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Downtown Design Review Board Overturns Pivotal Condition, Paves Way for 53-Story Mixed Use Tower in Denny Triangle

Lincoln Property Company, Denny Triangle, Weber Thompson, Seattle, 800 Stewart
Courtesy of Weber Thompson

By Bekka Wiedenmeyer

Persistence paid off this week when the Downtown Seattle Review Board relieved Weber Thompson and Dallas, Texas-based developer Lincoln Property Company of a key massing condition given by city staff for a mixed-use tower proposed at 800 Stewart. If denied, the condition could have caused up to a year in delays affecting numerous aspects of the building’s structure and floor design. With this reconsideration, Weber Thompson and Lincoln Property Company can move the project forward in the design and entitlements process and continue to develop the refracted tower for permanent home status at the center of the Denny Triangle.

The 53-story, 568 unit mixed-use tower project had progressed in the past year from two early design guidance (EDG) meetings in 2019 to a recommendation meeting late this year, with the team receiving final approval from the Board to present it to staff for administrative design review (ADR) in September 2020. During this meeting, staff approved the design with four conditions, one of which was to increase chamfers by 15 percent at one of the building facets and 30 percent at two others. In response to this condition, the design team decided to opt back in to design review and petition the Board during a second recommendation meeting held on Tuesday night.

“After a nearly two-year process, and contributions from over 80 dedicated and talented people, this one single recommendation from ADR would kill this project,” said David Burpee, associate at Weber Thompson.

The massing scheme of the project is called “Refract.” Through the guidance of the Board from the EDG meetings, this design establishes a baseline exterior expression for the rectangular tower with refracted elements enforced by two glass types. Two “shoulder” faceted elements further ground the design at the base, which identifies the two primary entrances for the residential and office spaces. The Board unanimously approved this massing option at the second EDG meeting, appreciating the changes made from the first EDG meeting and encouraging the team to further explore ways they could strengthen the building’s expression.

“The Board made zero requests to adjust the massing, including no requests related to the size of the tower, and the massing changes from EDG 1 were received favorably,” Burpee said.

To achieve this emphasis, the team focused on the two types of glass slated for the project: vision glass and spandrel glass, with floor-to-ceiling glazing at unit living areas and specialty canted panels with integrated face mounted LED lighting strips.

“This shows two things: It shows the significant amount of visual distinction between the two glass types, and it also shows how well harmonized the spandrel glass is to the vision glass,” Burpee said. “It matches it extremely well.” 

The first condition set forth by staff during the ADR meeting to adjust the massing and increase the chamfers by 15 and 30 percent at Facet I and Facets II and III, respectively, came as a surprise to the design team. Chamfers make a sloping edge at corners to help transition the adjoining facets, and according to the team, the increase in angle that staff proposed would cause challenges to the project that would be very difficult to overcome. 

“We believe this one recommendation does not adhere to the guidance that was set forth by the design review board, and also that it places undue and untenable burdens on the project,” Burpee said.

The team argued this request would not only significantly expose the corner structure columns, making the corner massing structurally unfeasible, but on a macro level would cause a wide scale revision that would affect many aspects of the project, including additional wind tunnel testing, physical modeling done by wind engineers, reengineering by structural engineers and more. According to the team, these changes could put the project timeline back by a year and put 800 Stewart at the risk of not proceeding at all. 

“The reality is that due to the nature of the design, almost every floor plan in the tower is unique, and that was part of our wind mitigation effort,” Burpee said. “Realistically we have to vet these changes on every single floor, adjust unit, adjust structure, et cetera.”

The team also addressed the other three conditions set forth by ADR staff, which they were agreeable to and will aim to develop in future iterations of the project. The second and third conditions required more details, specifications and studies on the LED lights proposed for the building facades. During Tuesday night’s meeting, the Board suggested LED lights only be used on one side of the building, and that the team research a different distinction for daytime hours, such as the color of the glass used. 

The fourth condition was related to two of the eight departures initially requested by the design team regarding overhead weather protection, with canopies configured in a way that reflected the expression of the tower base and strengthened the overall design concept. During Tuesday night’s meeting, the Board suggested the team consider using canopies that were more translucent and revealed more of the building’s columns as the primary focus, which could help distinguish the monolithic entrances to the residential and office spaces. The Board also suggested the team make the building louvers more unified with the base to further aid the overhead weather protection design.

The Board did not vote again on departures, however, all eight were supported by ADR staff, three with conditions.

“We do not believe that the city intended to mandate this type of obstruction [through the first condition],” Burpee said. “We do believe the city wants projects to be successful and to make positive additions to Seattle’s urban fabric, and we also believe that we, the design team, have gone above and beyond in adhering to the sound guidance we have received from the design review board, and we have provided a design that is truly an exceptional addition to our city.”

The Board acknowledged the burden the first condition set forth during ADR would place on the project, and that the team had met the guidelines set out during the second EDG meeting. The Board was also comfortable with the efforts that had been made by the team to achieve distinction between the two different types of glass used. At the end of the meeting, the Board unanimously approved to relieve the design team of the guidance from the first condition, as requested. The Board also set forward two additional conditions, with the reconsideration of the design of the louvers at the base and the placement of the LED lights at the building’s edge.

With this decision, Weber Thompson and Lincoln Property Company will continue in their efforts to build 800 Stewart as a towering presence in the heart of the Denny Triangle, a 605-foot enhancement to the Seattle skyline and a beacon to the Downtown Urban Center.