Home AEC Design Review Board Struggles with Proposed Concept for 8-Story Office Building in...

Design Review Board Struggles with Proposed Concept for 8-Story Office Building in Uptown, Reluctantly Moves Project Forward

570 Mercer, Seattle, Weber Thompson, Schnitzer West
Courtesy of Weber Thompson

By Meghan Hall

A proposed eight-story office project intended to bring life into Seattle’s Uptown neighborhood faced a challenging Early Design Guidance meeting on Wednesday night. Located at 570 Mercer Street, a project team composed of Schnitzer West and Weber Thompson presented their plans for the development, also a living building pilot project. However, its simple and streamlined design, while modern, challenged the West Design Review Board, who discussed at length whether they had enough insight as to whether to move the project along in the design review process.

In all, the building will include 114,000 square feet of office, 6,000 square feet of retail and 65 underground parking spaces. The project team is looking to deliver a development that draws on the energy of the rapidly growing South Lake Union neighborhood, while drawing on the many retail amenities of the Uptown neighborhood. 

“We are aiming to create a high-quality, Class A commercial office project that celebrates high-performance architecture while creating an opportunity and a destination for neighborhood retail,” explained Weber Thompson Design Principal Cody Lodi. “There is a great opportunity here to mark this edge condition between the neighborhoods and create a meaningful transition from South Lake Union into Uptown.” 

The project team’s preferred massing concept—known as “Pivot” in the project plans—is anchored by the southeast corner in an effort to highlight the primary retail and building entry. The massing at the southeast corner of the site will be larger to match with development occurring in South Lake Union.

“The southeast corner is an opportunity to mark this gateway into Uptown with a strong, monumental response facing South Lake Union and a slightly more textured response facing Uptown to the west,” noted Lodi.

The north and west facades, facing Uptown, will reflect smaller scale façade articulations and scale down portions of the façade. Design documents indicate that the northern wall will function as more of a blank wall, due to its proximity to the lot line. Traveling along Mercer, the underside of balconies, recesses and roof materials will be clad in high quality materials to improve the pedestrian experience.  Lowering massing at the podium along the 6th Ave. corner will also create a more protected retail experience and usable outdoor space.

Another large factor in the design is the project’s involvement in Seattle’s Living Building and 2030 Challenge Pilots. The programs allow applicants to request additional departures and provide height and floor area incentives in exchange for meeting green building requirements. The 570 Mercer project is pursuing three “petals” within the building code: Place, Materials and Beauty. The goal is to reduce total energy usage of the building by 25 percent and reduce potable water demand by only using non-potable water for irrigation, water features, and toilet flushing.

The Board, in general, was supportive of the preferred massing concept. However, due to its simplicity and reliance on secondary massing features and materials to provide visual interest, the Board spent much of the meeting debating whether it had enough information in order to move the project forward to a formal recommendation meeting. While radical massing changes would not be recommended by the Board, one member categorized the next meeting as “high risk” if the project moved forward, as they could not exactly envision how the design would evolve, or what guidance would be constructive to give.

The Board recognized there was a lot of room to grow in terms of project design, and was able to offer a few points of feedback to the project team. Board members did have some concerns about the blank façade to the north and the differentiation in windows—punched versus ribbon—on creating a cohesive design. The Board also stated it would have appreciated more differentiation between massing schemes and simple massing elements, and moving forward wants to see the project include a stronger lobby and primary entrance expression. 

The Board also stated that as a part of the Living Building Challenge, it would also like to see more comprehensive landscaping and outdoor space, as opposed to the planters initially proposed by the project team.

“This is a destination; it has to be a destination. It has to have a ground plane fitting of being a destination,” one Board member noted.

Additional studies of the retail storefronts and studies of the sixth avenue façade to support this goal were also requested.

At the end of the meeting, the Board ultimately voted to move the project forward to recommendation, but is expecting to see a detailed and comprehensive design evolution in the months to come.