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Lake Union Partners’ Proposed 433-Unit Midtown Commons Pays Homage to History of Seattle’s Central Area Neighborhood

Seattle, Lake Union Partners, Weinstein A+U, James and Janie Washington Foundation, Fountain of Triumph
Image Credit: Weinstein A+U

By Meghan Hall

The third time’s the charm: after several rounds of design recommendation meetings, Seattle-based developer Lake Union Partners, along with architect Weinstein A+U, has received approval to move forward with its plans for a 433-unit development called Midtown Commons. The focus of the meeting was the development’s proposed art program, one that seeks to recognize the legacy and history of the predominantly African American neighborhood. Located at 2301 East Union St., the project lies within what has been historically known as Seattle’s Central District and will occupy nearly an entire city block upon its completion, making it a significant and important addition to the Central Area.

In its proposed design, the development team was largely driven by community feedback that asked for a project that was more meaningful than what survey participants described as a “simple intersection.” The project, stated community members in project documents, should reflect the historical significance of the neighborhood, a neighborhood that for decades has long been considered the center of commerce and community for African American residency, which at one point was as high as 71 percent.

The building’s massing, modulation and extensive art program will serve to recognize the area’s heritage. “The Midtown 23rd and Union development brings new opportunities to regard the past with respect, honor the current with dignity, and give inspiration to the future,” states the development team in its project documents. “Through an integrated art plan, recognition can be paid to the history of the City’s Central Area and new discoveries can be energized for the future.”

Image Credit: Weinstein A+U

Much of the project’s exterior design and its art program centers around the return of the Fountain of Triumph, created by famed artist James Washington. The fountain was originally sited at 23rd & Union in the 1990s, and its return to the property is managed by the James and Janie Washington Foundation. The fountain, which depicts the native salmon’s struggle for life and the African American’s struggles in society and history in the United States, will anchor the corner of 24th Ave. and Union.

At the second design recommendation meeting, the East Design Review Board expressed concern that the team’s proposed art program had not appeared in previous iterations of design documents and asked Lake Union Partners and Weinstein A+U to delineate specifically how the program will support the architectural design project of the concept, the art selection process, and the locations and general character of all art installations.

Updated documents indicate that five basic typologies of art are proposed throughout the project, including macro-graphics, murals, lighting, plaques and volumetric installations. Banding between floor plates will be a neutral color that compliments the development’s artwork. Art panels between floor bands will be abstract composition while full-height compositions across the floor bands will occur at three locations. Balcony recesses will also be a solid color to match the project’s banding.

What the project’s art installations will look like has yet to be determined, and at the meeting the project team released a draft of its artist request for proposals. In order to be selected, applicants must be visual artists living in the Seattle metropolitan area, and their visions must reflect the history, culture and heritage of the region. Applications to participate will be due this fall, according to project documents. In all, eight locations along E. Union. St. and 23rd. Ave. have been selected for various murals and art installations.

Since the last recommendation meeting, the project team also made several updates to the building’s design features. The project’s residential courtyard was redesigned to accept a direct connection through the building to the Central Square’s southeast corner, allowing for direct access to the proposed adjacent Africatown project. A previously proposed skybridge connecting the project’s upper floors was removed and a collection of trees has been added to provide visual interest along building portals to the project’s central courtyard. Lake Union Partners and Weinstein A+U also increased the building’s modulation by recessing the second floor to 12 feet and to break up and define the top of the building’s podium.

Overall, the Board was receptive to the team’s explanation of the proposed art installations, as well as the other updates it made to the project’s layout and massing. However, it did list more than a dozen conditions before it recommended approval, ranging from smaller details such as the nature of the project’s street furniture to larger recommendations, such as the Board’s request that none of the artwork should be used as branding for the building. The Board also asked the project team to continue consulting with the James and Janie Washington Foundation on the design of the 24th Ave. streetscape and the installation of the Fountain of Triumph to ensure the artist’s work is properly honored.

In its remarks, the Board supported the project’s use of high-quality and maintainable media with a strong and on-going curatorial role as a viable way to pay homage to and enhance the Central District’s character.