By Meghan Hall
Downtown Seattle hit a new record for construction in June 2018, according to the Downtown Seattle Association 2018 Mid-Year Update Development Guide. The City saw a massive $5.6 billion worth of projects under construction at the end of the second quarter of 2018. Seattle’s downtown core saw more office construction than any other central business district in the U.S., and a newly approved 322,000 square foot office building at 520 Westlake Ave. North in the South Lake Union neighborhood that Seattle developer Vulcan will build for Google, will continue to add to the robust amount of development already underway in this dynamic neighborhood.
The project — submitted by Seattle-based architect NBBJ and owner Vulcan Real Estate — was given the green light to move forward in the design process and apply for a Master Use Permit by the West Design Review Board earlier this week. In addition to ample office space, plans for the 12-story building also include 21,000 square feet of street level retail and four levels of below-grade parking for 343 vehicles. A publicly accessible plaza with wood trellises and a potential rooftop amenity with a glass canopy for tenants were also included in the plans.
The site is located near the North Boundary of South Lake Union, just a block from Lake Union Park and in close proximity to several Amazon buildings. The development is easily accessible by the U.S. Highway I-5 via Mercer Street. The South Lake Union Light Rail Station is located just across the street from the site, as are two Seattle City bus lines.
In August of 2018, Vulcan announced that Mountain View, Calif.-based Google would be taking the entire building, growing its South Lake Union footprint beyond the 638,000 square foot mixed-use campus that Vulcan is already constructing for Google across Mercer Street.
The preferred design presented by the application team incorporated responses from an earlier EDG report and public meeting back in October 2014. Titled “Shifted Tower,” the massing of the preferred option was slightly altered from the previous meeting to emphasize the podium scale at Mercer Street and to better fit in with the neighborhood context. The design of the development’s north tower was also updated to include a façade and accent panels to create more variation in scale. The new proposed design also further accentuated the vertical modulations that are part of the development’s overall massing in response to previous EDG comments.
The exterior of the building will take advantage of light and dark gray metal panels, weathering steel, large windows and wood accents to create a modern effect and break up the linear perspective of the structure. Surrounding the structure will be a number of public spaces that will add to the building’s appeal and connectivity to the rest of neighborhood. An alley will be created connecting Mercer and Republican Streets, while a 55-foot deep public plaza is proposed at the back of the building along Republican Street.
“At grade, we wanted to make sure there was a very rich sidewalk experience,” said Matthew Somerton, principal of NBBJ, who led the presentation of the development on behalf of the applicant team. Impressing the board, the architect also spoke about what he deemed an exceptional experience in creating a structure that ties in several uses and elements of the massing to make it a cohesive block that functions well together. “It’s rare that we get to take a building expression logically from the sky to the ground,” he added.
The board’s feedback primarily focused on the public spaces and how the entrances to the building functioned between two sides of the structure. They also asked questions about the materials proposed for the development and especially how the project would appear alongside Westlake Avenue, which would be the most visible portion of the building.
There were also a few members of the community that provided their support for the project; everyone who spoke supported the development and the vision behind it making the board deliberation somewhat easier to manage.
At the end, the board approved the development unanimously without any conditions, allowing Vulcan and Google to advance their project further along the review process and apply for Master Use Permit.