By Jack Stubbs
“My goal [with the project] was always to create a building that would complement the local neighborhood…a building that Seattleites and the local community would look at and admire,” said Greg Smith, CEO at Urban Visions, who is developing the under-construction West Edge Tower, a 39-story 339-unit luxury high-rise project located in Seattle’s downtown core.
Ultimately, the project supports and contributes the larger city-wide public policy movement to create a more livable downtown Seattle. The nearly 40-story development will include 7,153 rentable square feet of retail on the ground floor, a 6,400 rentable square foot Sky Bar restaurant located on the eighth floor, as well as 244 parking stalls. The project is designed by Seattle-based architecture firm Olson Kundig, with Tom Kundig taking the lead on the project.
Located at 2nd and Pike Street in the heart of downtown Seattle, the development’s geographical locale is one of its main features, according to Smith. “I think that if you threw a dart at the city of Seattle, it would land right there. It’s between the retail core, the financial core, the waterfront, Pike Place Market and Belltown,” he said. The building is located adjacent to the active Pike/Pine corridor, as well as proximate recognizable landmarks like the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Aquarium, Benaroya Hall and the currently-under-construction Waterfront urban park. The building’s location is very much by design, according to Smith, and the new development reflects potential shifts in the area. “It’s strategically located, yet until now it was kind of the under-developed bullseye,” he said.
A reflection of its location within the city’s urban core, the design of the West Edge Tower is also very much a product architectural trends in the city and the larger region. “Seattle is now a major Pacific Rim city and a major world city. [But] it’s not intended to be a flashy or loud building; I call it ‘sophisticated casual.’” Smith added.
One of the main elements of the development is its emphasis on sustainability, a perspective to which many developers are giving greater consideration. However, the West Edge Tower is about more than just achieving recognition as a sustainable development, according to Smith. “We don’t think West Edge is going to get LEED Platinum–but more important to me now is [that] we recognize and incorporate what we believe are smart moves as they relate to materials and climate change and preserving our environment,” he said.A luxury high-rise apartment complex, West Edge places a distinct emphasis on the residents in terms of the amenities offered, which include a premium gym, unobstructed water and city views and balconies in some units. According to Smith, though, a sustainable design and the resident-centric atmosphere go hand in hand. “From the use [perspective], it’s about the tenant and the resident, and health—creating an environment that de-stresses you and makes you feel relaxed. And some of those things are intangibles,” he said.
While the recognition of resident health is not a feature entirely unique to West Edge—many luxury developments cater to every need of its residents— there was certainly a clear purpose and design intent behind Urban Visions’ strategy. “For the residents, it’s also about the intangibles. Those little subtleties in investment pay dividends. Some buildings only get better with age—that’s how we justify it,” Smith said. Along these lines, some of the intricacies that West Edge provides include a public amenity area where residents can bring their dogs, as well as an accessible and conveniently-located health facility on the top floor of the development that features significant landscaping.
In terms of the greater design of the building, Smith took design cues from other locations that emphasized the idea of a residential building as a sanctuary for its residents. “I was moved by the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, which has a sculpted tree,” he said, also emphasizing how this biophilia element inspired the incorporation of the courtyard at West Edge. “There’s something about the energy, bustle and noise of the city. So many residential towers miss that feeling of being at home in the building, [so] we made significant efforts to make the entrance special with the internal courtyard with the live tree,” Smith added.
From top to bottom—from street-level courtyard to the health center on the top floor—West Edge features highlights in sustainable design. When asked how Urban Visions strives to reconcile the competing drivers of sustainable development and increasing densification in Seattle, Smith emphasized how the two factors intersect and compliment each other at West Edge. “I don’t think the two factors [the need for densification and sustainable development] need to be mutually exclusive,” he said.
Financial considerations also play a role when implementing sustainable design elements. However, Smith believes that these considerations should be regarded secondarily to the long-term vision for the project. “The additional money you spend creating the ‘green environment’ is easy to cut out if one wants to. Many institutional buildings do that. I believe strongly that the incremental investment that we make in creating an environment that is healthy is a wise long-term investment,” he said.
Looking forward, Urban Visions will continue to take incremental steps towards emphasizing sustainable designs in its developments. “As we continue to grow our brand as a developer…we have to develop responsibly and design buildings that can take one more step towards material choices that are good for the climate,” he said. And at the end of the day, this focus on taking strides to combat climate change through sustainable building practices circles back to resident health, according to Smith. “I’m focused on this concept of occupant health: building design, whether for residential or office, should be done right.”
And now so more than ever, a crossroads has been reached: the West Edge Tower is under construction at a time when green development—and resident health—is paramount. “We’re at a time when the sciences can prove out that these spaces can improve residents’ personal and mental health…we’re focused on how the space can make one feel better. That’s something residents and employees should demand,” he said.