By Meghan Hall
The design process can be a long and winding road, particularly under the rare circumstance where the project team not only voluntarily returns, but the review board remains critical of a project’s design. In a design recommendation meeting for 401 Queen Anne Ave. N, a 170,000 square foot commercial building pitched by Martin Selig Real Estate and architecture firm Perkins + Will, this has proven to be the case. The project is expected to return for a fourth design review in the coming months in an effort to align the visions of the project team and West Design Review Board.
“The big idea of the project was to widen a pedestrian experience and the public realm along Queen Anne Avenue and to create continuous active retail frontage on Queen Anne [as well as] to continue that active frontage and public space by carving a civic-scaled outdoor room on West Harrison,” explained Perkins + Will Design Director Erik Mott. “This was a simple idea about creating a public space and an engaging public experience that was defined by a simple sculptural form.”
The project will include 143,844 square feet of office space as well as 25,851 square feet of sidewalk-level retail. 171 parking stalls and 112 bicycle stalls are also planned. The general massing scheme has a 3-story expression along Queen Anne Ave and a 3-story upper volume that frames an open plaza with seating at the south side of the building. The project’s primary entrance is located at a main street corner, while secondary entrances are distributed along the remaining street fronts. The Southeast corner of the building will be set back and is oriented toward the Seattle Center to provide a generous landscaped plaza and pedestrian environment.
In an effort to break down the bulk and scale of the building, the upper facade will feature a mixture of solid and transparent facade elements to create another layer of depth, as well as shadows and visual texture. Tertiary materials such as an alum and wood slat system will be used to transition between the upper and lower volumes of the building. Other materials include polar white cast panel cladding, multiple types of vision glass and concrete.
To get to this point, the project had already undergone two rounds of early design guidance meetings. The project first came before the West Design Review Board in July of 2019. While the Board had some hesitation about the initial massing of the project, the Board supported the project and moved the development forward to proceed with its Master Use Permit Application.
However, the project team requested an additional early design guidance meeting to get more feedback from the Board and community about its designs. It voluntarily returned for a second meeting in October of 2019 for additional review.
“We have been in the design process for several years,” stated Mott.
While the Board subsequently backed the designs at a second early design guidance meeting, it struggled with the design schemes at the most recent design review. The Board noted that the massing of the building was somewhat ineffective and that more harmony was needed between the upper and lower masses to break down the scale of the building. One Board member noted that the design looked like two disparate masses stacked on top of one another, while another stated that differentiating the project’s entryways was difficult.
“We have let them get this far,” stated one Board member. The Board did ultimately acknowledge, however, that it was too late in the process to modify the massing, but asked the project team to consider mitigating the scale of the projects through secondary materials.
On a more positive note, the Board stated it was generally supportive of the materials selection but asked that the project team limit the different types of vision glass used throughout the project. The Board also noted that the updates to the plaza were positive in taking down public-private barriers and lending itself to more activity.
At the end of the night, the Board unanimously voted for the project to return for a fourth design review meeting to address the Board’s remaining concerns.