By Jack Stubbs
As one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, Seattle has no shortage of new commercial and residential developments coming online. During this period of growth, project teams for new developments are continually striving to strike a balance between designing for the residents themselves and creating developments that successfully fit their surrounding neighborhood context.
The 6-story, 40-unit Alki Beach Residences in West Seattle—which was approved by the design review board on May 17th, with construction on the project scheduled to begin in October 2018—is an in-the-works mixed-use building set to bring new character to the waterfront in an evolving neighborhood.
We recently spoke to Kate Miller, associate principal at architecture firm Tiscareno Associates, and Ming Fung, co-founder and vice president of finance with project developer Vibrant Cities. We discussed the neighborhood context in Alki around the development, how design moves made with the project look to capitalize on the surrounding natural environment of the Puget Sound and how Alki Beach residences looks to set a template for future development, both in West Seattle and further afield.
How does the project represent an intersection of the objectives of Tiscareno and Vibrant Cities, and how is the development similar or dissimilar to other projects that the two firms have undertaken, either jointly or separately?
Miller: Tiscareno Associates and Vibrant Cities approach projects with a collaborative energy and a community focus. Alki Beach Residences is designed to respond to the waterfront coastline of Elliot Bay, standing out with luxurious details and glass façade while also integrating with the rhythm of its neighbors along Alki Avenue. The luxurious details and amenities, expansive outdoor areas, infinity pool, and oversized glass balconies ensure this project fits effortlessly into the neighborhood. Each project that the two firms undertake share a common objective to design and develop projects that are sustainable smart communities that future residents can feel proud to call home.
From a design perspective, what are some of the noteworthy features of the Alki Beach Residences? How do these features inform the overall objectives with the project?
Miller: Some noteworthy features include a soaring two-story lobby entrance, an infinity pool with an integrated hot tub, and extensive greenspace at the roof deck. The luxury rooftop deck will include an outdoor kitchen, gas fire pits, and four private terraces. The project boasts a clean and modern resort-style feeling with its natural and soft tones complemented by its rich textures of warm wood, stone tile, and plenty of glass.
Each unit features an outdoor space with enough square footage to function as an outdoor living room. Large, covered balconies with moveable walls and glass railings are also a fun and noteworthy feature. Overall, the project showcases a successful integration of indoor and outdoor living space that residents will enjoy in their future home.
Seattle and the Puget Sound is a region known for the surrounding natural environment—how does the project’s design look to reflect and capitalize upon the adjacent Puget Sound and the visible Cascade Range and Olympic Mountains? In what other ways does the development reflect these surrounding natural elements?
Miller: To follow the curvature of the shoreline and best direct views of Puget Sound and beyond, the designers reduced the overall massing of the building by splaying it into two wings. Cohesive yet distinct, the wings are united by a transparent central courtyard with the infinity pool—the former connecting the building to the hillside behind [and] the latter connecting it to the bay out front. Each unit features an outdoor space with enough square footage to function as an outdoor living room, improving the usability of the balconies for resident engagement with the surrounding natural environment. Unfettered views are ensured by large, covered balconies with moveable walls and glass railings.
What were some of the priority neighborhood-specific design guidelines for the project? To what degree does the project reflect demographic shifts that have been occurring in West Seattle over the last 12 to 18 months?
Miller: We worked with the Action Alki Alliance community group by meeting with them several times to review and respond to their concerns. The project originated as apartments with code minimum parking and shifted to condominiums with a higher ratio of parking stalls per residence which aligned best with the community’s goals. The number of new apartments is skewing the average demographic younger, but I don’t think this would have an effect on the project since high-end beach condos are very specialized.
How is the project informed by its surrounding neighborhood context, which is largely residential? How does the development fit into broader trends that have been occurring in the Alki neighborhood of West Seattle in recent years?
Miller: The Alki neighborhood has remained fairly stable in recent years compared to other parts of West Seattle that have seen dramatic transformations. The Alki Beach Residences are an addition to the existing neighborhood rather than a game-changer. Alki is an insulated neighborhood because it doesn’t allow high-density development along its arterial. It is also a unique neighborhood due to the amount of existing private ownership, which makes it difficult for a developer to acquire a large parcel of land.
What do you foresee for the West Seattle neighborhood over the next 12 to 18 months?
Miller: Alki is a much different neighborhood than the rest of West Seattle, where the influx of new development is obvious along California, Alaska, and other arterials. Alki, like the typical “off-street” residential neighborhoods of West Seattle, is likely to see gradual, small-lot development over time.
Fung: The many distinct areas in West Seattle are all progressing well. The Alki waterfront will be more vibrant as residences embrace alternate modes of transportation [such as] biking or taking the water taxi to work. More restaurants, entertainment and services will come to areas like the Junction given increased residential demand.
Given the relatively small number of units in the project, who are the primary tenants that you hope the development will attract? Why the change in program from 100 apartments to 40 condominiums?
Fung: The Alki community will cater to a blend of owner/residences ranging from working professionals and families to empty nesters seeking the freedom of condo living. The forty units provide the right balance of layouts and space to cater to these buyer profiles. Our customer-focused approach drives our project designs and decisions. Alki’s resort-style living, stellar amenity areas and generous outdoor living space allow owners to form a unique connection with the water, form a community all while supporting a lock & leave lifestyle. We believe a tighter community of long term owners will better serve this neighborhood.
To what degree does the project reflect demographic shifts that have been occurring in West Seattle—a predominantly residential neighborhood—over the last 12 to 18 months?
Fung: We have always seen West Seattle as a desirable neighborhood full of character that serves the downtown business core. The Alki project represents a balanced price-space-commute option for those wishing to own their homes.
With all of the growth and densification occurring throughout Seattle (the downtown core in particular) and the wider region, do you think areas like West Seattle are increasingly appearing on the radar of architects and developers as viable development locations?
Fung: West Seattle, as well as other adjacent neighborhoods, are naturally prime for up-scaling. West Seattle is no different given its unique waterfront, views and proximity to the downtown core. Our team, with the support of our partners, are among many who recognizes this and are working to make West Seattle an even more desirable place to call home.
As issues around housing affordability in the city and wider region continue to mount, do you think that supply will be able to keep up with demand in the multifamily market? Is there anything in particular that concerns you about the highly competitive and pressurized residential market?
Fung: Housing supply and demand balances out, naturally. At this time, we feel there are opportunities for up-scale condo living just beyond the Central Business District core. As developers, we are constantly working with partners and the city to balance the supply and demand needs both expediently and efficiently.