After returning to Seattle’s West Design Review Board for its second Early Design Guidance (EDG) meeting, Vulcan Real Estate has received full support to move forward with its 289,000 square-foot commercial proposal.
The proposed development is located at 630 Westlake Avenue NE in South Lake Union, and would join a slew of other nearby developments by Vulcan. Should it be approved, the project would stand six stories tall and contain a mix of office and ground floor retail. The project also proposes a two-story parking garage and a pedestrian midblock connection with ample landscaping and outdoor space. Designs for the project come from architecture firm Graphite, which presented plans for the development during Wednesday night’s meeting.
“Our design team has led a number of full block, downtown projects, and as a former board member chair and frequent substitute, I’ve participated in the review of notable projects that have helped shape our city. These experiences have informed our team’s understanding of how to approach large-scale developments such as this and guide how we may effectively apply the design guidelines at such a prominent site,” Peter Krech, founding partner at Graphite, said during the meeting.
At the first EDG meeting, the design team presented several massing schemes landing on a preferred option, which has been referred to as “Shore.” In the preferred option, the massing includes additional facade angularity, with curved corners at the ground level on the northern portion of the building. Also included in the preferred scheme is the extension of the site to Lake Union Park, adding extra space at the pedestrian level.
In the second meeting, the design team enhanced the preferred option through the conceptual use of erosion and elevation. The updated scheme uses breaks in the massing to create the appearance of erosion or weathering to match the larger coastal surroundings while also creating interest. The design also elevates Lake Union Park through added building terraces that pull landscaping through to the top of the project.
“As the name ‘Shore’ implies, the concept draws upon the site’s proximity to Lake Union. Further, it explores designing influences originating from our glaciated Pacific Northwest landscape, both in present form and historic evolution. In contrast to the man-made waterfront themes, such as piers, containers and ships, expressed in the adjacent Google lakefront buildings,” Krech said.
The outdoor pedestrian connection is further enhanced by the use of a “woonerf” – a Dutch concept meaning “living street” – along Terry Avenue. The design team also proposes a bridge over the living street as well, with cladding representative of the “eroded” upper mass. According to the design team, the revised bridge plan allows for added views to the north from the south half of the floor plan, while also serving as a signifier of the entry to the through-block connection.
At the street level, the design proposal includes landscaped sidewalks that act as a buffer from the roadway. Retail access has also been added to the corner of Mercer and Westlake with room to spill out onto the sidewalk.
“We believe that each of the individual responses contribute to an overall design that extends our design ambitions and concept response to board guidance and addresses priority guidelines,” Krech said. “The proposal complements the surrounding context, both from the most high profile view from the north, where the building form and street level response modulate the transition from higher density uses to the south to the lower scale blocks and parking to the north.”
Overall, the board showed support for the project, ultimately deciding to recommend that it move onto the Master Use Permitting (MUP) stage in the design review process. According to the board, all guidance given at the first EDG meeting were met, and the board also was supportive of many of the added details as well.
Specifically, the board showed support for the breaks in the building’s facade. They also appreciated the softening of the building’s edges to create a less bulky design and the use of landscaping throughout to create a strong pedestrian experience.
However, the board encouraged the design team to consider the project’s materiality moving forward and how it can be set apart at building entryways. Additional lighting and landscape aspects were also recommended to create a more polished design.