By Meghan Hall
Pasadena, Calif.-based Alexandria Real Estate and global design firm Gensler have teamed up to transform a highly visible development site on Eastlake Ave. in what is emerging as Seattle’s life science cluster in the city’s Eastlake neighborhood. The pair of firms are proposing a highly functional 12-story, 303,119 square foot office and lab building that will add additional space for tech and life science companies to grow. This week, the city of Seattle’s Design Review Board gave the project unanimous approval, which brings the project one step closer to reality.
The project is sandwiched between I-5 and Eastlake Ave., adjacent to to the ZymoGenetics’ former Seattle City Light Steam Plant building. The development will be part of a transitioning neighborhood on the edge of South Lake Union, which has been transformed by office and lab-use oriented developments over the last decade thanks to the region’s booming tech and life science industries. The development itself will house an array of uses, including ground-level commercial and retail sites. The majority of the building, however, will be reserved for office and lab uses, with the option for the developer to go entirely in the direction of lab space, if such a tenant were to present itself.
The project site — whose formal address is 1150 Eastlake Ave. E — is centrally located and along a major transit corridor in Seattle. Multiple bus stops are within one block of the project site, and the South Lake Union Transit light rail stop is also within walking distance. The corridor, which has mainly been used for manufacturing and industrial purposes, has seen a slew of new office and lab projects entitled over the years. Project documents show that the site is surrounded by upcoming office and laboratory projects planned to rise in future years.
The exterior of the building will reflect a “wake theme” inspired by the movement of the water in Lake Union, according to design documents. The façade of the tower will be clad in sculpted panels patterned after the lake. The massing of the building sets up a wedge-shaped podium fronting another wedge-shaped tower, and the podium height was increased in order to accommodate office and lab uses in the future instead of parking. The tower block will be split at the I-5 level to expose an outdoor terrace that will resemble a forest. The terrace will be developed in an abstract way, using vertical elements, but it will also provide view to the west from the highway, opening a transparent north portion of the structure.
Primary structural columns will be supplemented with slender columns to evoke more texture and to reference the historic Lake Union Steam Plant across the street. Sculptural tubes at the main entry plaza will bring the themes of Wake and Forest to the pedestrian realm.
Materials such as greenish-gray tower glazing, stained concrete and corian solid surface will be used throughout the building’s façade.
The project is planning to include a green roof deck, which the Design Review Board urged the applicant to explore in its previous meetings and make it a “5th façade” of the structure. Gensler responded with an impressive array of green space that would maintain views to the west of the development.
“What we had previously was a big block that had all the mechanical equipment in it,” said Chad Yoshinobu, design director and principal at Gensler in Seattle, who led the presentation at this week’s meeting. “So, we broke that block down, we reduced the height, and what we also did is we added a lot of green roof to this. Landscaping all the way around, and the form of this is really tied back to the form of the forest level, so it’s softer, it’s more organic, and it contrasts itself from the rectilinear qualities of the building itself.”
In addition to the proposed layout, which would include four levels of underground parking, the retail and lobby on the ground floor, nine levels of office space and an amenity room and deck on the 7th floor, Gensler and Alexandria are seeking an alternate layout that would make the building be comprised entirely of lab space. The request would reduce the voluntary setback of the south façade from 10 feet to 5 feet and eliminate a floor level to provide lab-ready spaces on the upper floors.
The Board mostly focused its analysis of the design on this feature. Some questions were posed around the materials, the use of ground floor space, the retail signage and the evolution of the overall project, but it was the alternate use proposal that drove the deepest discussion. The change of the façade generated a number of questions about how the design team planned to execute on that, and if the alternate proposal was consistent with the rest of the project’s evolution.
A single public comment was from a representative of a group of Lakeview Blvd. residents, just east the development across I-5, whose primary concerns were about sound and air pollution, both issues that can be addressed through the project’s environmental review.
“Overall the board is very supportive of the applicant’s response since [the early design guidance meeting],” said board member Stephen Porter. He stressed how many of the development moves since the prior meeting have been subtle, yet in aggregate the project team paid attention to detail and preserved the original concept well.
The board was also supportive of the evolution of the ground plane since the EDG, and it was generally supportive of the project’s signage plans. It had some concern with the large, dark blade signs, which it did not support, stating that it would welcome the architect working with planner to find an appropriate signage solution.
In addition, the board was supportive of the alternate concept, however it had some concern with the south elevation as depicted, specific to level of opacity and lack of consistency with overall architectural concept. It was supportive of some adjustment but not as currently depicted, which means the team will have to work with the planner to resolve those issues.
In the end, the design team received unanimous support to move the project forward in its development proposal.