By Meghan Hall
Large developments can be difficult to design, especially those with two towers and two separate architecture teams on board. Such is the case for the OneX Towers project, which is slated to rise at 4522 Roosevelt Way NE in Seattle’s University District. There, a massive project proposed by OneLin Capital Corporation, MZA and SKB Architects faced the Northeast Design Review Board Monday night. While the Board appreciated the initial schemes, it requested the project teams return for an additional early design guidance meeting with far clearer design schematics before moving forward.
The two towers will include both residential and office uses. The North Tower will include 336 residential units, 222 parking stalls and 2,155 square feet of retail space. It is being designed by MZA and will rise 24 stories in height.
The south tower will house 230,475 square feet of commercial office space and rise 16 stories. Plans for the south tower also include 1,936 square feet of retail. Its design is being spearheaded by SKB Architects.
GCH will be in charge of designs for the ground plane and landscaping. Two separate architecture firms were hired for the buildings because OneLin Capital Corporation wanted two separate, distinct identities for additional diversity of design on the site.
“The dual-architect structure is intentional, as the owner wants more than one design voice expressed on the site,” explained Kevin Sutton, principal for MZA. “They want to see the diversity of the U-District echoed in the design of the project since there is a distinct use and a desire for a unique look on each tower.”
The south tower will present a simple massing language for commercial programs and will take advantage of linearity in the structure to break down the bulk and scale of the building. The north tower will be defined by a “timeless and simple” massing with jewel boxes and a textural base.
“Generally, we see a lot of opportunity for this site,” said Sutton. “It represents a chance to further the diversity of the built environment, energize the neighbrohood, provide some unique configurations and access at the ground plane and allow for greater engagement with the public.”
While the project team presented three massing options, the meeting revolved around the second and third schemes presented by the Board. In Massing Option Two, called “Stacked Blocks,” the north tower is composed of stacked boxes to form the overall shape of the tower. These blocks are meant to convey the adaptability and creativity of the neighborhood, and provide horizontal and vertical gaps. The notches create additional breathing room and potential for outdoor spaces.
The south tower will have a distinct three-story base that “returns” on the north end, and will be framed with an articulated glass expression. The podium will be extremely porous to contrast with the tower up above.
In Massing Option Three, dubbed “Distinctive Towers,” the north tower will consist of volumes and planes that are pushed and pulled to create visually intriguing language. Prominent vertical notches will provide prominent modulation, and a jewel box at the lower portion of the tower will be pushed out to grab attention at the street edge.
In contrast, the south tower will create a human-scaled podium, and the first two levels of office would be pushed back to create an additional intermediate scale between the ground plane and tower. Column will express a strong rhythm along Roosevelt and the tower will be defined by three masses defined by frames.
In all schemes, public open space is planned between the buildings.
The Board thought both Massing Options Two and Three were a solid start, but agreed that more work needed to be done before the project could be moved onto the next phase of design review. One Board Member noted, “There is a lot here to do and it’s important for [the project team] to get it right, otherwise they run the risk of two recommendation [meetings] later.”
The Board appreciated the initial moves to connect to the neighborhood, but wanted to know more about how the East and West facades of the buildings would play off the surrounding neighborhood context. The Board also emphasized that a mid-block connection could be of utmost importance for pedestrian safety and activity, and asked the project team to explore this idea, as well as making the ground plane equitable and accessible for all.
The Board did not note a preference between Options Two and Three, only stating that the schemes need to be proven that they are viable and hashed out before it could make its decision. At the end of the meeting, based on this feedback, the Board voted unanimously for the project team to return for an additional early design guidance meeting in the coming months.