Seattle’s Latona neighborhood has historically been rooted in shoreline logging, beginning with the harvest of the old growth forest surrounding Lake Union in the mid-1880s. The Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern railroads quickly connected the north shore of Lake Union, leading to Latona’s official addition to the City of Seattle in 1889 to Lake Union’s first bridge two years later. Today, the Latona neighborhood is a maritime industrial area, and the Lake Shore and Eastern railroads have since been replaced by the Burke Gilman trail, which connects Downtown Seattle north to Arlington and east to Snoqualmie Falls. In the hopes of revitalizing the area and expanding retail opportunity for the public, Seattle-based architecture firm Weber Thompson, Latona Station LLC and COU Latona proposed a revised project to the Northeast Design Review Board during a recommendation meeting for the expansion of Dunn Lumber Headquarters and retail addition at 3800 Latona Ave NE. The Board unanimously recommended the project advance to MUP application with conditional approval.
The site is flanked by the Wallingford, Northlake and the University District neighborhoods and it currently features the headquarters of Dunn Lumber, a family-owned and operated business that has called Seattle home for more than a century. Weber Thompson is partnering with local developers Mike Hess, Mark Grey and Joanna Callahan through COU Latona to build the new multi-story office, retail and warehouse building in an effort to expand Dunn Lumber’s headquarters and provide retail space for the public, which has generally been lacking from the Latona neighborhood. Existing buildings, including the Dunn Ancillary Warehouse and Yard, Gasworks Gallery, former office spaces and a former Seattle Department of Transportation storage yard, will be demolished to make way for the new building.
The project originally intended to participate in the City of Seattle’s Living Building Pilot Program. However, the development team has moved toward a new project goal of providing “laboratory-ready” spaces, a change made since the early design guidance (EDG) meeting held in January 2020. The development team is still advocating for gold or platinum LEED certification.
According to project documents, the 62,978 square foot site will feature 158,000 square feet of commercial space, 27,000 square feet of warehouse space and 9,500 square feet of retail. The new headquarters will also house 61,500 square feet of parking, with 167 parking stalls and 200 bicycle spaces. Amenities include a public park, a central plaza and space for community retail. The plaza terminates with a raised deck and public seating that looks south toward Lake Union.
“[It] will engage and support the Burke Gilman Trail, creating a destination and waypoint,” said Cody Lodi, design principal at Weber Thompson. “It’ll create a neighborhood amenity…while extending the legacy of the site.”
The project’s design concept is rooted in forestry, with a layering concept that resembles the forest floor, understory and canopy.
“[It’s] a celebration of our relationship with the forest,” Lodi said.
During EDG, the team proposed a “mortise and tenon” massing design for a four-story east wing and three-story west wing, featuring a central plaza in between. The Board was initially in support of this massing option, taking note of the complexity of the massing while recognizing the opportunity for a bigger plaza. Now that the project is no longer participating in the Living Building Pilot Program, the revised project presented during the recommendation meeting featured a height reduction of 15 feet and one story, with the first two floors of the building dedicated to the “laboratory-ready” spaces.
The Board suggested during EDG that the team expand the building masses out further to the edges, which would widen the central plaza and allow for more pedestrian activity. In response, the team pushed the west wing of the building further west, which allowed for an additional 5-15 feet of space at the middle of the plaza.
The team also responded to the Board’s initial requests to focus more on the transparency and retail commercial elements of the plaza by evolving previously closed plaza connectors to fully exterior walkways. The plaza is now fully accessible on the north and south sides through retail and restaurant space, along with park-like space along the edges. Openings in the south warehouse spanned by metal gratings allow for interior views and a source of light in the evenings, and the building’s upper floors feature stacked window openings on the west wing and staggered window openings on the east.
While the Board appreciated the team’s efforts to create unique landscaping elements at the four corners of the building during EDG, they recommended the team take caution with the number of entry points along the Burke Gilman Trail edge for pedestrian safety. In response, the team reduced and evolved the way the building paths integrated with the trail, in coordination with the Seattle Parks Department. Features include steel brace frames, cable and glass guardrails and wire mesh guardrails along all facades.
“The development has an opportunity to provide amenities for trail users, to activate the neighborhood, and to increase safety for everyone,” said Rachael Meyer, landscape architect principal at Weber Thompson.
The Board celebrated the use of timber as the focal point for the mass construction during EDG, though cautioned the team to consider taking a single material approach rather than incorporating a variety that could confuse the industrial element of the project. In response, the team emphasized the use of materials that reflect the warmth of the region and Latona’s history of logging, keeping timber as the primary material and using subtle wood elements where applicable. The revised design also incorporates eroded concrete facades and open metal grating along the warehouse. Curtain wall glass is used in the courtyard and at the corners to welcome views to the internal timber structure.
“We’ve chosen a cohesive and natural palate to complement the mass infrastructure,” Lodi said.
During the recommendation meeting, the Board appreciated that the team listened to the guidance given at EDG to revise the project, especially with the suggestions made to shift the mass further west to allow for a larger plaza. They also appreciated the progress that had been made with the open-air walkways and transparency of the connectors, as well as the connection of the materiality with the vision of the project. The Board felt the team had done a successful job in integrating the layered “forest” approach throughout the design, and that they used clear language and rich detailing to add texture to the building. They also appreciated the balance of the transparency of the solid portions of the building to maximize views with the respect of privacy of nearby residential neighbors.
The Board set three conditions for the team moving forward after reviewing the revised design. The first condition concerned consistent language on all sides of the building with regards to the window openings. The Board felt that stacking some of the windows vertically gave the building an institutional feel, and recommended that removing those groupings from the west wing would make the building more consistent with the staggered window openings on the east wing, as well as further highlight the pattern of the siding.
The second condition required a study into the type of canopy trees used along the edges. The Board suggested the team consider replacing some of the specimen trees with native species, as well as placing larger trees along the northern edge of the site where space allowed.
The third and final condition requested more strategies to increase visibility into the warehouse from the public plaza.
During the recommendation meeting, the team presented two departure requests concerning blank facades along the west and east facades caused by floor lines and an electrical room, respectively. The Board was unanimously supportive of the first departure request, however, were partially supportive of the departure for the east facade with the condition that the team maintain continuity along the facade with board form concrete, as opposed to a partial artwork or mural as the team suggested in the design documents.
At the conclusion of the recommendation meeting, the Board unanimously voted to move the project forward to MUP application with the conditions stated, moving the team one step closer to finalizing their multi-level vision for the industrial forest at 3800 Latona Ave NE.