No longer just dumb dead assets, commercial properties of today are set to become intelligent structures that not only offset their energy and water usage but also provide resources for the community. One such development has been proposed in Seattle’s Wallingford neighborhood, and the city has approved an early first outline that promises to bring the building under the Living Building Pilot Project.
The project site is located in Wallingford on 3524 Stone Way North, but it is also part of the Fremont Hub Urban Village, which jets about a block and a half into Wallingford’s western side, generally along Stone Way North Street. The address of the development is actually along that street, and it takes up approximately a third of the block between 36th and 35th Streets. The property is located in an area of industrial and commercial development and is currently occupied by a variety of low scale commercial buildings.
“[Stone Way] historically has been there to support the maritime building trades along the water, but we’ve seen it evolve into a much more vibrant mixed-use neighborhood that serves more of the residential uses surrounding it,” said Cody Lodi, senior associate at Weber Thompson in Seattle, who provided the overview to the design review board.
That evolution comes with reinventing a neighborhood. The development proposes to demolish existing structures on the lot and create a five-story office property with ground floor retail, in all totaling just under 100,000 square feet. The retail portion would encompass 6,000-8,000 square feet, while the office component would be around 90,000 square feet. Around 110 parking spaces are also proposed.
“We’re pretty excited about this project, just to see Stone Way evolve into a very interesting, nice place to be,” said developer and project owner John Schwartz, president of Seattle-based The Schwartz Company. “We see an opportunity to really enhance the public realm along that street and do a nice building. We’re pretty excited about the Living Building part of this, also.”
From the initial comments received by the design review board members, little about the massing and proposed scale seemed to impress them. However, the Living Building Pilot Project in some regard is perhaps the most impressive aspect of this development even through the board spent the least amount of time discussing it. The program gives property owners the ability to pick from seven areas of focus, and this project chose Place, Energy and Beauty to define its Living Building Challenge features. The pilot project also benefits from a recent change in the program, which the city of Seattle enacted just this June. The Living Building Pilot Program gives developers increased height and FAR allocations, which have been helpful in defining this development.
The Weber Thompson team provided an overview of three alternative designs, each taking a different approach to the development. The “Living Room” concept creates a central open air courtyard that visually connects tenants and visitors while highlighting daylight penetration.
The “Viewmaster” concept emphasizes significant views from the project site, while framing the internal uses within the architecture, according to the proposal.
The “Shifted Shed,” which was the developer’s preferred concept, organizes two parallel structures with room for circulation between the two adding a sloping room reminiscent of the industrial properties in the neighborhood.
The design review board focused primarily on the first concept, while at the same time questioning the scale of the project, as well as the perceived lack of diversity in the initial design renderings. Interestingly, the board also spent time deliberating things like access to bike storage and the designer’s rationalization for using a shed roof in the preferred concept.
Almost no attention was given to the fact that the building is also trying to accomplish some very rigorous Living Building Challenge goals, which would make it one of the most sustainable structures in the region. At times, the review board seemed almost annoyed that the design of the roof was too substantial and that its size was driven by the building’s effort to maximize water collection. The board also seemed out of touch with the additional size that the Living Building Pilot Program afforded the developer, stating that the building looked too large and out of character for the neighborhood.
At the end, however, the board did approve the early design proposal 4 to 1 and gave guidance to the developer and the designer to focus on local context, the character of retail, provide a more of a neighborhood feel to street facing design instead of creating an industrial aesthetic to the project, among other recommendations. The design team will take that feedback and provide a more detailed massing proposal in the next few months as it looks to receive full approval of the project.