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Caught Between Practicality and Aesthetics, Design Board Asks 46-Story Apartment Building to Return for Second Review

Silverstein Properties, Handel Architects, Seattle, Butcher’s Table, Shake Shack, 801 Blanchard
Courtesy of Handel Architects

By Meghan Hall

The project team of residential development pitched for a site at the core of the Denny Triangle faces a complicated task: balancing engineering and practicality with the City’s design standards. Silverstein Properties and Handel Architects presented their initial schemes for 801 Blanchard on Tuesday. The 400-unit apartment building is expected to rise 41 stories above the ground plane, with its footprint focused on a small section of parcel wedged between two existing buildings. The site has posed both logistical and design challenges for the development team, challenges which became apparent at its first Early Design Guidance meeting.

The L-shaped site is sandwiched between the existing four-story Butcher’s Table Building—protected by development regulations–and an existing one-story Shake Shack building to the south. The Shake Shack asset could be redeveloped in the future, and Silberstein Properties has come to an agreement with the property’s owner to acquire the site down the line, noted Handel Architects’ Matthew Berglund. However, the agreement has not yet been executed.

“As we studied the physical environment of the site, we were focused on three elements of response within the massing proposal,” said Berglund. “One, was a response at the edges at the street wall. Two was a volumetric response, focused on the forms that will be highly visible in this exposed site, and the third aspect of the response was to look at patterns of movement of flow which were streamlined over the small block. Within these patterns you find a special uniqueness within the site.”

The design of the project will largely be defined by efforts to preserve the neighboring structures while striving to enhance the surrounding neighborhood. Handel presented several different design concepts, with its “preferred” option evoking a unified but prismatic form. The mass is designed to be the most slender from Blanchard Street, offering extra air and sunlight to the Butcher’s Table Building. The tower will be smoothed and sculptured, while horizontal datums at the lower levels will connect with neighboring buildings. An overhanging element provides a more gradual transition in scale as the development rises.

“In Concept Three we are striving for an aspirational and cohesive response to the uncommon site,” Berglund explained. “With jewel-like cuts, the massing has an element of surprise and movement and three dimensions…”

Another concept, more evocative of shifting plates, was also discussed at lengths. The design scheme features an angled façade at Blanchard and a mass that extends to Westlake. With this option, the visual response is more refined from the Puget Sound and Space Needle, as opposed to from Blanchard Street. The massing is set to avoid the inside corner and compliment the non-standard shape of the block.

Both designs shared a similar site plan, with a porte cochere, lobby entrance and bike loading and elevators all located off of 8th Ave., highlighted as the quietest of the three streets. The lobby would be situated between the porte cochere and bike loading curb cuts. Small retail spaces accessible via the corner of Blanchard and 8th Ave., as well as off of Westlake are planned.

The Board acknowledged the unique challenges posed by the site, its small footprint and the adjacent buildings. However, it remained largely unconvinced of the design schemes presented. The Board noted a lack of podium, and also expressed that the lobby’s location between the two curb cuts made the building’s entry appear smaller and less significant. The Board also suggested moving the pedestrian and bike access to the north of the site, away from the porte cochere, in an effort to make the entry safer for those walking or cycling to the site.

In terms of the larger tower portion of the design, the Review Board stated it was not supportive of any scheme in its entirety. The Board hoped for a massing scheme that would enable the project—from an engineering and design perspective—to maintain its green street while also appearing to minimize the appearance of the massing. The Board also asked for a study as to how the Shake Shack property could evolve in the future, and how its evolution would fit in with the proposed development.

Given these concerns, the Board unanimously voted to bring the project back for a second early design guidance meeting. The Board stated that it still needed to see multiple design options. In the coming months, the project team will continue to work to balance the logistics of the site and the developments design, and will present its new plans in the coming months.