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Design Review Board Recommends University Temple United Methodist Church Project Return for Second Recommendation Meeting

University Temple United Methodist Church, American Campus Communities, GGLO, Seattle, University District
Courtesy of GGLO

By Bekka Wiedenmeyer

For more than a hundred years, University Temple United Methodist Church (UTUMC) has called Seattle’s U-District home, growing from one tent to multiple worship spaces over the decades. Last year, UTUMC, American Campus Communities (ACC) and GGLO Design received approval from the Northeast Design Review Board to move forward with a project for two mixed-use towers at 15th Avenue NE and NE 43rd Street to increase community connectivity and support community need through the resources provided. Earlier this week, UTUMC, GGLO Design and Weinstein A+U LLC returned with a revised project during a recommendation meeting in response to the previous suggestions made by the Board. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Board advised the project return for a second recommendation meeting to address some of their design concerns. 

The site, which is jointly owned by UTUMC and Larry D Erickson, is located at 1415 NE 43rd Street and currently houses an existing structure which will be demolished to clear the way for the new design. GGLO Design is both the architect of record and landscape architect, with Weinstein A+U LLC as the church interior architect. The site is surrounded by a combination of commercial, residential and institutional buildings.

The goals of the project are to connect the community through its public open spaces and streetscape, provide student housing and design a church mission space for community, cultural and religious purposes.

“The church is embarking on this project to continue these types of uses for the next 100 years,” said Kirsten Wild, a principal at Weinstein A+U LLC. “As the University District enters a period of rapid and sometimes unsettling change, University Temple hopes to create spaces for people from all walks of life to connect with each other.”

According to project documents, the two residential towers will be situated above a 40,000 square foot podium, with below grade parking. The northern tower will provide 179 residential units, and the southern tower will provide 65 units. Site amenities include podium and rooftop terraces overlooking the U-District and the University of Washington, a colonnade plaza, a north entry porch, a comprehensible sanctuary and an outdoor seating amphitheatre. Building amenities also include dining, lounge and hang out spaces at the podium level; space for games, workout classes and movable furniture at the lower tower roof; and restaurant-style banquettes, a study lounge and movable furniture at the higher tower roof.

There are four main elements driving the design: The sanctuary, the inner sanctum, the main entry from 15th Avenue and the church mission space at the podium. Ultimately, UTUMC wants the new space to be open and welcoming to the community.

“As we’ve worked with the church on this project, one of the most consistent things we’ve heard is that the building should feel welcoming, full of light and warmth,” Wild said.

To make the building more welcoming, the team proposed changes to the design concept based on suggestions made by the Board last year and re-emphasized the use of the open spaces to make them more inviting. 

Last year, the Board discussed its concerns with the height of the Colonnade and how it affected the scale of the plaza. In response during the recommendation meeting, the team proposed reducing the surrounding planted area to provide more connection from the street to the Colonnade, and also pushing the Church entry vestibule more north to create more space.

“While the open space can be used for gathering, seating around the space is intended to foster more introspective, quiet space,” said James Greene, an associate with GGLO.

The Board also originally suggested more activation along the streetscape, which the team responded to during the recommendation meeting by incorporating three different floor plates along 15th Avenue NE and emphasizing the enlarged public spaces as the result of the changes made to the Colonnade. Additionally, Metro and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) have planned improvements to the bus stop to the north of the site, which is connected by a walking path along the property line. The north entry porch has also been redesigned so the stair portion is on the outside of the building as opposed to the inside, as was originally planned.

To further activation at street level and make the design more unique to the U-District, the team has “anchored” the project around the Colonnade, resident lobby and Intersect, the last of which will begin the transition from the church to student housing at the corner of 15th Avenue NE and NE 43rd Street at the podium. The resident dining hall above the Intersect will help continue the activation from the podium to the towers, adding a corner design element, and slot windows along 15th Avenue NE will provide additional glazing and activation into the lower level amenity space.

The Board was also concerned with activation at the alley scape, which the team responded to during the recommendation meeting by adding additional murals and glazing along the alley, as well as bike entry at the southern end through the garage entry. All blank walls will also be designed with lighting and architectural finishes.

During its discussions of the design concept, the Board suggested the towers either become more contrasted or more interlocked with the base element at the podium. In response, the design team decided to keep with the site’s duality and emphasized the differences in the relationship between the two towers during the recommendation meeting. The brick podium facing east toward the UW campus will be emphasized by the setback of the towers, which will be clad in a lighter metal panel and glass skin. Facing west toward the U-District, the towers and podium will be coplanar, with metal and glass continuing to grade above and orange accent color added at the student entry lobby along 43rd. 

As requested by the Board, the team brought material studies and development diagrams to the recommendation meeting to demonstrate the decisions behind the overall frame, glazing and subdivision of glazing by metal panel bands. Larger window bays at the center of the tower facade will be used to express living rooms, while floor to floor glass with punch window conditions will express bedrooms. The team is exploring intervals of metal spandrel bands and glass spandrels to help with vertical breakup and modulation, as well as the use of large color blocks to help articulate interlocking massing.

The Board appreciated the development of the architectural concept over the last year and the direction the team is moving in with its revised design, as well as the articulation of the base. The Board requested to see more details on the design language and relationship of the base, the towers in relation to each other and separately, the language within each tower. The Board also suggested the team think of the open spaces as an extension of the public realm, as opposed to an extension of the building, and advised the team to reconsider the space along NE 43rd Street to make the design more open and accessible to the public from the sidewalk without the use of stairs in the next iteration. While the Board was comfortable with the progression of the Colonnade, they suggested more features could be added to make it more inviting. The Board was also generally supportive of the changes to activate the alley space.

During the meeting, the team also requested seven design departures for the project. The first departure request increases rooftop coverage. The second increases the amount of open space areas. The third decreases the minimum vertical clearance of covered space. The fourth increases the percentage of covered open space. The fifth exempts the length of the podium’s upper floor from modulation. The sixth exempts the circulation corridor from the calculation for determining floor area above 45 feet, and the seventh and final departure request qualifies the proposed open space along NE 43rd Street as a public park to satisfy the requirement for street-level use.

The Board was generally supportive of these departures during the recommendation meeting, with conditions set for the team to continue adding amenities and features to make the open spaces more welcome to the public. More specifically for the fifth departure request, the Board suggested the team continue working on the articulation of the sanctuary within the mass. 

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Board recommended in a split 4-2 decision to return the project for a second recommendation meeting. In the coming months, the team will continue to work on the design of the open spaces and the relationship of the podium and towers so that UTUMC’s vision of connecting the church to the surrounding community will ultimately be fulfilled.