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Proposal for Vulcan’s 362,000 SQFT Life Science Development in Seattle to Return for Second Recommendation Meeting

Seattle, South Lake Union, Vulcan Real Estate, West Design Review Board, Puget Sound, Hewitt, Perkins & Will

By Kate Snyder

A research and development project slated for Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood will take a little longer to get through the design process. In a 2-1 vote, the West Design Review Board during a recommendation meeting on Wednesday decided to have the proposal for an 11-story life science development return for a second recommendation meeting. 

The project developer is Seattle-based Vulcan Real Estate, which is a real estate development firm that focuses on commercial, residential and retail projects across the Puget Sound region, according to the company’s website. The architect on the project is Perkins & Will, and the landscape architect is Hewitt.

Located at 535 8th Ave N, the project would comprise approximately 361,797 square feet of research lab space and around 124,041 square feet of underground parking with 227 vehicle stalls as well as service areas.

During a previous design review meeting, the board unanimously supported what has been dubbed the “slipped hinge” massing concept, according to project plans. That concept features a “strong relationship to the shifting street grids,” plans show, as well as a corner prominence at Mercer Street and 8th Avenue and the inflection at the northern terminus of the central courtyard to the south.

In response to the board’s previous feedback, the massing features an all-glass facade with  curtain wall elements that reinforces the clarity of the sculptural “slipped hinge” while adding secondary proportionality and scale to the massing, the proposal shows. Additionally, plans include a white gradient frit pattern that is meant to lead a person’s eye along the building’s form, and “the ever changing play of light and atmospheric conditions reflected in the glass will further animate the building.”

The project’s landscape plan is designed to complement the surrounding area and serve as a gateway between the site and the greater neighborhood, according to project plans. The selected drought-tolerant plants are meant to provide a habitat for local wildlife as well as create an inviting experience for pedestrians, cyclists and tenants.

“Careful placement of the planting creates a sense of movement and flow, guiding visitors through the space and enhancing connectivity with the surrounding area,” the plans state. “Plants selected provide year-round interest with a mix of evergreen and deciduous species that

offer a range of textures and colors throughout the year.”

Jake Woland, principal at Hewitt, also gave details to board members during the recent meeting about the types of trees that would be included in the landscape plan.

“The proposed tree canopy reinforces the urban design moves,” Woland said. “Street trees on Mercer are layered with dogwoods… The 8th Avenue frontage takes advantage of the city’s no longer accepting sweet gums as street trees to add a new group of ginkgo trees to match a grove on the streetscape a block to the south. Sweet gums that do exist on the rest of 8th Avenue streetscape are brought into the midblock for continuity and scale.”

The board’s primary concerns were that the project needed in some way to mark its gateway location to the South Lake Union neighborhood and to break up the massing. Board members left the details on how to do that up to the design team’s discretion but offered several suggestions for how to accomplish these requests. Some suggestions included the potential of adding color, a different window pattering, different uses of the frit pattern, an art installation or even additional structural changes, though Allan Farkas, board chair, said he didn’t believe any major changes to the structure were necessary.

“I think [structural changes] are definitely not required,” Farkas said. “I think that [Early Design Guidance] kind of said this envelope could be acceptable if developed appropriately when we saw the skin of the building with materiality that the building would be. Unfortunately, the glass box was not it, in this case.”