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Hybrid Architecture and the Use of “Adaptive Density” to Meet Seattle’s Housing Needs

Hybrid Architecture, Seattle, The Lookout, Shake Shacks
Courtesy of Hybrid

By Meghan Hall 

The Puget Sound’s single-family neighborhoods are rapidly changing. As the region accepts new residents, lots are being purchased and redeveloped into high-density apartments or large-scale residential developments that for many residents feel as if they dwarf the surrounding community. For Hybrid Architecture, a Seattle-based collaborative and multidisciplinary development firm, many of these projects can be at odds with existing neighborhoods and contribute to communities already wary of change. To help address the gap between new and existing development, Hybrid is pursuing a strategy called “adaptive density,” which it recently deployed in the completion of a new multifamily project in the Central District.

Hybrid originally acquired a 4,200 square foot lot several years ago when the property’s existing owners—whom Hybrid Principal Rob Humble had known for more than 20 years—approached the firm wanting to sell. The project then evolved into the Shake Shacks and The Lookout: a set of three townhomes with accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and one elevated private home. 

“We’ve certainly seen a proliferation of these classic Seattle townhouse [projects], and we feel that people are getting tired of these boxes that don’t fit the context whatsoever,” explained Humble. “They just seem bulky; they seem massive. So, we saw an opportunity to actually try to fit a project more into the neighborhood context.”

The townhome portion is called “Shake Shacks,” and the units get their name from the traditional cedar shake siding that decorates their exterior. The high-tech townhomes each have three-bedrooms and two full bathrooms plus a powder room, for between 1,500 to 1,650 square feet of space. At the ground level, flex space has been carved out in each unit, and each space features a separate entrance to allow for uses from AirBnB to home offices. Each unit has its own private roof deck, solar panels and EV car charging capabilities. 

In order to fit the condos in with the rest of the neighborhood, Hybrid selected a modern gabled roof form, pulling from the craftsman look of the surrounding single-family neighborhood. The units’ decks are nestled into the roof,  providing protection from the elements and privacy. The walls are clad in traditional, dark cedar shake siding as another ode to Seattle residential architecture. 

“We were looking at including some very hard-wearing but simple materials,” noted Humble.

 A mature cherry tree anchors the center of the lot, while additional green space separates The Lookout from the Shake Shacks. The Lookout, a 1,040 square foot single-family home, is located towards the back of the lot and perched above an adjacent alley amongst the trees. The floorplan of the home is inverted, with bedrooms on the first floor and common living areas on the second, providing expansive views of the neighborhood and giving the dwelling its name. Unlike its Shake Shacks counterpart, The Lookout is a more modern take on local residential architecture, with wide picture windows and bright white vertical siding. 

“Because they are detached from one another and had a little bit different context, we saw the opportunity to kind of really treat them as two different projects which have a totally different kind of typology and materiality to them,” stated Humble. “We think that that’s a successful way of breaking up housing, particularly in a block face where you might have single-family homes and detached garages.”

Humble added, “We thought this layout would be more sympathetic to that existing surroundings.”

The condo units quickly sold out, with two units selling before even hitting the market. Prices for the condominium units came in at around $900,000. The Landing sold for about $730,000. According to Humble, the speed at which the units were snapped up indicates there is a market for creatively and consciously-designed infill housing in the region, especially housing gives locals an opportunity to stay in the neighborhood. The strategy is one that Hybrid hopes to employ in the future as it continues to partner with local property owners across the region.

“I think a lot of developers are seen as drivers of displacement and as a result, they’re not always the most popular citizens in the community,” said Humble. “I think being seen as a partner in the development turns that equation on its head.”