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Design for 187-Unit Residential Building Blocks from Seattle’s Space Needle Will Need More Refinement

CollinsWoerman, Seattle, Allgreen Holding Limited, Zingming Chen, West Design Review Board, Arts & Culture District, Lake Union, Elliott Bay
Image Credit: CollinsWoerman

By Meghan Hall

The Space Needle is one of Seattle’s most iconic attractions, the tower easily distinguishable from the city’s rapidly growing skyline, and it is a view that residents of 508 Denny will see daily in the coming years. However, the 18-story, 187-unit apartment building proposed by CollinsWoerman on behalf of Beijing-based Allgreen Holding Limited, an entity associated with Zingming Chen, will have to do more work to achieve a design approval from the West Design Review Board. The proposal was asked to return for a second Early Design Guidance meeting sometime in the future, as the development team mulls the feedback from the board and delivers a design proposal in line with its feedback.

The proposed project will sit in one of Seattle’s busiest neighborhoods. With its proximity to the Space Needle and other attractions surrounding the Seattle City Center, it will bring together a broad spectrum of people around the site. “There’s lots of uses within the area, lots of office, hotel, residential and then also the public open space and cultural aspects within the Seattle City Center,” said Cameron Darr, associate with Collins Woerman, who presented the vision of the development on behalf of the development team.

These uses will closely shape the development proposal, as well, since the district will become a place where a convergence of tourists, residents and the general public will occur. “How do we announce the arrival to the Arts & Culture District in Uptown [with our project],” said Darr, will be defined by these three groups.

Image Credit: CollinsWoerman

The ultimate goal of the development is to provide one holistic experience on this site and where three different groups of people experience the site and interact and engage, he added.

Another very important aspect of the project is its proximity to the monorail line, which cuts the corner of the properly line and defines the neighborhood more broadly. “What’s most unique about the site is the fact that the monorail runs straight through,” said Darr. “So, it’s only one of two sites in the city that has that, the other one is MoPOP, which is it’s final destination. It’s our biggest design challenge, but it will also be our biggest design opportunity.”

The monorail was the most significant aspect of the design proposal, and it quite literally shaped the massing. The design of the preferred option pulled away from the monorail also allowing for an 8,300 square foot plaza and amenity space that would help define the area and the location of the structure.

Along with the amenity space, 3,430 square feet of retail space is also proposed in the building, as well as 60 parking stalls. A rooftop deck with a fire pit and barstool seating, as well as an outdoor grill and kitchen space, are delineated in the plans.

The development team presented four massing options to the Board, with the team’s third, preferred option presented as two alternatives, one shorter and one taller. The massing of the building maximizes light and air at the pedestrian level by establishing views toward Seattle Center, Lake Union and Elliott Bay. The public plaza engages the southwest corner of the site — where the monorail is located — while the rest of the ground floor contains two small retail spaces and the residential lobby.

The development team requested no departures for the preferred option, while one was requested in alternate massing options.

Overall, the board was very supportive of the plaza and the massing required to provide it, but it was not supportive of the present depiction of that vision. This is a prominent corner with two other prominent plazas, board members stated, one that is very successful and the other that is not, and some of the elements of the current proposal make it seem very similar to the unsuccessful plaza.

The board unanimously supported the preferred taller option of the project, but it was not supportive of its secondary and tertiary mass elements, such as balconies and some of the other small moves. There was general concern and lack of clarity, according to the board, in the relationship between the project’s concept, the arts and culture gateway and the presence of the unique monorail condition to all the secondary massing elements. In addition, the board wanted more resolution of the roof concept and mechanical elements, especially since they will be visible from the Space Needle.

The tower and podium relationship was not very clear to the board. In its current iteration, the podium has a glass volume, but how that massing element relates to the tower was not too clear. The board gave guidance that it expects to see a stronger relationship between podium and tower and recommend that the applicant considers the city’s tall building guidelines, as well.

“When you get into the tall building territory, we’re looking a little bit more differentiation in the relationship between what’s happening on the podium, the ground plane or the base of the building, [and] what’s happening in the tower,” said Stephen Porter, a development representative on the board.

The concept thus far works, members of the board unanimously agreed, and they believe the project is generally going in the right direction. However, the board saw enough opportunity for final development of massing and EDG elements to bring it back for a second design guidance meeting.

The project, located at 508 Denny Way, is in the heart of Uptown, one of Seattle’s oldest neighborhoods. Dating to the 1800s, the World’s Fair of 1962 established the district, and Seattle, as a center of urban activity and performing arts. Uptown is anchored by Seattle Center, one of the largest educational, arts, tourism and entertainment hubs in the city, with architectural feats such as the Museum of Pop Culture adding vibrancy to the neighborhood. It is with this in mind that the Design Review Board took careful steps to shape this iconic neighborhood, and the designers’ responses will seek to seamlessly incorporate a new, modern residential building into the neighborhood’s eclectic architectural style.