By Meghan Hall
Originally constructed in 1931, the Seattle Times Building served for eighty years as the headquarters of The Seattle Times until 2011, when the publication moved out of the building. The Times then sold the property — designated as a city landmark in 1996 — to Canadian developer Onni Group in 2013 for $29 million. Since Onni Group took ownership of the property, its plans for redevelopment of the site have changed. However, it is pursuing its plans to construct two office towers — totaling 1,576,134 square feet — at the site. Onni has hired architect Perkins+Will to design the towers, and the two firms presented formal design schemes to the West Design Review Board Wednesday night.
“Really what the [Preservation Board] talks a lot about is the identity of the Seattle Times on the corner,” explained Ryan Bussard, design principal at Perkins+Will. “[We] talked about the preservation of not only the building, but also pushing back any new tower architecture and giving the Seattle Times its own identity within the full block.”
The design for the two office towers, which will rise 16 and 18 stories in height, will incorporate the façade of the original Seattle Times. According to the development team’s design documents, a significant portion of the overall design the project — its materials and modulation — is inspired by the historic building. Much of the development’s massing and design, however, was dictated by its sheer size: The project site spans an entire city block bounded by Denny Way, Thomas St., Boren Ave. and Fairview Ave.
In response to both of these challenges, Onni and Perkins+Will have proposed two towers, set at the east and west ends of the site, which will be characterized by asymmetrical massing that will help the development better relate to not just the original three-story façade of the Seattle Times Building, but the surrounding neighborhood context. A folded design concept would provide additional modulation, and the design team concluded that four folds of varying depths on each building would provide architectural interest but keep the massing simple and refined. Skybridges will continue to define the development’s exterior form, connecting the east and west towers above the ground plane. The skybridges will form a parallelogram to align with the respective tower folds, and will be composed of clear and spandrel glass for transparency.
The podium of the development will be used to connect the modern façade of the towers with the original façade of the Seattle Times Building. Described by the design team as a neutralizing element, the tower folds will continue down the podium to the pedestrian realm. Terra cotta masonry will be used to connect the new development to the limestone and concrete of the Seattle Times facades and to help warm the entire project. Meanwhile, the Boren and Thomas mid-block connection will be comprised of clear vision glass on the vertical surfaces, and the connection’s soffit will be comprised of a reflective metal to increase the presence of light throughout the connection.
“There are flutes on the elevation of the Times building,” said Perkins+Will Principal and International Associate, Peter Busby. “And we picked up on that rhythm to create a type of flute, terra cotta fins, on the remainder of the podium.”
Overall, the Board was supportive of the general design approach that Onni and Perkins+Will presented in terms of the project’s general scale, orientation and tower massing. However, the Board did not favor the amount of modulation within the towers and the evolution of that aspect of the design since the previous EDG meeting more than a year ago. While the Board acknowledged that the application team’s approach has the potential to be successful, it asked the team to refine the modulation to present a more unified development in line with City guidelines. The Board also expressed concerns regarding the height of the sky bridges and the project’s through block connection. The Board requested that the design team modify the design of the through block to allow pedestrians to better identify the connection as a public space.
At the end of the design review meeting, the Board requested that the project return for additional review.
Originally, Onni had submitted plans in 2014 to construct more than 2,000 residential units across four towers over a mixed-use podium. In 2017, Onni began reconsidering its development plans before submitting a new proposal — this time for office space — in 2018. The most updated versions of the project’s design have been a long time coming since then; Onni and Perkins+Will presented their initial schemes in May of last year at an Early Design Guidance meeting, at which the Board permitted the project to move forward with the Master Use Permit process. However, Onni and Perkins+Will will need present updated design plans to the Board before it can proceed with the remaining entitlements process and deliver a project that has been in the works for more than six years.