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Vulcan’s 272-Unit Apartment Building Planned for Seattle’s Yesler Terrace Again Returns for Second Design Review

Yesler Terrace, Vulcan Real Estate, Encore Architects, Seattle, Design Review Board, Boren Avenue, East Yesler Way
Image Credit: Encore Architects

By Meghan Hall

Yesler Terrace has undergone a rapid transformation alongside the rest of downtown Seattle as developers and property owners seek to take advantage of the City’s booming real estate market and growing economy. In October 2018, Seattle-based developer Vulcan Real Estate and Encore Architects presented their plans for a 272-unit apartment building with 170 parking spaces at 1000 East Yesler Way. The October presentation resulted in Seattle’s Design Review Board asking the development team to return for further review, and this week’s meeting, which provided an updated design still didn’t meet the board’s design guidelines resulting in a request for yet another meeting with the board.

One of the main challenges of the site, and the project itself, is the scale of the development, which encompasses an entire block bounded by Boren Avenue, E Yesler Way, 10th Avenue and E Fir Street. Boren Avenue is a major thoroughfare, featuring four lanes of traffic without a pedestrian crossing, while 10th Avenue is a much quieter cut-through street that splits the neighborhood and winds into an intersection with Fir Street. The vision that the design team had with the site was to create a development that roughly followed the outline of the block, with a central courtyard anchoring the middle of the project. Also, the team’s design attempted to respond to each of the four streetscapes and create a structure that looked slightly different on each street.

This direction was in response to the board’s earlier feedback, which asked the design team to revise the massing of the development in order to better relate to the street. In addition, the team also cantilevered the building’s volume on the corner of Yesler Way and 10th Ave. to make the development’s entry more apparent and created a bookend by proposing a park at the corner of 10th Ave. and E Fir Street.

Image Credit: Encore Architects

The initial feedback by the board focused primarily on the façade treatments and the ground level experience on Boren Avenue, which was not perceived to be very pedestrian-friendly. Also, the board inquired about the design of the building’s entrance, and if it was substantial enough given the scale of the project.

However, the discussion quickly turned to the massing and the relationship of the development to the streets and the corners. The attempt to create a visual cohesion on each street backfired with the board, which now saw the project lacking in uniformity. Especially troubling for the board was the massing of the structure on Boren Avenue, which it found unfriendly. The board felt that the designers could have done better to redefine the streetscape on Boren rather than respond to the current expression and use on the street.

The board also called on the design team to explore opportunities around the entryway with some retail and amenity opportunities that would help it get activated and be more strongly defined.

In the end, the board felt that the design still had ways to go, and it needed to provide a friendlier building all around. Facing too many conditions and concerns with the project, the board rejected the proposal unanimously and asked the development team to return for another meeting with a clear massing overview that provides engagement with the street along Boren, as well as other streets.