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Design Review Board Requests Second Recommendation Meeting for 650,000 SQFT Project in Downtown Seattle

Denny Triangle, Gensler, OneLin Capital Corporation, GZI Boren LLC, Amazon Kumo, Nexus
Rendering Courtesy of Gensler

By Bekka Wiedenmeyer

The Denny Triangle in Downtown Seattle is quickly evolving from what was once an older development of early 20th century masonry and wood frame construction to an urban center village with a combination of low-rise commercial buildings and mid- to high-rise residential and mixed-use spaces. In this urban core, Boren Avenue cuts through South Lake Union and Capitol Hill, representing a flurry of pedestrian activity and major vehicular thoroughfare. Now, the Denny Triangle is consistent with new development and urban design. In November, GZI Boren LLC, an entity associated with Seattle-based OneLin Capital Corporation, and Gensler proposed a revised project to the Downtown Design Review Board during its first recommendation meeting to develop a 47-story apartment building with retail and a 16-story hotel at 1916 Boren Avenue. The Board unanimously recommended the project return for another meeting with revisions based on the guidance provided during the meeting.  

The site, which is owned by GZI Borne LLC and will be developed by Gensler as architect for the new project, is currently developed with a three-story masonry building, a one-story building and a surface parking lot. Existing buildings are to be demolished to make way for the new development. The site is in the heart of new and proposed construction, the latter of which for zoning purposes and tower spacing is considered to be “existing” by the project team. To the southeast of the site, the Tilt 49 tower with a 37-story residential building and 11-story office building is being constructed. Across the alley to the west, two 39-story residential towers have been proposed. Across Boren to the west a 13-story research building is being built, and to the north, a 42-story residential building has been proposed. Other notable buildings in the area include Raisbeck Hall, Amazon Kumo and Nexus. Stewart Street is majorly purposed with pedestrian use as a connector to the Downtown core, and Interstate 5 is approximately 700 feet to the east of the site.

According to project documents, the 658,473 square foot project will include 47 stories of apartments with 379 residential units and 51,810 square feet of commercial retail. The project also proposes 16 stories of 236 co-living units, and 357 below grade parking stalls. Amenities include an atrium in the lobby space, balconies and roof terraces with common recreation areas or eating and drinking establishments. Because the project site is a central location of pedestrian activity, an open-window street level facade will be included to stimulate more visual connection with pedestrian flow. 

During the second early design guidance meeting in March 2018, the Board encouraged more ground level activation because of the heavy pedestrian flow surrounding the site. In response, the team proposed a widened sidewalk along Boren to allow for a landscaped canopy, specialty paving to differentiate between foot traffic and vehicular surfaces and signage at the alley entrance. Existing trees lining the street will remain, and glass windows on the ground level will allow for more visibility into appealing interior features.

The updated massing of the building will include a simplified, two-story podium with stepped setbacks and retained balconies along the west facade and northwest corner of the tower. A consistent twisting motion extends up the southeast facade, with angular expressions along the alley facade and twisted tower top. The Board also recommended during the second early design guidance meeting that the corner sidecar tower be developed more into an individual expression, to which the design team responded by creating a more horizontal tower skin and using differing materials from the co-living tower. Materials for the co-living tower include vision glass, medium gray metal panels, exposed concrete and silver metal panels and mechanical screens, whereas the sidecar tower will be comprised of dark gray metal with similar vision glass for continuity. 

During the recommendation meeting, the Board generally supported the revised street level, podium and massing design of the co-living tower but did not support the rooftop mechanical screening and suggested the team explore better options than the proposed twisted design as it is currently presented. While generally supporting the massing of the design, the Board also suggested during the recommendation meeting that the team could further improve on the twisting and stepping of the design to make a more coherent connection.

Specifically for the sidecar tower, the Board was divided with the team’s response to the Board’s previous suggestion to make the tower a standalone element. Some Board members agreed the team effectively addressed the standalone element, while other members found the expression of the two towers to be too identical.

At the conclusion of the first recommendation meeting, the Board recommended the project return for another meeting to improve on the architectural expression of the proposal, among other guidelines outlined in the meeting. GZI Boren LLC and Gensler will review the guidance provided by the Board and return with a revised proposal to address some of the issues raised in the meeting in order to move closer to the finalized project at 1916 Boren Avenue, which aims to expand pedestrian access to the Downtown core and increase the urban feel of the Denny Triangle.