By Jack Stubbs
As one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, Seattle is continually trying to strike a balance between increasing densification and the subsequent need for more sustainable building practices. The Cove, a new 60-unit 50,000 square foot mixed-use residential building located in the active Capitol Hill neighborhood, balances efficiency and sustainable development practices, while also leveraging its location in the downtown core.
We recently spoke to James Wong, co-founder and CEO of project developer Vibrant Cities, and Bob Tiscareno, founder and principal of the architecture firm, Tiscareno Associates. We discussed the sustainable design goals of the development, how these goals fit into greener building practices in the city, and how the Cove might set a template for developments moving forward—in Capitol Hill and greater Seattle.
How does the Cove represent an intersection of objectives and strategies of the two firms, Vibrant Cities and Tiscareno?
Wong: Our firm, in particular, wanted to create a special place for such a unique location: we wanted to make a vibrant, urban and sustainable statement. We believe that Tiscareno has a really great multi-family urban practice, and it was a good fit.
Tiscareno: Our mission is to design architecture that realizes the client’s vision and reflects the community values. The project was not about our firm making an architectural statement; it was about getting everyone around the table, swapping ideas and coming up with the best solution.
How is the Cove similar or dissimilar to other projects that Vibrant Cities and Tiscareno have undertaken, jointly or separately?
Wong: The Cove is a great location, right in the heart of Capitol Hill. It doesn’t get more urban and more culturally Seattle than this. Our strategy was to build a product to fit our target market, which is millennial, urban professionals that care about the environment. We know that we have to create a competitive product that they want to move into, but we also know that there are other people that, in addition to good pricing and great location, want to make a statement about where they live.
Tiscareno: We are working on other projects in Capitol Hill, including one with Vibrant Cities that is going through design review. In that project, called Pivot, there is an office component [that] is quite different from this project. In this project and others, there’s a high level of architectural design that’s expected in this community as well as by the Design Review Board and the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood Council.
For example, Cove’s wavy siding pattern is unlike any other design in the neighborhood. We wanted to create a visual effect inspired by rippling water that felt soothing and tranquil; though people can interpret it in different ways. Like other projects in the area, there is a transparent ground level retail that allows tenant’s interior concepts to be expressed.
Can you expand upon the tenants that the Cove has thus far attracted? To what degree is this a product of a development’s location in the heart of the bustling Capitol Hill neighborhood?
Wong: The tenants that we hope to attract, and that we actually have attracted, are young millennial urban dwellers. Most of them, not to our surprise, are tech workers that want to be able to work close to where they live. The Cove is less than fifteen minutes’ walk to Amazon world headquarters and less than ten minutes to the downtown core.
We are very pleased that our target market actually appreciates what we’ve done, [including] the nice rooftop garden and rooftop deck. They know that all of the common areas are being powered by the south-side solar system, so they’re very pleased.
Thus far, demand to occupy the space has been robust. In your mind, what factors have driven this demand?
Wong: As with most real estate [and] multifamily products, location is one of the top important things, and where the Cove is situated has been a large draw. You aren’t in the craziness of Broadway, between Broadway and 12th, but you are only 2 blocks away from that.
In addition to location…[in terms of] the design and programming, the unit layouts are highly efficient, thanks to Tiscareno. I think the high-quality materials we chose, the interior design and the feel of the units themselves are very attractive to our tenants. I don’t think there’s any square footage inside the building that was not thoroughly thought out and optimized.
From a design perspective, how does the project implement an efficient layout and floor plan?
Tiscareno: The shape of the building is pretty much a box and very compact. We were able to utilize the building envelope by allocating spaces where it counts and getting a proper unit mix. The residential floors are the same in area, which helped with efficiency. In this project, there are studios, there are open one-bedroom units, one-bedroom units and two-bedroom units. Locating those where they fit and getting them laid out the best on the site was really important.
