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BioMed Realty’s 700 Dexter Development in South Lake Union Receives First EDG Approval

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Courtesy of SkB Architects

By Jack Stubbs

Tonight, BioMed Realty, along with its design partner, SkB Architects, got one step closer to seeing their vision at 700 Dexter Avenue N in South Lake Union come to fruition. The city of Seattle’s Design Review Board conducted their first Early Design Guidance meeting to consider the nearly 500,000 square foot project’s proposal. At a meeting that lasted nearly 90 minutes, the planners, along with members of the public and applicants considered carefully the options presented and approved the project for further consideration.

It is not uncommon during the initial design phase for the developer to present more than one design variation on the project. In this instance, too, BioMed and SkB provided three perspectives on the design in order to give the planners and the public a better view into the design direction and strategy. The Massing Concept Option 3 quickly became the preferred option, and it was this option that was approved for a second EDG meeting along with three proposed departures which were requested by the applicant.

The project site is located at 700 Dexter Ave N, and it it is bounded by Roy Street to the south, 8th Avenue N to the east, Valley Street to the north, and Dexter Avenue North to the west. The site lies near the northwestern edge of the South Lake Union Urban Center, and it might yet change the landscape of one of Seattle’s fastest growing neighborhoods.

The intended aim of the project is to develop a 13-14 story, two-tower, 175-foot office building with retail at grade level. Additionally, a pedestrian through-block is planned to provide access to more amenities, such as retail, office elevator lobbies and open gathering space. Three levels of parking is planned under the ground level.

BioMed Realty and SkB presented three Massing Concepts to the Board, the third of which was ultimately approved. This option proposed a 14-story two-tower project with 495,417 square feet allocated to office space, 24,633 square feet allocated to retail, and the same number of parking spaces.

While Option 3 was the one approved, first first two options provided variations on the preferred option. Option 1 proposed a 13-story, two-tower development with 483,271 square feet of office space, 34,331 square feet of commercial space, and 520 parking spaces. Option 2 was a variation of the first, proposing a 13-14 story two-tower structure with 496,625 square feet of office space, 32,795 square feet of retail, and 520 parking spaces.

There were also three departures requested by the applicant for the preferred Option 3. The first two departures—concerning a facade modulation and podium height increase from 45 to 60 feet—were definitively approved. The final departure concerned the spacing of the two towers: while the coding designated that a minimum separation of 60 feet must be provided between structures, the applicant requested an allowance of a 52-foot space between the towers. This departure was approved but qualified with the requirement that the mass of the two buildings should be reduced.

The applicant described one of their primary development objectives as the desire to “provide an elegant building design that responds to the surrounding South lake Union neighborhood … and provides efficiency and flexibility for future office tenants.”

BioMed is also aware of the way in which the project might influence the surrounding community. Referring to the design concept, the applicant’s proposal aims to provide “a strong design presence, which strives for building legibility, embraces views and integrates with the surrounding concept.”

The developer also noted that the nearly 60,000 square foot site is the smallest full-block site in South Lake Union that would allow for two towers and a pedestrian walk-through, one of the project’s main features. Notably, the applicant emphasized two potential constraints limiting the project’s potential dimensions: the presence of the flight path for float planes landing on Lake Union (limiting height) and the environmental cleanup required (limiting downward excavation). These issues did not go unnoticed, and were deeply appreciated by the board.

However, although the board members ultimately approved the preferred third option, they maintained some reservations about the project moving forward, specifically the size of the massing options. Ultimately, though, they agreed that further, more specific design developments had the potential to yield a “dynamic, expressive building.”

Next steps for the project team include some revisions to and more detailed elaboration of Option Three before the second EDG meeting, which will be scheduled in the near future. More than one massing option gives the board increased flexibility. According to one board member, “It helps the Board to see expressions of thinking to a preferred option.”