By Meghan Hall
Nearly six months after receiving preliminary design guidance on a 1.576 million office development slated to rise on the site of the original Seattle Times Building, Onni Group and architecture firm Perkins + will returned to present formalized plans to the Downtown Design Review Board. The board’s decision marks an important step in the transformation of one of Seattle’s most notable landmarks and represents the continued evolution of Seattle from a provincial town into a metropolitan hub packed with high-rises.
Initially constructed in 1931, the Seattle Times Building served as the newspaper’s main headquarters for more than eighty years, when the publication moved out of the building. Upon acquiring the property in 2013 for $29 million—which was designated as a city landmark in 1996—Onni Group quickly presented plans for redevelopment. In 2014, Onni had intended to construct 2,000 residential units across four towers over a mixed-use podium. In 2017, Onni changed its tune, submitting new plans for office space.
Now, the development, located at 1120 John Street, will include a 16-story and an 18-story tower connected to a podium
The most updated versions of the project’s design scheme have been a long time coming; the first Early Design Guidance meeting for the office project took place in May of 2018. The Board’s final stamp of approval means that Onni and Perkins + Will can finally wrap up the entitlements process after nearly six years of planning.
Because the previous two design meetings focused on more general massing schemes and design, this meeting the development team focused more specifically on the granular details and previous board feedback.
The design of the development revolves around two main objectives: the preservation of the Seattle Times Building and the creation of an engaging pedestrian experience that will enhance the Lake Union neighborhood. Based on previous guidance from the review board, Onni and Perkins + Will simplified the form of the towers by increasing the emphasis on modulation, but decreasing the number of building folds that make up the towers’ massing. The podium was also modified and broken down into pedestrian-scale elements, intended to provide a clearer separation from the development’s lower and upper levels.
Modifications were also made to the development’s Paseo, part of a mid-block connection that the board asked to be clearly defined as public open space. The Fairview mid-block connection was made into an open passageway, and a glass canopy has been added to allow light through while protecting those passing between the buildings. Instead of signage, entries are now marked by landscape and architecture design at the pedestrian level. Metal canopies and a spacing paving pattern will be used at building entries to increase flow and view angles towards the paseo.
The development team also made several modifications to the solar fin system that provided the bulk of the development’s fenestration. The frit pattern was shifted from triangular to vertical stripes, while the fins, originally angled, were also altered to appear vertical. A single apex point will center the length of the east tower, as well. The gridding of the fin system will be further based off of the original Seattle Times façade.
The board noted the amount of time that the project has spent under design review, but nevertheless was extremely supportive of the revisions presented by the development team. The board had a few questions about public access on the ground plane, as well as the programming of the bottom floor, and asked the development team to specify its uses moving forward. The board was supportive of the activation and enhancement of the Fairview entry of the project, believing it does not diminish the original architecture of the Seattle Times facade.
The board voted unanimously to move the project forward, and soon the long-vacant Seattle Times site will see new life.