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Design Review Board Moves 11-Story Apartment Building at 1st Avenue to MUP Application

Herzog & de Meuron US Inc, Archetype Belltown LLC, Hewitt Architects, Belltown, Seattle
Image Courtesy of Hewitt Architects

By Bekka Wiedenmeyer

Belltown is known for its rich culture and dense population, a former brick warehouse district turned into a lively and activated area featuring galleries, shops, colleges and small-owned businesses. At the beginning of this week, a project was introduced that will continue to activate the neighborhood and build upon the culture that is already tightly woven into the fabric of Belltown. Hewitt Architects, Inc., Herzog & de Meuron US Inc. and Archetype Belltown LLC proposed a project for an 11-story apartment with retail and a restaurant during an early design guidance meeting to the Downtown Design Review Board. The team hopes to reactivate a block in Belltown wedged between two historic structures by providing residential and urban spaces, as well as retail and programs that will further stimulate the diverse cultural and commercial community. In response, the Board recommended the project move forward to MUP application.

The site, located at 2407 1st Avenue, is situated between the historic Hull and Glaser buildings and has been an unfinished gap for more than a century. To either side of the block are Wall Street and Battery Street, along with a surface parking lot behind the Hull Building on the Battery Street side. Owned by Archetype Belltown LLC, the empty space gives the design team an opportunity to connect the alley with front-facing 1st Avenue through a “laneway,” along with a chance to create a potential urban connection to the future Portal Park and Downtown Seattle. 

The team hopes to accomplish three key goals through the development of the project: Assimilate with the neighborhood, activate and enhance the block and propose a building that both complements the adjacent historic buildings while also distinguishing itself as an architecturally individual structure that connects 1st Avenue with the alley. 

“We feel this project offers a great opportunity to have impact and be influenced by the neighborhood,” said Simon Demeuse, partner at Herzog  & de Meuron US Inc. 

The team is adhering to five different design guidelines to achieve their goals. They aim to respond to the physical environment of the site by keeping the street edges consistent while the roof lines vary in height, as well as respond to the neighborhood context by studying the facade analysis of the Hull and Glaser buildings and providing a different, yet compatible design solution for the new building. 

“In the block radius, the historic landmarks that are present are of great inspiration to us,” Demeuse said.

The team is also focusing on creating a transition in bulk and scale, designing facades of many scales and developing the alley facade to both increase pedestrian safety and activate interest and participation. 

According to project documents, the 13,320 square foot mixed-use structure will include between 160 to 170 residential apartments with one to three stories of below grade parking stalls. The commercial space extends approximately 7,500 square feet at the ground level, with 5,000 to 10,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor amenities at rooftop level and / or ground level. Approximately 165 bicycle parking spaces will also be provided. The team intends to create a “laneway” that will connect 1st Avenue with the alley to further activate the sites with programs and uses for the public. The windowless party walls will give the team an opportunity to feature an art installation, a natural green wall, a multimedia feature or a material articulation.

Herzog  & de Meuron US Inc. explained the design that will help them create a building and space that is primarily for residential use but also for tenants and the local community to use as either an event space or connection to travel to other parts of the neighborhood. It breaks down into three vertically-stacked elements: The public forum and courtyard, the apartment house and the roof terrace and pavilion. Using these parameters, the team presented three massing alternatives that all share a well-defined street edge and the “laneway” connection between 1st Avenue and the alleyway.

The preferred massing alternative responds to the alley by stepping back the building on the 1st Avenue side and framing an open garden with two wings along the party walls. On the alley side, an open courtyard serves as an amenity, with a setback mass and more opportunity for alley activation and maximum natural light.

“You have a lot of light and landscaping connection and potential in this scheme, which results in a garden really opening up and set back toward the alley way, which we feel is giving most activation potential along the alley,” Demeuse said.

In this scheme, there will be commercial and retail opportunities at ground level along 1st Avenue and the alley, along with terraces and a bar and restaurant at rooftop level. The team is taking cues from the neighboring historic buildings by exploring what materials should be used for the project, including the possibility of a traditional wood frame structure wrapped in a brick skin. The preferred “punched windows” alternative proposed during the early design guidance meeting breaks down the scale of the building into smaller elements while relating to the depth of the glazing elements of the adjacent buildings. The preferred “recessed rooftop” alternative decreases the appearance of height from the street perspective and emphasizes the project’s residential mass, according to the project documents. Lastly, the preferred glazing at the front gives the building the appearance of a floating mass, and a 4 foot canopy continuous along 1st Avenue protects the laneway.

“It’s a project that’s fitting for this part of Belltown and this block,” Demeuse said.

The Board appreciated the studies the team did for the proposed massing alternatives and agreed with the preferred massing alternative because of how it activated the alleway and complemented, rather than detracted, from the surrounding historic buildings. The Board also appreciated the simplicity of the “punched windows” option for the facade, though they requested to see more details for the depth of the punched openings, as well as details on material selection. The Board supported the “recessed rooftop” element, which is consistent with other buildings in the vicinity. They wanted to give the team flexibility to examine roof lines as mechanical spaces may change, but suggested the team create a roof line that maintains the classical form of the building. The majority of the Board supported the streetscape details, advising the team to continue to accentuate the laneway and conduct more studies on the canopy so that it is less distracting. The Board also requested more details for the urban design and activation of the streetscape along 1st Avenue, with unanimous appreciation for the studies conducted for the alley. Finally, the Board suggested the team reconsider the use of a multimedia feature for the party walls and ensure whichever installation they decide with which to work is timeless and flows with the storylines of the projects and adjacent buildings.

During the meeting, the project team requested two departures regarding limited overhead weather protection and a two-way parking ramp to below-grade levels, which was supported by the Board.

At the conclusion of the early design guidance meeting, the Board recommended the project move forward to MUP application, giving the team an opportunity to move one step closer toward filling the 100-year-old gap at 2407 1st Avenue with a new project featuring residential and cultural elements the entire Belltown community can both use and enjoy.