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Six-Story Seattle Office Building Pitched by Vulcan Must Return for Additional Design Review

Vulcan, Graphite Design Group, 630 Westlake, Seattle, South Lake Union
Courtesy of Graphite Design Group

By Meghan Hall

Designs for a new, six-story office project in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood must come back for an additional early design guidance meeting after failing to procure board approval last week. During the meeting, veteran developer Vulcan, along with Seattle-based Graphite Design Group, presented their initial designs for 630 Westlake, whose designs will be driven by its proximity to other commercial development and the lakefront.

“While the site may appear unremarkable in its current form as construction staging and parking, it is remarkably well-connected and diverse in context, surrounded by a collection of public and private uses,” explained Graphite Design Group’s Peter Krech. “It is also well-connected to an array of transit networks, bike trails, the trolley and Sound Transit.”

In all, the proposed project will include 289,000 square feet of office and 9,950 square feet of ground floor retail. 300 vehicle parking stalls, as well as 190 total bike spaces, are also planned. Other features include a mid-block connection, a plaza to the Northeast, and a “pedestrian only” zone.

The project team states in its plans that the development will complete the Lakefront Blocks, as the site is the “final missing piece, providing a bookend connection from one end of the through block plaza to the other.” Vulcan and Graphite Design Group also hope to add to the architectural diversity of the neighborhood via a number of unique massing moves and materials.

During the meeting, there were two schemes that were primarily discussed by the West Design Review Board: Step and Shore. Step, the second of three schemes presented, utilized recesses between building masses to provide relief to the facade. The city block was further compartmentalized, and multidirectional occupied terraces would be used at different levels. A primary plaza would also be created and would connect with Lake Union Park.

Shore, also the design team’s preferred option, took a different approach. The massing included additional facade angularity to “ease the merging of two city grids.” The ground level would have additional carved corners at the north side of the site to create widening view corridors, and Lake Union Park would be extended onto the site itself, wrapping on Terry Avenue. Additionally, materials would create a veil effect with a predominantly vertical pattern.

The review board deliberated for some time on the project, and overall felt that the three design schemes missed the mark. While the board did agree that Shore was the strongest in concept, it also noted that the preferred scheme was “two dimensionally-designed,” and needed another pass before its massing really stood out. The board also asked the design team to look more fully at all sides of the building and treat them equally in the design. The board further requested that the project team take a second look at the landscape plan, stating it needed to be better integrated into the overall scheme. The project plans also included six different departures; however, the board was hesitant to approve the departures until the overall design schemes were more finalized. 

At the end of the meeting, the board voted unanimously for Vulcan and Graphite to return for an additional early design guidance meeting. At the next meeting, the design team can return with three updated designs, or choose to focus on the refinement of Shore or Step per the board’s guidance.