By Meghan Hall
As Seattle has continued its evolution from a regional hub to a domestic and international city for employment and tourism, local concern over housing affordability and displacement has risen among many of Seattle’s long-time community member and residents. Some communities, such as those in Rainier Valley, are trying to get ahead of affordability issues that often arise due to gentrification by introducing a mix of workforce and mixed-income housing. In February, Rainier Valley residents and the Southeast Design Review Board widely supported the design of the first part of the Othello Square project, which will include about 174 units of equitable workforce housing atop a commercial base that will house The Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic (OBCC) and an early learning childcare facility. Known as Building C, the project was presented by Spectrum Development Solutions and Weber Thompson.
When complete, the 3.2-acre Othello Square community will be comprised of four buildings located at 7343 MLK Jr. Way S. and 3939. S. Othello St., bringing a diverse community-serving mixed-use development to the Rainier Valley neighborhood, south of Beacon Hill and Columbia City. The project is a collaboration between developers HomeSight and Barrientos Ryan, Spectrum Development Solutions, Washington Charter School Development, SKL Architects, NAC Architecture, NBBJ Architects, Weber Thompson and various other community stakeholders.
According to project documents, Building C is the first parcel from the master planning efforts to move into Seattle’s design view process. The residential portion of the building will include a mix of studio, one-bedroom, one-bedroom plus den, two-bedroom and three-bedroom units in an effort to reflect the evolving needs of the Othello neighborhood. Building C will be outwardly and community-oriented, providing housing for Seattle’s workforce while also fostering community through opportunities such as local art programs. Parking for 102 vehicles is also included with this portion of the project.
Building off of community and Board feedback from a previous Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting, Weber Thompson and Spectrum Development Solutions moved forward with a simple, 3-part massing organization that establishes building volumes by function. The community foyer entry volume stretches the full depth of the building and is meant to be porous, inviting the community to enter the building from all directions. A movement room dedicated to community engagement will have a transparent façade while along Othello St., while two-story artwork located at the building’s pilasters will create an evolving pedestrian experience. The northeast corner of the building will also act as a canvas for a bright mural, created based on previous feedback from the community.
Materials for the building were inspired by images of flight and freedom. Cementitious darker panels are meant to offset the brightly-colored murals planned for the building’s exterior at the northeast corner. Painted canopy frames, lighter panels and light vinyl windows will be used along the South Othello St. façade to provide contrast.
The overall design of the building was well received by both the Board and the community, a result of extensive community outreach efforts conducted by the project team over a number of years. The Board specifically recommended approval of the materials palette, but did suggest the use of colored window frames to break up the massing and white facade along South Othello St. The Board also suggested a condition to refine the application of the art at the northeast corner and suggested carrying the graphic down the building on the columns or soffit. However, overall, the Board was pleased with the building’s design and recommended its approval.
Building C will move forward with the remaining entitlements while Buildings A, B and D complete their design review. Currently, Building A is anticipated to house the HomeSight Opportunity Center, where the Rainier Valley Community Development Fund will foster the growth of local businesses. Building A is also expected to include 200 units of mixed-income housing. Building B will be home to the Rainier Valley Leadership Academy, a public charter high school for 450 students, while Building D is expected to provide 67 homeownership units, 100 percent of which will be affordable to families earning 80 percent area median income and below.
The project, originally conceptualized in 2008, was driven largely by community interest in advocacy efforts in 2016. To date, eight public community meetings, eight building stakeholder meetings and over 42 monthly meetings with developers, potential tenants and community organizations have taken place, greatly impacting the design of the master plan and the function of each building on the Othello Square campus.