By Meghan Hall
Pasadena, Calif.-based real estate investment and development firm Gemdale USA secured a small victory at the end of April, receiving approval from the West Design Review Board to move forward with the Master Use Permit application process for its proposed 340-unit development at 222 Dexter Ave. N. in Seattle. Located in the South Lake Union Urban Center, the development is expected to rise 29 stories, contributing to a rapidly densifying neighborhood that has, historically, been home to a variety of residential, office, retail and artisanal development.
Designed by Seattle-based HEWITT Architecture, 222 Dexter Ave. N., the project also includes 5,000 square feet of ground floor retail, an open recreation area and 140 parking stalls. Approximately 10-14 of the units will be designated as “family friendly” units that will include three bedrooms.
Together, HEWITT and Gemdale USA presented three massing alternatives to the Board. All three options shared several parameters, including a relative equal amount of gross square feet and rentable building area, similar tower positions and limited or no requests for departures. In the design documents, HEWITT also denotes that each massing option attempts to respond to multiple scales of development through a podium that relates to the street level experience and a tower that relates to the neighborhood’s larger — and increasingly dense — urban context.
At the Early Design Guidance meeting, the Board was generally supportive of the third and preferred massing option, which focused non-residential uses at the corner of Thomas St. and Dexter Ave. and the residential entry at the corner of Thomas and an adjacent alley. More specific plans denote amenities located on the second and fifth floors, and roof. The massing of the building would be composed of a “Cloud Tower” over a five-level recessed gasket and three-story podium. Patterns of windows, balconies and materials will be selected to add variety add interest to the podium and create an inviting street-level environment.
The terrace on the fifth floor of the building will be bifurcated with a water feature and multi-story façade to connect the pedestrian realm below with tower elements above. The tower form itself would be expressive and sculptural in nature, but overall limit envelop detailing by shifting and rotating the development’s rectangular floorplates.
Overall, the Board appreciated the detailed massing options presented by Gemdale USA and HEWITT and acknowledged that the preferred massing option was the most successful building form. The Board liked the shifting massing, which, it stated, created in legible modulation, intermediate scales and an effective breakdown of the bulk and scale of the tower. The Board did ask for further refinement and study on several points, including further exploration of the floor plate levels to emphasize the true form of the tower and examination of the roof terminus. The Board, while it also supported the use of balconies as a secondary element, stated that it would like to see further study of the balconies as they pertain to layout, variations in sizes and number, and orientation. The Board also asked for further study of the gasket and podium, and how design and massing elements helped connect the pedestrian realm to the upper portions of the development.
If formally approved, the project will bring dense development to a block that has seen mostly mid-rise development. Adjacent sites include a seven-story residential development to the west and a six-story residential development to the south. An 11-story office building is proposed for the parcel just to the north of the site.
Gemdale USA develops commercial, multifamily residential and for-sale residential projects in high-barrier gateway markets such as Seattle, Northern California and Boston. Currently, Gemdale USA’s properties are concentrated in California and New York; the company owns 350 Bush and 500 Pine in San Francisco, and 45 Broad Street in New York City.