By Jack Stubbs
South Lake Union is often considered one of the city’s most consistently active areas in terms of new developments advancing through the pipeline. A new 14-story 175’ project project was recently approved to proceed to the next stage of the city’s Design Review process at an Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting held on Wednesday, November 1st.
Architect SkB presented updated project plans to the West Design Review Board on behalf of the owner and developer of the project, BioMed Realty. The applicant was presenting revised project plans to the board following up on an earlier EDG meeting which took place on September 13th, 2017.
The board voted unanimously to advance the project to the next stage of the design process, pending the applicant’s consideration of priority design elements that included the building’s overall massing, height, bulk and scale, the project’s external materiality and texture, issues of accessibility, and the proposed uses for the public realm and courtyard area.
The proposed development, set on a 59,818 square foot plot of land, is located at 700 Dexter Ave. N in the heart of Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood and is just blocks from Lake Union Park. The project is a two-tower 14-story 175’ building with 495,901 square feet of high-tech office space and 27,847 square feet of ground-floor retail space. Additionally, there will be 494 parking stalls on three below-grade levels.
The first design objective is to provide an elegant building design that responds to the neighborhood and provides efficiency and flexibility for future office tenants, according to the project plans. The site is bounded by Roy Street to the south, 8th Avenue N to the east, Valley Street to the north, and Dexter Avenue N to the west. Additionally, a pedestrian through-block will provide access to more amenities, such as retail, office elevator lobbies and open gathering space.
The applicant team expressed its hope that the development would ultimately respect the fabric of the surrounding community, with key project drivers including an integration of the external building materials with the surrounding community and creating a development that was adaptable and honored the neighborhood’s industrial character. Since the last EDG in September, the applicant had reduced the building’s overall massing and modulation to help it further conform with the neighborhood streetscape and the pedestrian experience.
Prior comments expressed by the West Design Review Board at the earlier EDG had included how to allow more light and air to the building’s through-block element, how to reduce the building’s overall massing, and the need to continue coordinating with SDOT on design plans. The applicant team explained how it had improved the transition from the street-level to the top of the building by looking at surrounding commercial and industrial buildings for most cost-effective construction methods. Moving forward, the applicant team’s priority design goals for the project include maximizing daylight and increasing accessibility to the site, and designing a development that is more integrated with the street-level experience on Dexter Ave.
When asked to provide clarifying questions, several of the board members’ comments focused on the overall architectural form and scale of the two-building project. Member Patreese Martin asked why there were discrepancies between the architectural styles and massing of the two buildings. Brian Walters expressed concerns about the development’s height, noting that the buildings had a monumental scale in relation to pedestrians at street level. Additionally, Stephen Porter emphasized how the current project, with its flexible design, was a unique opportunity to energize the Dexter Avenue corridor and create an “18-hour pedestrian experience.” Member Homero Nishiwaki brought aesthetic concerns, highlighting the architectural expression of the building in terms of its exterior materials.
Only one person spoke up during the public comment section of the meeting. Matthew Curry, chair of the South Lake Union Public Affairs Committee, expressed his approval of the project, noting that “the ground plan activation is imaginative and innovative and engages pedestrians at street-level.” However, Curry also expressed concerns about the issue of accessibility to the development and encouraged the applicant to place more emphasis of the design of the pedestrian route moving forward.
The West Review board articulated priority design guidelines that the applicant would need to address before the upcoming Design Review Recommended meeting. The board articulated how the applicant team would need to work on further reducing and breaking down the massing of the two buildings through materials and landscaping in order to integrate the development with the surrounding streetscape. Ultimately, the board agreed with the applicant team’s decision to differentiate the two buildings through their contrasting architectural style. Board member Beth Hartwick encouraged the applicant to further integrate artwork, landscaping, lighting and signage features to make the development more pedestrian-oriented at street-level. The final design element that the board emphasized was circulation and accessibility throughout the site, encouraging the applicant to consider accessibility to the site as a priority design element moving forward.
Having been granted unanimous support for the project by the board, the applicant will now submit a Master Use Permit to the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspection for review.