By Meghan Hall
In the coming years, the Uptown neighborhood of Seattle is expected to see a high level of development, especially of multifamily residential. However, Gemdale USA is moving forward with plans for a new office building, one that will rise 10 stories and make a unique mark on Uptown as one of just a few commercial projects in the pipeline.
The project, called 618 John, will include 232,500 square feet of office uses and 1,500 square feet of retail. 200 below-grade parking spaces are also planned.
“Today, we’re really fortunate and excited to continue our efforts to enhance and improve upon this connection with our 618 John office project…,” said PJ Santos, managing director of development at Gemdale. “You will see our team’s rigorous efforts on the pedestrian level while once again focusing on the sculptural quality of our project in three ways for the post-COVID-19 office tenant. Number one, to optimize light; two, to develop a variety of floorplates through the unique massing; and lastly, to create attractive outdoor spaces to enhance our future visitor’s connection to nature and open air.”
The overall goal of the project, according to Gemdale and LMN Architects, who is leading the design of the project, is to create an equitable, healthful, welcoming and sustainable addition to the community.
“We really latched onto this idea that this [project] should be the happiest, healthiest office building in Seattle,” said Mark Nicol of LMN Architects. “And the reason for that is because it’s being realized at a really interesting time…The office is fundamentally changing.”
“The office really has to compete, to be a really compelling place where people want to go–and need to go,” added Nicol.
The majority of the meeting focused on the project team’s preferred option, dubbed “Equitable Open Space.” The building is one shaped by its context, according to LMN, and uses subtle shifts in the massing to give way to meaningful public space at both the North and South. This allows the building to activate all three street frontages.
Patterns of open spaces begin at-grade and are continued up through the height of the building via the building’s setbacks and terraces. A “signature,” occupiable roof space also adds to the design. From the exterior, the inner life of the building will be visible from the street. Lower level amenity spaces as well as the terraces will be connected by a vertical zone and potential future tenant stair along the facade. Called “sticky spaces,” these pathways will help to carve the building and facade expressions.
Overall, the Board was supportive of the preferred massing scheme but felt that there were several areas of the design that could be improved or clarified. The Board asked the project team to produce more study of the “sticky” spaces, their function, and how they would be defined within the project’s overall design, although it did acknowledge the volumetric importance of the idea. The Board also asked the project team to continue to refine the massing of the sixth floor, as well, to provide more clarity on how office programming and adjacent amenities will interact. More detail about the rooftop deck and how it will function was also requested.
The Board commended the use of outdoor space and the plazas on both sides of the building but stated that the pedestrian realm is somehow unresolved. The Board noted more design weight was given to the John Street facade versus Thomas, even though Thomas was the more “urbanistically significant street,” with its connection to Seattle Center and its status as a Green Street. The Board asked the project team to consider this–as well as SDOT’s opinions on outdoor space and circulation–moving forward.
The Board also stated that at the next stage, materiality will play a large role in providing secondary massing concepts and strengthening of the scheme, as well. However, because it was largely supportive of the basic scheme, the Board voted unanimously to move the project forward with the guidance provided. Gemdale and LMN will return in the coming months for a more formal Recommendation Meeting, at which designs for the almost-finalized project will be reviewed.