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Touchstone and Portman Holdings Receive Design Approval for Multi-Block Project in Seattle’s University District

GGLO, Touchstone, Portman Holdings, CollinsWoerman, Seattle, University District
Rendering Courtesy of CollinsWoerman

By Meghan Hall

The University District is a mix of all things scholastic and lifestyle, and while there have been a slew of recent residential projects hitting the pipeline, new office development in the neighborhood has been more limited. In a break in trend, Seattle-based Touchstone and Portman Holdings are each pursuing office towers straddling Brooklyn Ave., near 47th Street. At an Early Design Guidance meeting at the end of November, Touchstone, Portman and their design partners—led by CollinsWoerman and in collaboration with Portman Architects and GGLO—the two developers received backing from the design review board to move forward with presented designs for both buildings.

“We have two very exciting projects to present to you tonight,” explained Tim Bissmeyer, principal at CollinsWoerman. “…Both [buildings] share the same development goals. These development goals are about answering to the urban fabric of the neighborhood, creating ample opportunities for pedestrian connections, integrating an adjacent pocket park with a larger public plan…[and] connecting university research with academic and local innovative uses such as office. We’re really excited to bring office to this neighborhood to complement the existing character.”

Building A, to be developed by Touchstone and the main focus of the meeting, is to be located at 4530 12th Ave. NE. Upon completion, the building will total 240,000 square feet of office space at 11 stories above grade, as well as 11,000 square feet of retail on the ground level. Building B, which is located just across the street at 4536 Brooklyn Ave. and whose massing was considered alongside Building A at the EDG meeting, will total 152,000 square feet of office and include 4,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor. The two buildings will include 180 and 120 below-grade vehicle parking stalls, respectively. Between the two buildings, project documents indicate that there will be 4,965 square feet of neighborhood open space as well as a through block connection between Brooklyn Ave. and 12th Street.

Project documents indicate that the scale of the project has been reduced in order to better accommodate the project’s response to specific site constraints. Building A will be composed of two distinct masses, separated by a mid-block connection, while Building B will use a slot-like façade element and a top-floor setback to help address new open spaces popping up throughout the neighborhood.

“The inclusion of a new open space as well as a mid- block connection has become a defining characteristic that has shaped both projects. These elements act as a guiding principle by creating multiple new pedestrian routes that extend all the way through the site,” states project documents. 

The main entry of Building A will be biased to the southside of the tower, just north of the id-block connection, which will also create retail spaces of various sizes. Additional modulation will relate directly to the mid-block connection. Building B’s design will reflect that of Building A’s in that the entrance will also be placed to the south. Side setbacks are ten feet from the property line, starting at the second level as well.

The review board’s deliberations primarily centered around the buildings’ response to the open space. For Building A, the board asked to see a more detailed representation of the garage entry, public realm including sidewalks and outdoor spaces. The board also suggested that fun and whimsical décor for the park would be invited, as well. When it came to Building B, the board emphasized how rare it is for new office development to have easy access to open space, and asked the development team to continue prioritizing the architecture that faced the planned open space.

Nevertheless, the board unanimously supported the design of Building A, and for Building B, voted 3-1 to move forward with the preferred design. Upon completion, the offices will sit amidst several new, large-scale office projects, including: The Hub 2 and The M, which will each rise 24 stories, the even larger Nuovo Tower at 32 stories and a new Safeway Redevelopment project that will include six levels of apartments above a new shopping center.