Seattle’s Rainier Beach is a neighborhood rich in diversity. As an evolving community with a focus on creating spaces for a colorful array of perspectives and identities, Rainier Beach features an array of projects designed with affordable housing in mind, the most recent of which is Bode Rainier Beach, a six-story multifamily residential building along Rainier Ave South. Seattle-based development company Bode presented their design proposal for the 197-unit building during an early design guidance meeting to the Southeast Design Review Board on Tuesday, May 18. At the conclusion of the meeting, the Board unanimously recommended the project return for a second early design guidance meeting.
The site, which is located at 9367 Rainier Ave S, currently houses three existing one-story structures and surface parking, all of which will be demolished and replaced by the new project. The site is bounded by 53rd, 54th Ave S and Rainier Ave S, the neighborhood’s main commercial arterial. To the site’s south side is a hill with several residential single-family homes. The site is surrounded by one- and two-story commercial structures with parking lots, and a five-story apartment building with affordable housing is located directly across Rainier Ave S. Bode is both the developer and architect of record for the project, and GHA Landscape Architects is the landscape architect.
A primary factor that influenced the project is the creation of affordable housing for Seattle residents.
“Diversity is important to the Rainier Beach community, and we continue to want to preserve this by providing this affordable living, which Seattle needs, and continue to keep this neighborhood growing and remain affordable,” said Andrew Nguyen, a development manager with Bode and the project manager and designer of Bode Rainier Beach.
The team is focused on developing a building that both assimilates to and improves upon the rapidly evolving neighborhood.
“We aim to create a building that is not only appropriately scaled, but also begins to enhance this evolving neighborhood, both as a commercial corridor and as a complement to the surrounding residential neighborhood,” Nguyen said.
According to project documents, each level of residential space in the six-story building will be 19,800 square feet of gross floor area, totalling to 102,000 gross square feet for the project as a whole. Approximately 186 units will be residential, with 11 live/work units. There will be 7,500 square feet of exterior private residential terraces at the first and fourth levels, as well as 2,350 square feet of residential roof amenity space and 1,482 square feet of interior residential lounge amenity space. There is no planned parking due to zoning restrictions.
The applicant presented three design schemes during the meeting. The first concept, the “Ridge,” provides the most open common space, with a massing projection at the upper floors to make the building cohesive with the five-story apartment building across the street.
“This is an evolving neighborhood that we want to be compatible with, or create a language with,” Nguyen said.
The upper levels are articulated, with design composition at the lower level. This scheme creates the perception of a larger podium mass at the street level, and the “C-shaped” massing of the concept allows for the most light of all three schemes but under-develops the site.
The second concept, the “Cascade,” distinguishes the massing and modulation at the podium level, with strong corners and a more intense design dialogue between the upper and lower portions of the building. This scheme creates the opportunity for private decks, though it forms a more complicated building form at the south property line where the site slopes, as well as a wider upper facade that faces the residential zone.
The third and preferred concept, the “Sawtooth,” modulates the facade at the street level, creating an easily identifiable building entry. The design allows for more simplified upper levels and optimizes the amount of affordable units that can be added, and the upper massing at the south property line where the site slopes makes the design more compatible with the residential zone. This design creates the potential for shadows in light wells at the south end of the building, and also requires a departure to maintain a 13-foot height to comply with a 15-foot setback at the south property line to simplify the massing.
During the meeting, the Board deliberated over the massing and bulk of the project, as well as the zone transitions. They appreciated different aspects of each scheme but did not provide primary support for the preferred option. They generally liked the “Cascade” concept for its articulation and breakdown of scale on the north and south, and acknowledged that both the “Ridge” and “Cascade” concepts provided for a smoother transition to the residential south side than did the departure intended for the “Sawtooth” concept. The Board was concerned with the deeply set courtyards of the “Sawtooth” option, though they did appreciate the staggering of the live/work units, primarily for the pedestrian experience. They also agreed the ground level experience could provide additional articulation, especially if there was an added retail function.
The Board suggested the team consider designing more units to face the street, as opposed to the neighborhood, as presented in the “Sawtooth” concept. This could improve safety and security for residents, and the Board recognized the “Cascade” would accomplish that.
At the end of the meeting, the Board acknowledged there were pieces throughout all three design concepts that had merit, but suggested the team take those pieces to create a fourth option that closely resembled the elements they liked in the “Cascade” concept. The Board mentioned that if the departure was still needed for that design, they would be supportive with a more established justification for why it was needed and what it would give back to the neighborhood.
With this guidance in mind, the Board unanimously voted the project return for a second EDG meeting.