By Meghan Hall
With the University of Washington and plenty of Husky pride driving its day-to-day activities, Seattle’s University District has undergone just as much change as the rest of the city in recent years, thanks to the school’s reputation and Seattle’s growth as major metropolitan magnet in the Pacific Northwest. The constant demand for housing in the U District has spurred several high-rise development initiatives in recent past. One sizeable project, The Standard Towers located at 4220 12th Ave. NE and 4215 Brooklyn Ave. NE, is looking to bring nearly 400 units to the neighborhood and enhance the residential offering of the district. Proposed by Athens, Ga.-based Landmark Properties and Seattle-based Ankrom Moisan Architects, the project failed to impress the Northeast Design Review Board earlier in March and will have to reconvene for a second early design review. The smaller of the two developments, the 21-unit mid-rise building, however, has received the green light to move ahead, although it will likely be held until the larger development can advance with it in concert.
The two projects were part of a joint presentation to the Desith Review Board, and because the two projects were presented side by side, they received an equal amount of review time, making the usually 90-minute meeting last over three hours. The developer, Landmark Properties intends to bring to the site two 25-story towers, totaling 535,000 square feet and 383 units along with a smaller, 21-unit adjacent building. The towers would also bring 7,500 square feet of ground-level retail, an outdoor public amenity space with a through-block corridor from 12th Ave. NE to Brooklyn Ave. NE and two levels of below-grade parking with 190 parking stalls.
The development is just two blocks from the University of Washington and one block to the west of The Ave (University Avenue NE). The overall goal of the project is about connections — connections with the district, the university campus and Seattle, more broadly. “There is very well established soul to the neighborhood that we want to be cognizant of trying to tie into as we move forward.” said Matthew Janssen, senior associate at Ankrom Moisan Architects, who was part of the team presenting the vision of the development.
The University of Washington West Campus, which sits just south of the proposed development promises to bring mixed diversity of uses, like high density and public open space. To the north of the project, a number of developments are in the planning process, making The Standard the catalyst connecting them. “We see this site as a real opportunity to be that stitching space in between these two things,” added Janssen.
The project team presented several massing options to the Board, but it was its preferred concept that offered simple, overlapping shapes to create a unique arrangement of forms to break down the massing and scale of the project. Podiums at the base of each tower are planned to align with the heights of surrounding buildings, and the through-block corridor would connect 12th and Brooklyn, widening at the sidewalk to help funnel pedestrians into a shared public space. Retail spaces would front 42nd St. and would be small, hyper-local active shops with a goal to activate the pedestrian realm. Additionally, both tower lobbies would be focused inward and accessed off of the public through-block corridor.
The three massing options also explored varying distances between the two towers, which the Board deliberated for some time. Other questions focused on the relationship between the towers and the historical structures in the neighborhood, some of which will likely achieve landmark status in the near future. The Board also explored how the towers are planning to add to the eccentric nature of the U District neighborhood; the members were hoping the design would add to the uniqueness of the district and not appear too generic and indistinguishable.
The public comment followed this line of reasoning, as well. The neighbors who spoke also wanted to see the property offer larger units that would allow accomodate families in the building, and they seemed to dislike the preferred option because it looked too corporate. They also wanted to make sure the alley, which divides the block in half, would be activated and provide a safe passage between the structures and from one street to the other. Both the public and Board were not terribly keen on a proposed sky bridge planned to connect the two towers.
The Board’s other issues focused on the pedestrian experience. The ground floor expression and retail is what drives that experience, so the Board was curious about the character of the streetscape and how it might be perceived by passers-by. The Board also wanted the design team to explore the relationship between the buildings and provide a bolder expression of the structures, because the members felt the project could do a better job of speaking to the culture of the neighborhood.
The three schemes for the two towers were not approved, mainly because the Board wanted a different, more bolder take on the development that would evolve around a playful nature of the neighborhood and provide a simpler massing narrative. It felt in the end that too much was at risk for the project to advance to the next phase, and the Board decided to reject the proposal for the two towers and ask the applicant to return for a second Early Design Guidance meeting before it could advance the project further. At the same time, the Board approved the proposal for the adjacent mid-rise building, which will likely await the towers project to get approved before it advances in the review process.