By Meghan Hall
Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood is in the midst of a development renaissance, and it has been ever since Vulcan started reshaping the industrial neighborhood into one of the most technologically dense regions in the country now home to such tech stalwarts as Amazon, Google and Facebook, to name just a few. And Vulcan’s work is not completed. The Seattle-based developer brought to the city’s Design Review Board an 11-story project located at 300 Dexter Ave. N., called Block 57 West, which is designed by ZGF Architects and Hewitt. This was the project’s second visit in front of the board, and it appealed to board members who unanimously gave the developer the green light to advance the project to the next phase of development.
“We’re very excited about this. I think it’s going to be a great project for the neighborhood,” said Nick Lenington, development manager at Vulcan who opened the presentation. He struck a collaborative tone with the board, emphasizing Vulcan’s work with its neighbors to bring this project to realization. “As part of the process of responding to the EDG, we did meet with the South Lake Union Community Council to get their input and feedback, and [we received] very positive reception from them, and also [we’ve] taken their comments back and incorporated them in our response,” he added in his opening.
Block 57 West is a roughly 24,000 square foot lot in the middle of a very active development landscape of South Lake Union. The project will include approximately 200,000 square feet of office space, 6,000 square feet of retail and 206 parking stalls in a below-grade parking garage. According to project documents, the development team’s design inspiration builds upon the immediate character of the South Lake Union district and the Thomas Green Street Concept Plan. To accomplish this, the massing responds to the public realm by providing a “green street” along Thomas St. to create a south-facing animated public space. Additional setbacks along Dexter wrap around the building to the main building entrance at the north, while the scale and bulk of the upper levels of the development are divided using a “belt line” at the sixth floor. The development will be further modulated by a top-floor setback, as well.
The setback and beltline, show project documents, will create large floating volumes that will be further sculpted with folds and deflections. Additionally, exaggerated cantilevers and terraces at the south end of the building will interact with the pedestrian plaza below through the use of landscaping and greenery. The massing of the blocks responds to the taller, 645,000 square foot structure located next door at 333 Dexter developed by Kilroy Realty, and a shorter building on the other side of the project located at 333 & 330 8th Ave. N.
Block 57 will utilize a simple, but modern material palette. Project documents indicate that primary surfaces will be clad in high-quality, glazed current walls with vertical fins on alternating volumes. Spandrel and vision glass will also be used, and strong color accents in metal and concrete panels will help to anchor the building.
In keeping with the project’s “green” theme, ZGF Architects proposed using a vibrant spring green as an accent color for the project. The green, states ZGF, is meant to reflect the constant change and re-invention sweeping across the South Lake Union neighborhood. “The north wall received some observations, and we added some visual interest and depth to that,” said Allyn Stellmacher, a design partner in the Seattle office of ZGF who led the presentation. “This is where the South Lake Union Community Council advocated some more aggressive pattern thinking,” and the vibrant green pattern became a critical component of design.
The proposed building was treated as an office project, but there is a possibility that the structure would be developed as laboratory space, as well. “We’re anticipating the building to be office at the moment,” said Stellmacher. “There is a potential for a laboratory tenant, a biotech tenant, which would increase the floor-to-floor by about a foot and a half.” The design team requested that the board provide an approval for both designs, which would differ primarily in height.
The project team also requested two departures for the development regarding the podium’s floor area and upper level façade modulation. For the first departure, Vulcan and ZGF have requested to exceed the average podium lot coverage limits in order to reduce the footprint of the first two floors, creating a more walkable pedestrian realm. ZGF Architects and Vulcan also requested a departure from the vertical modulation required by code, as the current massing improves the viability of office floor plates and reduces pressure to adjust the building’s massing to the south along the project’s proposed green space resides.The board viewed both of these changes positively and approved them.
Overall, the board was very pleased with the design team’s proposal. In terms of proportions, the board found the building to feature fairly elegantly proportioned boxes, which reinforced a strong building concept.
The board spent some time discussing how to treat various color options of the north wall and accents throughout the building, but ultimately it was supportive of color options as proposed and gave the applicant some latitude to pick color expression as long as it met some standard of consistency.
The board found the landscape design to be thoughtful and fitting within the neighborhood context, as well as provide a simple and elegant partition between public and private domains.
The project site is located in a rapidly changing area of the South Lake Union neighborhood, where major companies are snapping up space. Currently, the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance is working to expand its facilities in South Lake Union by more than 200,000 square feet, while BioMed Realty’s 515,000 square foot Dexter Yard project is slated to open in the fourth quarter of 2020. And, in an early design review meeting preceding Vulcan’s, Alexandria Real Estate Equities pitched its own 11-story project just a few blocks away from this one.
The board approved Vulcan’s vision unanimously, setting a path for the developer to continue in its quest to reshape the city and the South Lake Union neighborhood for which it is known.