Home AEC Q&A: Perkins&Will’s Brad Hinthorne Discusses New High-Rise Apartments in Seattle

Q&A: Perkins&Will’s Brad Hinthorne Discusses New High-Rise Apartments in Seattle

Seattle, Perkins&Will, Frye Towers, Ovation, The Modern, Town Hall Seattle, Frye Art Museum, Belltown, Pike Place Market, Seattle Art Museum, Olympic Sculpture Park, Quarterra, First Hill, Elliot Bay, Westbank, South Lake Union, Puget Sound

By Kate Snyder

As Seattle continues its long history of vitality in the multifamily market, three new apartment complexes designed by Perkins&Will will add to the city’s inventory downtown. Known as Frye Towers, Ovation and The Modern, the three properties were designed to integrate with the existing culture of their respective communities and all together total more than 1,000 residential units.

Ovation is located adjacent to the newly renovated Town Hall, Frye Towers is across the street to Frye Art Museum and The Modern is a mixed-use tower in the heart of Belltown within walking distance to Pike Place Market and the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park. All three structures represent “civic architecture at its best,” according to Perkins&Will, with “one-of-a-kind amenity spaces and incredible views.” All three were completed this year.

Perkins&Will is the second largest architectural firm in the United States with studios across the country and overseas. Its Seattle studio opened in 2004 and has grown to 130 people designing projects across the country. Brad Hinthorne, principal at Perkins&Will’s Seattle studio, spoke to The Registry about the design process for the firm’s latest multifamily projects in the city.

Your studio has designed three new high-rise multifamily communities in downtown Seattle all scheduled to be completed this year. Please share a little bit about each of the three and what makes them unique.

Each project is unique, but they also have many similarities. They each respond to the developers’ aspirations for future residents and capitalize on their unique surroundings. In total, the projects will add more than 1,000 units to the city’s inventory, and they are collectively a testament to the optimism to live near Seattle’s celebrated amenities. It’s always about location, location, location.

Ovation is perfectly located at the confluence of Downtown and First Hill. The project is the first high-rise in Seattle for Quarterra, a national developer who acquired the site adjacent to the celebrated Town Hall, a cultural institution in a historic building that was simultaneously undergoing an extensive transformation. The development required an alley vacation, which in turn required Quarterra to provide public benefits in exchange for the acquisition of the public right of way. One of the primary public benefits is a park adjacent to Town Hall that will allow indoor and outdoor performances, along with public space to add vitality for the residents and the neighborhood.

The Modern provides luxury residences in a mixed-use tower in Belltown and reflects a combination of serenity and stunning views, and connections to nature through materials and light. Residences begin on the 13th floor, with the two-level amenity space at the top of the building. With stunning views, each residence aims to be a “penthouse” of its own, as each one has tall, floor-to-ceiling windows, and views of Elliot Bay and the Seattle skyline. The building was shaped to create more corner units and allow for each unit to have daylight and views of the city. It is also a great example of Seattle’s land use code, where you can run out of allowable Floor Area before you reach the height limit unless you provide residential uses or stack commercial and residential uses.

The Frye Towers on First Hill is a development by Westbank, a very sophisticated Canadian-based developer, and represents the first project of their larger vision for the First Hill expansion. It’s located adjacent to the iconic Frye Art Museum, and it is intended to catalyze the surrounding neighborhood where billions of dollars of private and institutional construction are planned over the next several years.

Why are these projects important for the community?

Any project that improves the livability of the city, especially the Seattle downtown core, is good for the environment, local businesses, the economy, and tourism, as it contributes to making the city more vibrant both day and night. We are especially pleased to have the opportunity to shape the skyline and showcase forward-looking designs to further enrich our community.

What was the design process like and what were you trying to achieve with these designs?

The process was similar for each project. We have great clients who are extremely committed to Seattle, though each had a distinct vision for their respective sites that needed to be balanced with the economic realities in a market where construction prices were rapidly escalating and there was a lot of disruption (COVID) and competition.

Ovation is in a neighborhood that feels more like downtown in terms of density and walkable amenities. A lot of attention was paid to both the ground plane – including the nearby park and Town Hall – and to the indoor and outdoor amenities.

The Modern is a more “modern” mixed-use development in a more “urban” context with floor-to-ceiling glass and access to daylight. The fully enclosed amenity space at the top is spectacular. This is for discerning residents who want to be in the heart of downtown and walkable to Pike Place Market and the Olympic Sculpture Park.

The Frye Towers caters to a creative community near an art museum in a neighborhood that also has a lot of healthcare and educational institutions. We have commissioned art screens that integrate with the museum next door and the lobby will feature a gallery.

What challenges did you face?

There are always challenges when building in a major urban setting, and we are always mindful of zoning requirements and neighborhood stakeholders. We actually embrace them. But it’s no secret we were in the midst of uncertainty throughout these projects with the pandemic and more people working from home, which was then followed by the well-documented supply chain issues and increased costs for labor and materials. Nevertheless, we have delivered three very exciting residential communities that people will be proud to call home.

What’s been the most exciting part of working on these projects?

Each property considers what residents are seeking in terms of amenities while offering a distinct design expression that represents an authentic response for each opportunity. Seeing them come to fruition at nearly the same time is very exciting. While each had challenges like any complex project, they are all spectacular in their own right with unique design, site, neighborhood and amenities. We have maintained great relationships with our partners, owners and contractors through what were all challenging projects.

What are some of the studio’s short- and long-term goals in Seattle over the next quarter, next year, next five to 10 years, etc.?

We will continue to seek the most innovative and demanding clients who expect excellence and seek to do things that are rooted in design excellence balanced with the fundamentals of economic reality to create truly inspiring spaces. Our recent acquisition of McLennan Design demonstrates our firm-wide commitment to Living Design. Jason and his team are among the world’s most influential designers in architecture and green building today, which carries increased importance with each passing day.

How has it been working in Seattle and in what ways has the area changed since you started there?

Perkins&Will has been working in Seattle for nearly 20 years, and I have been working in Seattle for over 30 years. Over that time, the region’s economy evolved from airplanes and coffee to being home to 10 Fortune 500 companies. The city demolished a noisy and unsightly viaduct, constructed the beginnings of a regional light rail system, built and imploded a supposedly state-of-the-art domed stadium, and developed an entirely new neighborhood in South Lake Union under the leadership of one of the wealthiest people in the world who built his fortune in this region. Seattle became a destination city, lifestyle trends evolved, and for the first time in its history, people wanted to live downtown. Pre-pandemic, increased residential density and prosperity created a vibrant downtown with restaurants, retail, and cultural amenities. 

Now, like many cities, Seattle must again redefine itself to remain a destination for business, residents, and tourists. It will continue to take innovative partnerships and a collective vision to maintain our position as a thriving world-class city in the face of significant challenges.