By Jack Stubbs
In an era where new mixed-use and commercial developments are coming online every day—as developers take a forward-looking approach at how to contribute to the future development of Seattle—project teams are also trying to preserve the rich history of the city through the architectural character of their projects.
Some undertakings, however, are able to achieve both—a gesture towards the future and recognition of the past—through a merging of the old and the new. A new in-the-works mixed-use project is set to transform an old funeral home into an office complex for technology and other companies.
Fremont Crossing, a new 4-story, 41,000 square foot mixed-use office building set to break ground at the end of 2018 and located at 316 Florentina Street, is a complex where two buildings separated by nearly a century will come together to form one project: the in-the-works 4-story office building will partially wrap around the back of the 7,800 square foot Bleitz Funeral Home, which was originally built in 1921.
SkB Architects designed the project, which is expected to open in early 2020. The team also includes Warm Springs Investors LLC (developer), Foushée (general contractor), Site Workshop (landscape architect), DCI Engineers (civil engineer), ENW Engineers Northwest (structural engineer) and Geotech Consultants Inc.
One of the main objectives with the undertaking, located along the Lake Washington Ship Canal at the southwest end of the Fremont Bridge, was how to successfully integrate the new mixed-use office development with Bleitz Funeral Home, which was repurposed and renovated in 1948, according to Kyle Gaffney, principal and co-designer at SkB. “What I really like about this project was the goal of bringing the building back to its architectural prowess, not its programmatic prowess, and build adjacent to it to really enhance it,” he said.
And as the design team navigated the process of how to successfully reconcile the old with the new, the ultimate goal was to create an imaginative project that enabled flexibility for any number of future tenants, according to Shannon Gaffney, principal and co-designer at SkB. “Our first thought was that, if we were going to keep the [funeral home] and then restore it, [we needed to] give it some legs and optionality so that it could be a creative office, retail or dining,” she said. “The hope is that especially at the lower level, which is a prominent location, [the project] becomes a magnet for people to experience it.”
Tenants for the building have not yet been determined, but the understanding is that it will attract creative and technology companies—both of which often look for specialized settings and multi-use areas, according to Shannon Gaffney. “We feel reasonably comfortable saying that there have been all sorts of people looking at it, Lots of big companies look for speciality group areas that want to be close to a campus but not within it. Or it could be [a company] who wants to be there that isn’t a big behemoth 500,000 square foot company,” she said.
The area that the mixed-use complex occupies—which is technically North Queen Anne, but also right across the canal from Fremont—has a significant tech presence: Tableau’s headquarters and a Google office are less than a mile from the in-the-works project.
From a design perspective, one of the the hopes is that Fremont Crossing will take design cues from the maritime and industrial heritage of the adjacent ship canal, according to Kyle Gaffney. “The new building doesn’t want to be thematic. We were inspired by the site’s history, with a lot of ship repair and the trades and services that support the fishing and boating industry, and [there] were contemporary moves in the way we detailed some of the materials.”
And programmatically, one of the main challenges with the undertaking—and what subsequently became one of its defining features—was how to create a successful interplay between the office/mixed-use building and the adjacent funeral home. “The thinking was to add and expand upon this [site], by putting the two buildings next to each other. The void, the space in between, is one of the more important areas, an intimate little courtyard that is the mitigator between the two buildings and celebrates the identity of them,” Shannon Gaffney said.
In terms of the broader neighborhood context, the interstitial courtyard area, which serves as a gathering and dining space for both buildings, both meets a need in the surrounding area for more flexible green spaces and reflects a broader design objective with the project, according to Shannon Gaffney. “It’s refreshing when we can work on something in this location because it’s not sided by other buildings. [This is] an age where people want to really take advantage of more outdoor space, and the ability to have different types of outdoor spaces is pretty rare,” she said. “You always want to take advantage of those features, and they can be overlooked if you pay too much attention to the building and not enough to the siding and opportunities around it.”
And while the project is expected to open in early 2020, the goal is that in the longer-term, the mixed-use office campus will catalyze future growth and development in the surrounding North Queen Anne neighborhood. “What we believe we’ve seen, and what the developer was looking at too, was that when you cross the Fremont bridge, that [area] becomes a bit of a hub. And on that side of the bridge, there are new projects,” said Shannon Gaffney. “The hope would be that if we can get pedestrian traffic over to both sides of the bridge across the water, [the neighborhood] can become a larger playing ground than it was before.”
Serving as a connector between Fremont and North Queen Anne, the in-the-works development represents a new lease on life for Bleitz’s Funeral Home—a structure that inevitably connotes darker implications, according to Kyle Gaffney. “It’s been a funeral home forever, which brings its own connotation. We breathed new life into a building that was all about death, and it’s exciting to see it just as a building and not as a funeral home.”