By Meghan Hall
The University District is one of Seattle’s most vibrant neighborhoods thanks to its vibrant educational and cultural facilities. As the Puget Sound region has developed, students in particular are feeling the housing crunch, and property owners are now proposing high-rise towers as opposed to mid-rise buildings to keep up with demand. Two of the region’s biggest firms, developer Greystar and architecture and design firm Weber Thompson, received unanimous design approval from the Northeast Design Review Board Monday night at a Design Recommendation Meeting for a 227-unit project entitled Lakeview Student Residences.
The project’s previous Early Design Guidance Meeting took place in July of 2019. Located at 4126 12th Ave. NE, the guiding design principle for both Monday night and July’s meetings was to create a new focal point in the University District, one that would remain timeless as the neighborhood experiences rapid growth and transformation.
The tower will serve as the starting point to a variety of projects set to rise parallel to “The Ave.,” the main commercial drag in the U-District. Nearby projects include Athens, Ga.-based Landmark Properties’ 535,000 square foot Standard Towers, also currently working its way through the design review process, and Bellevue, Wash.-based Evergreen Lodging’s 30-story mixed-use hotel and apartment complex on 11th Ave. NE. Despite this development, however, the tower is located in a segment of smaller buildings, and awareness of this design context is critical, states design documents.
The property itself is located on five parcels; however, only four are to be redeveloped. The fifth parcel is currently home to Villa Camini. The property is a well-known, two-story residential building that will remain as the tower is constructed on the adjacent lots. According to Weber Thompson, the building received unanimous nomination for landmark designation, and full approval is expected to take place in the coming weeks.
The newest design presented Monday night sought to address Board feedback from the previous meeting, including more integration between the tower and the base, increasing the depth and verticality of the tower through a sculptural façade and creating a more pronounced entry.
To respond to the feedback, Greystar and Weber Thompson presented a tower sculpted into groups of columnar forms with varying heights. Additional depth was brought into the façade to reinforce these elements, as was a fourth massing element on the east and west facades that plays off of other, smaller forms presented on the façade.
“Looking at the proposed design, this building has been sculpted into a grouping of slender, column-like forms,” explained Austin Besse, senior associate at Weber Thompson. From a distance, this is going to have a very unique building shape and has a very evocative design language. It was not meant to blend in.”
The result is that there is no distinct “base” or “tower” language. However, two- to three-story cuts outs will be used, as will certain window groupings, into the lower level massing elements, the purpose of which is to provide a slight differentiation the base and the tower as opposed to a clearly defined accent. Multi-story erosions ranging in height from one to four stories along the street-facing façade will reinforce the building’s lower level expression, lobby and entryway.
White metal panels and vision glazing, as well as white, precast concrete will cover the bulk of the tower’s façade. Wood soffits will be added above entryways, and spandrel glazing, gold metal panels and decorative tiles will be used along the columnar elements for further accent. The goal, according to documents, was to provide classically inspired but modern details in the design.
“We understand the design is bold; we wanted to design something unique, hopefully something timeless and something that fits within and adds to the eclectic nature to the district,” Besse added.
The Board’s initial feedback on the presented designs was not unanimous; at the beginning of its deliberations, the Board found that despite Greystar and Weber Thompson’s attempts to present a cohesive design, there were too many contrasting elements. In response, they asked several questions of the development team pertaining to the thought process that went into the materials, particularly the deployment of gold as an accent color, as well as how the precast panels will transition to metal panels throughout the building.
The overall intent of the Board’s recommendation was to simply and better integrate the vertical expression of the façade columns. The Board’s conditions pertained to the application of the materials and a study as to how pre-cast and metal paneling will compare. The Board also suggested removing some of the horizontal design elements so that the verticality of the columns was clearly defined as the primary expression. At the canopy level, the Board requested more drama and really emphasize their art-deco style. The Board commended the signage configurations, lighting and landscaping, as well as the location of the building’s entry way and front porch. With these conditions, the Board voted unanimously to move the project forward.