By Meghan Hall
Seattle’s downtown, like most urban cores, is often described as dynamic, urban and young. Developers are constantly looking for ways to appeal to the young professional demographic that yearns to be within walking distance of everything, from transportation to entertainment to eateries and cafes. With millennial habits and values often dominating the conversation about development, little attention is given to an entirely different demographic: recently retired or senior residents wishing to live in Seattle’s ever-growing downtown. In December, Ankrom Moisan Architects and Transforming Age received approval — with several conditions — from the East Design Review Board to move forward with a 21-story independent living senior community called Olympic Tower in the city’s First Hill neighborhood.
The site — which is located at 715 8th Ave .— is currently a surface parking lot enclosed by a steel fence. Surrounding development is mostly composed of mostly residential properties, social service agencies and parking lots. To the south of the site are two 19th century apartment buildings while Skyline, another senior living development also owned by Transforming Age, is just across 8th Ave. Olympia Tower will be easily accessible via Interstate 5 and is within a few minutes’ drive of Gold Rush National Historical Park, the Colman Dock, Pike Place Market and CenturyLink Field.
According to project documents, the 184,498 square foot building will include 77 residential units, a 22,455 square foot amenity area and 78 parking stalls. Site plans for the development indicate that the ground floor’s active uses will include a salon, meeting room, lounge, coffee and bistro shop, as well as an auditorium.
The main entry of the building will be located off of 8th Ave., along with a seating and gathering area near the intersection of 8th and Columbia. Ankrom Moisan describes a blended architectural scheme in which the tower form is a rectangular shape with three corners coming to the ground and the fourth — the northeast corner — eroding one of the podium corners. At the northeast corner, an expansive two-story glass wall will help to activate the street. The northeast corner of the site will also have covered exterior seating and a rainwater feature incorporated into an entry canopy that will fill bioretention planters along Columbia St.
The tower’s materials are composed of vision glass, spandrel glass and aluminum mullions. The exterior of the podium will be clad in a metal panel reminiscent of cut stone as a more modern take on a classic material, while the base below the podium on the south side and the alley will be concrete to provide texture. Steel painted planters and high-pressure laminate panels will help to complete the building’s look.
The Board generally supported the project team’s design and appreciated the blending of the tower and the podium, believing it energized the building’s facades and would help activate the ground level spaces. They also emphasized that the building needed to maintain a strong residential character through the use of features such as balconies.
The six members of the Board recommend approval of the subject design with several conditions, including revisions of the proposed balconies on the west side of the building to be similar to those on the east side, the maintenance of the rectangular base and curved tower, the replacement of metal siding with stone project-wide, including on the podium, the addition of more windows on the alley side of the building and the addition of scale-giving elements such as glazing and landscaping on the south side of the podium.
With formal design approval secured, Ankrom Moisan and Transforming Age will be working through the remaining entitlements in the coming months in order to bring a new, senior-centric residential development to the neighborhood, catering to those who might usually be limited to less central locations. Transforming Age, which strives to increase housing options for seniors, has more than a dozen developments across the state of Washington and continental United States. The firm also owns and developed Parkshore, located at 1630 43rd Ave. E, and Fred Lind Manor, located at 1802 17th Ave.