We wanted to allow maximum daylight into these units. When we’re looking at sites that have small units in an urban setting in close proximity to other buildings, one of the strategies we have to make it look bigger is to make the windows larger. Having corner-wrapped windows, adding extra window area where it’s possible, and adding decks and balconies that bring the outdoors in…are ways that we can maximize the site’s potential and bring creativity to the spaces and the different unit layouts.
How does the building’s design both maximize net rentable square feet while also recognizing the reality of increased densification throughout the city and the Capitol Hill neighborhood in particular?
Tiscareno: We used as much of the allowable floor area by zoning as we could to maximize the net rentable square footage. The main amenity spaces are on the lower floor near the lobby, and then on the roof deck we’ve got the community space. The roof deck area is not chargeable to the maximum floor area, so we made that as large as possible. We have maximized the floor plate efficiency. We have a compact elevator and stair core. The hallways are efficiently sized, and we kept the corridors to a minimum area to maximize the rentable square feet.
Additionally, to satisfy the energy requirements, we located the solar panels on the side of the building that is set back from the property line, and they also double as canopies and sun-shading devices on the south side. In another project, they would be on the roof.
The building’s LEED Platinum certification is certainly noteworthy. Seattle is a city that reflects the natural environment around it. How does the Cove participate in this growing trend of sustainable development in Seattle?
Tiscareno: The components for LEED are definitely expressed visually throughout the project. The solar panels double as architectural features on the south side. Then there are unique windows. These wood-clad windows improve energy performance, [and] actually add to the visual aesthetic as well. They’re wood on the interior, and that’s uncommon in your typical apartments. Renters like those residential touches. The other aspects that are sustainable are, for instance, having a green roof over the canopy that’s over the commercial area.
In terms of how the project fits within the growing, sustainable context of Seattle, the Cove sets a benchmark for other projects. It tells you that you can do LEED and get great tenants who are paying required rates to support this type of development, because it costs extra to add sustainable features. The image of the project definitely reads sustainable. It doesn’t look like your typical mid-rise, residential project.
The building code and energy code has changed and, gradually, the sustainable elements and systems that are in place in these projects are being more embraced by the local codes as well. There’s got to be a few exemplary models of how LEED can work and be effectively incorporated into the project, and I think the Cove stands out as a great example of that.
There have been a lot of real estate professionals who have toured the project, and we’ve had good feedback. They take note of these elements, [and] I think that’s how leadership in terms of sustainability is done: you need to have certain benchmarks, and people get more comfortable embracing these sustainable concepts and [taking them] to the next level.
Specifically, how do you view the Cove as a building for the future? Might it set a template for future developments moving forward?
Tiscareno: I think it’s an exemplary model of how you can build livable communities that are sustainable on a compact site. As Seattle adjusts to the significant population growth, there will be more densification in Seattle. To handle the population, we will not always be building high rises—there are a lot of small infill sites that will be used. This project shows how you can accomplish a lot on a small site.
How did the goals of Vibrant Cities and Tiscareno Associates align with the objectives of the Cove? Given the demand shown by tenants, is sustainable development becoming a more financially viable option for developers and architects? What are the challenges involved with sustainable development?
Tiscareno: Capitol Hill is a lot like other communities in Seattle where there has already been a lot of planning about how the community is evolving. There’s densification that’s going on, and Capitol Hill and the Pike/Pine Urban Neighborhood have thought a lot about their vision of the community and embracing certain aspects of the history (like Auto Row). Creating sustainable development within a dense urban environment is challenging because of permitting and additional construction cost.
Is there anything else we should be talking about?
Wong: Vibrant Cities’ mission is to build vibrant, sustainable communities that people feel proud to call home. With that, we’re very thoughtful about how we design a community that people embrace and that people feel a part of.
There may be other developers out there that are building boxes. But for us, we are thinking about vibrant and integrated communities. Vibrant Cities is proud to work with Tiscareno Associates on those communities. I think both our firms have that desire to create something that is lasting [and] that actually contributes to the neighborhood that we’re all proud of.