Home AEC Ballard Food Bank Expands Services to Community through New Home Base

Ballard Food Bank Expands Services to Community through New Home Base

Ballard Food Bank, Spectrum Development Solutions, Graham Baba Architects, Seattle, Ballard
Courtesy of Graham Baba Architects

By Bekka Wiedenmeyer

Ballard Food Bank is dedicated to combating food insecurity in Northwest Seattle, addressing the needs of the community by providing safe access to food and other essential items. Since its inception in the 1970s, the Food Bank has increased its footprint to also include social and medical services, and its continued growth has been made possible through its new home at 1400 NW Leary Way. Developed by Seattle-based architecture firm Graham Baba Architects in partnership with Ballard Food Bank and its Seattle-based representative, Spectrum Development Solutions, the new single-story building will offer space for individuals to not only receive quality food, but also financial and housing assistance, mail delivery services, and much more.

“We want to create an inclusive, humane space where people could select food and receive services with dignity,” said Brian Jonas, principal and partner at Graham Baba Architects. “This is a place where everyone should feel welcome.”

The new home of Ballard Food Bank, which is currently under construction, is 10,628 square feet and located in the Ballard neighborhood of Northwest Seattle. The abandoned brownfield site on which it’s being developed is nestled in an industrial precinct, which houses a blend of industrial, warehouse, mixed use commercial and market spaces. To the south of the 18,825 square foot brownfield site is NW Leary Way, a major arterial, and to the east is 14th Avenue NW, a boulevard-like street with its median converted to service and parking spaces. NW 49th Street, a smaller side street, bounds the north of the site. A parking and service yard with a loading and delivery area will be included in the construction of the project, as well as 11 parking spaces. Edmonds-based company Wilcox Construction, Inc. serves as the contractor for the project, and Seattle-based architecture firm Hewitt is the landscape architect. The City of Seattle, the State of Washington and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have committed donations to the development of the project. The new building will nearly double the size of the Food Bank’s existing operations, which are located just a few blocks away from the site. 

The project team understood the importance of the new building when first approached by the Food Bank. With the help of staff, volunteers, clients and donors, they discussed the mission of the Food Bank and how the project design could thoroughly align with its values.

“We talked about everything from big-picture issues like how we want clients to feel as they walk around the space, to details about where cans of tomatoes, yogurt cartons and fresh meats would be placed on shelves,” Jonas said.

This brainstorming session boiled down to two key priorities for the Food Bank: Create a safe, efficient space for staff and volunteers to work, and create a welcoming environment for anyone who walks through the front doors, especially for clients who are dealing with food insecurity.

“The design team prioritized a dignified and normalized experience for those in our community often shunted into the most marginalized spaces in our city,” Jonas said. “Each of the program components takes design cues from similar private commercial spaces in the community to create a dignified and normalized experience for those needing food and other assistance.”

The interior of the building is portioned into several main areas: The HUB, the Kitchen, the Market, the warehouse and office space. The front door is set back along a side street for privacy, and upon entering the building, visitors will encounter a waiting area with other services expanding out from the central service desk and seating area. The HUB is intended to serve as a space for different social and medical services, which include counseling, veterans’ services and case management. 

“An open office style area behind the desk allows for one on one and smaller meetings with clients, while three separate rooms at the perimeter provide space for services requiring greater acoustical or visual privacy,” Jonas said. “A large set of sliding glass doors allow the Food Bank to close off the space from the main entry when not in use.”

The Kitchen is a community cafe which allows the Food Bank to upcycle donated food items into meals, and the Market is designed in a “supermarket style,” with grocery shelves, produce tables and cases for perishable foods. Check-out counters similar to supermarket check-out stands are designed with efficiency and comfort in mind. The Market also has a “No Cook” department for ready-made meals. 

“Wood paneling with stainless steel detailing lines the walls to provide protection from carts and moving goods while also lending a warm feel to space,” Jonas said. “High ceilings and generous daylighting contribute to create a welcoming space.”

The team worked closely with the Food Bank’s staff and volunteers to address the food’s journey from its delivery to the site to the stocking of the Market. The warehouse and outdoor storage yard are enlarged to support the loading, offloading and sorting operations of the Food Bank. The building will also have space for new offices for the Food Bank’s administration operations, designed to cater to the staff’s current needs while also providing flexibility for future changes. 

The design responds to neighborhood context through its two primary forms, which include a larger, industrial-like form which houses the Market and warehouse, as well as a smaller, more residential form along 14th Avenue which houses the Kitchen, the HUB and offices. The sloped roof of the secondary form creates a welcoming entry to the building.

“A wood and painted trellis at the entry area creates a more generous front door and signals the building’s role as a community hub open to all,” Jonas said.

The team chose metal siding and roofing as the primary exterior material, not only for their durability, but also in response to the older industrial structures that surround the site. They also incorporated kebony wood siding at specific areas around the facade and in select site elements to provide warmth.

“Aluminum accent panels between windows and a painted steel entry trellis provide pops of color to enliven the perimeter and establish a link between the building and the Food Bank’s institutional brand,” Jonas said.

Inside visitors will find polished concrete floors. The team also designed casework, wall paneling and other details out of a blend of birch plywood, mill finish stainless steel, plastic laminate and manufactured quartz slabs to emphasize warmth and maximize durability. The exposed wood ceiling structure provides a view to the Market and warehouse.

The landscape, designed by Hewitt, will feature a renovated streetscape, gardens, urban agriculture beds and seating areas around the new building. Solar panels and rainwater gardens are also woven into the landscape. The team chose materials and systems to increase the indoor air quality, along with energy efficient mechanics and lighting. As part of their sustainability strategy, Graham Baba Architects worked with the Integrated Design Lab at the University of Washington to incorporate natural daylight in the building through skylights and intentionally placed window openings.

“Studies have shown that people living and working in natural daylit environments are happier and more productive, and the resulting spaces don’t use as much electricity,” Jonas said.

While developing a top-quality design on a donor-driven budget can sometimes be challenging, Graham Baba Architects attributes their success to the joint efforts of Ballard Food Bank, Spectrum Development Solutions and Wilcox Construction, Inc. 

“Our teammates allowed us to clearly understand the priorities and hierarchy of needs for the project; and then to test the schedule and budget implications of our choices in real time during the design phases of the project,” Jonas said. “This helped us with everything from structural system selections to choices for the details of finishes and hardware. The resulting project focused our design efforts and the project budget on elements most directly related to the success of the Food Bank’s mission and the comfort of their clients.”

The team is looking forward to when clients can enjoy the new building, which is currently set to open in the fall of 2021. Small design features like natural daylight and intentional views into the landscape invite clients the opportunity to explore and experience the building in different ways.

“We love the rich interplay between our work and the landscape designers’ work, creating a complete experience from the street through to the interiors,” Jonas said.