By Meghan Hall
Northwest Harvest has had a storied history in Seattle and across Greater Washington State thanks to its network of 375 food banks and mission to provide hunger relief through equity initiatives. However, when redevelopment prompted the relocation of one of its longtime facilities in Seattle, Northwest Harvest partnered with architecture firm Allied8 to further its mission through architecture and design.
Northwest Harvest had been in its former location–located at 8th and Cherry in the basement gymnasium of a local church–for more than 30 years. While during its tenure in the original building, Northwest Harvest was appreciative of the space, but it also highlighted how the organization could improve on its mission going forward.
“Northwest Harvest had been given a time frame to relocate…and they were very grateful for the facility they had at Cherry, but they were very aware of the physical discomforts to folks waiting in line,” explained Allied8 Architect and Partner, Barbara Busetti. “They asked us to consider the design of a facility that would really bring dignity to the community that was using their services.”
Busetti added, “They wanted to transform the experience so that it wasn’t just about distributing food, but also engaging people in a humane way.”
Prior to bringing Allied8 on board, Northwest Harvest settled on a new location in Seattle’s South of Downtown (SODO) neighborhood. The building was industrial in nature, like much of the surrounding neighborhood, and the project team sought to play to the structure’s strengths.
“We really tried to use the existing building itself, which had an interesting and empty shell,” said Busetti. “It had a lot of structural and architectural merit.”
Because the property’s concrete floors were in good condition, Allied8 and Northwest Harvest decided just to buffer and polish them, believing it was very similar to what is usually placed in typical, high-end markets. The ceiling was painted dark and accented with thoughtful lighting choices, while the existing ductwork was also left exposed.
A great amount of emphasis was placed on the front of the market and its facade in an effort to make the location welcoming to the community. The previous asphalt parking lot out front was transformed using a cobblestone-like concrete paver, which makes the exterior “more human, more pedestrian and more psychologically safe,” said Busetti.
The front facade was also clad in cedar siding that was stained a darker color, to add a richness and warmth to the building. Steel canopies accent the outside and provide customers with shelter from the elements. Clear storefront glazing provides an open connection between both outside and inside. Combined, the design creates a plaza that Northwest Harvest now utilizes for pop-up health and hygiene services as it diversifies its offerings to the community.
The layout of the building was also extremely important for Northwest Harvest. Overall, the goal was to make Northwest Harvest’s new location feel less like a food bank and more like a shopping market, where visitors and community members have autonomy over their food selections.
“They knew they wanted a space that felt more like a market, [and] that helped to shape the concept and the design. It was less about people moving through a line and being handed food; it was about being able to select their own food, which is also more efficient. There’s less waste. Not everybody eats or wants the same thing,” said Stefan Schwarzkopf, Architect with Allied8.
The project team–which also included interior design partner Grayscale– utilized high-end plywood to create bins for food and produce that can be wheeled throughout the space, creating flexibility and circulation. The same material was used to make various shelves, which can be put up or taken down based on how much food Northwest Harvest has available at its SODO location.
“They wanted to show abundance when the shop was open,” said Busetti. “They didn’t want to be in a position of having empty shelves or contribute to the anxiety of food being scarce.”
For Allied8, the success of Northwest Harvest’s new location comes abundantly from the nonprofit itself. According to Busetti and Schwarzkopf, Northwest Harvest was very open to different design suggestions, and was really willing to work to raise the needed funds if they thought the changes would be abundantly beneficial for the community.
When it came to the cobblestone pavers, for example, Northwest Harvest used the material as an opportunity to raise money, allowing community members who donated to engrave the paves with their names or a sentiment. The arrangement allowed Northwest Harvest to honor donors’ legacies while raising needed funds for the project.
“[There was really] a difference in the fundamental psychology between them and other food banks,” said Schwarzkopf. “They really wanted to create a facility that was very unique and thoughtful in how it could give the best experience. They went to great lengths to raise funds for this project.”
Due to the design’s relative success, Northwest Harvest is looking to apply what it has learned at its SODO location elsewhere. Currently, the organization is hoping to update its Spokane and Yakima assets to reflect what it has learned. The organization is looking to its SODO location as it continues to expand and grow even further, and as it serves more than two million meals each month to community members state-wide.