,” said Logan. “These are summarized as follows: respect the neighborhood…enrich the experience [of the neighborhood]…prepare for the users…and lastly, incorporate design cues.”

While CollinsWoerman presented three options, the third option was the focus of the meeting. The building would feature an unmodulated facade along Boren Ave., while the Stewart Street facade would be pulled back at all levels to create view aperture. A large notch in the facade at the northwest corner of the building will mark the building entry, and public plazas at grade on both Stewart and Boren are planned. At the south facade, a shear facade element will anchor the building.

Logan added, “Not only should we provide efficient, flexible office space,but contribute really in a positive way to the neighborhood by offering a building that is not only unique and is interesting, but is appropriately scaled, is well-proportioned and even more importantly, activates the pedestrian realm…” 

In recent years, a number of new buildings have been delivered to South Lake Union, many of which are a mix of office, research and lab space. Since 2004, the University of Washington School of Medicine has made a series of updates to the Brotman Building, transforming it into a biomedical research campus. In 2019, the Seattle Children’s Research Institute was completed; the project included 13 floors of research and lab space. Boren Lofts–a 136,000 square foot project also developed by Trammell Crow and acquired by Oxford Property Group in the spring of this year–is also being transformed into lab space.

It was not a stretch, then, when several of the Board members asked if this project, too, would include laboratory or research and development space. The Board questioned how a potential conversion to life sciences or the future addition of lab space would impact several design elements, including amenity space on the roof and the core of the building itself, which would need to accommodate HVAC.

Overall, however, the Board largely appreciated the project’s proposed design and the three distinct architectural masses presented. The Board expressed that the third–and preferred–option presented the most potential in its response to the neighborhood context and a “thorough analysis of the [development] opportunity.” The Board also appreciated the massing moves made to incorporate open space into the project.

The Board ultimately voted to move the project forward to the design recommendation phase; however, it predicated the approval on several design conditions moving forward. One Board member noted that moving ahead should only happen with some “pretty heavy guidance.” 

Most significantly, the Board noted that the alley facade needed to better address the neighborhood, and that as is, it was too simplistic. The Board requested additional studies on what massing moves could be made, noting that while the facade faced an alley, it still had an impact on surrounding buildings. The Board also raised some questions about the south facade of the building and the dominance of the shear wall. The Board asked the design team to study how the shear wall can better contribute to open space. Finally, the Board asked the design team to study the cantilever, noting that it was generally an “inconsistent” approach for the neighborhood. 

The Board did not make any recommendations based on its questions around lab space; instead, the discussion about lab versus office was tabled, at least for the short term. In the coming months, Trammell Crow and CollinsWoerman will work to update the designs for 1916 Boren and will return to face the Downtown Design Review Board in the coming months for formal recommendation.