By Jack Stubbs
“This is a neighborhood I’ve been working in for thirty five years…in [all of the other developments] that I’ve done in this area, I’ve really focused on three things: [creating] something that Seattle as a community is proud of, a building that engages human health, and [a development that] is good for the environment,” said Greg Smith, CEO of Seattle-based Urban Visions.
The locally-based developer has project plans in the works for a 29-story mixed use development in downtown that was approved this week to proceed to the next phase of the city’s design review process. On Tuesday, December 19th, the mixed-use Marion project was approved to proceed at an Early Design Guidance meeting. At the meeting, the applicant architecture firm NBBJ presented preliminary project plans on behalf of the owner of the project, Urban Visions.
The project team also includes MKA (structural/civil engineer), Site Workshop (landscape architect), Morrison Hershfield (enclosure), Graelic (parking), Lerch Bates (vertical transportation), Hart Crowser (geo tech), McCullough Hill Leary, PS (land use), O’Brien & Company (sustainability) and Sellen (pre-construction).
The board unanimously approved the project to advance to the next stage of the design process while articulating several design conditions relating to the project’s massing and transition from the street, the proposed ground-floor commercial uses and the compatibility of the building’s exterior with the neighborhood context.
The Marion project, located at 801 3rd Ave. in downtown Seattle, calls for the construction of a new 29-story commercial building, which will include 28 floors of office space (comprising 675,000 square feet), six levels of below-grade parking and retail uses at ground level. The project team envisions a “modern, high-performance tower with unique features” with a height and proportion that complements the surrounding urban fabric, according to the proposal. Specifically, the development will ultimately be positioned to serve office tenants in the technology sector and will employ “smart” features aimed at “enhancing user experience, increasing interaction between occupants and minimizing water and energy usage,” according to the project plans.
Beginning the presentation, Ryan Mullenix, partner at NBBJ, emphasized the project team’s primary objectives for the development. These include expressing the architectural structure of the development, emphasizing physical resident health through the building’s design, providing a massing and scale appropriate for the neighborhood context, encouraging pedestrian interaction with the development at street level and stressing the movement and dynamism of the building’s exterior facade, which will emphasize an architectural exoskeleton design.
When asked to provide clarifying questions about the development, the board’s inquiries centered around how the development would relate to the pedestrian experience at street level, as well as how the proposed retail area would integrate into the rest of the development and attract adequate foot traffic. Board member Belinda Bail asked how the applicant team would enhance the pedestrian experience through retail options along the street, while board member Aaron Argyle asked the applicant for further clarification about whether the ground-level retail elements would be accessible to both community members and residents of the development. Board member Grace Leong echoed this idea, asking whether the top floor of the development would also be accessible by members of the public.
The one public comment expressed during the meeting reflected the board’s concerns about how well the development’s retail and resident amenities would allow it to integrate into the surrounding neighborhood context. The speaker who voiced a comment, a resident of the nearby Millennium Tower, asked the applicant whether any design-related studies had been done for the residential neighborhood concerning potential light, view and walkability issues associated with the development.
Submitted written comments asked the applicant team to further consider how the proposed retail space would influence the streetscape. The submitted comments also highlighted concerns about the development in relationship to the pedestrian experience and requested that the applicant consider integrating more open spaces and landscaping elements into the project at street level.
During its deliberation period, the board ultimately decided to advance the project but also highlighted several prominent design issues with the development—its massing, proposed ground-floor uses and the relationship between the adjacent streetscape and the development—that the applicant team will need to consider once it has submitted a Master Use Permit for review.
The board highlighted subsequent design conditions for the applicant to integrate into the project plans, asking the project team to further refine the building’s exterior facade and emphasize the exoskeleton element in the updated project plans. The board also recommended that the project team work on improving the pedestrian experience at street level by adding additional entrance and access points and asked for more information about the relationship between the building’s exterior facade and the pedestrian perspective of the building.
The board expressed concerns about the relationship between the development and the adjacent streetscape, asking the applicant to further clarify how the proposed retail uses will serve to activate the streetscape. The applicant team was also asked to provide further design studies about incorporating more open spaces and landscaping elements at the street level. Finally, the board also requested that the applicant team provide alternate massing options and architectural models in its updated project plans before the next design review meeting for the project.
Overall, the applicant team’s project plans were well-received by the board and will continue to take shape as the project team works on integrating the board’s conditions and feedback into its project before the next design review meeting.