The Tallest Building in Pike/Pine

By Dan Bertolet July 13, 2010

If it's built, the seven-story building rendered above will be the tallest building in the Pike/Pine neighborhood.  On the prominent corner of Pine and 11th, kitty-corner to Cal Anderson Park, the proposed project would rise from the preserved auto-row-style brick facade of the 1926 Sunset Electric building.

In exchange for the preservation of that historic facade, the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District adopted last summer grants an additional 10 feet of height, allowing the building to add a seventh floor and stand 10 feet taller than all the other new buildings nearby. Here's what the site looks like now:

The Capitol Hill Seattle blog gives a good rundown of the project specs here, the most notable of which is the relatively low parking ratio---36 stalls for 96 units and retail (Seattle code does not require any parking).

The building layout is fairly unusual for multifamily in Seattle. As shown in the rendering below,  it's a doughnut form, with a central courtyard and motel-style open-air corridors. As with the Weber Thompson building in South Lake Union, this design enables daylighting from both ends of units, along with efficient natural ventilation and the potential for passive cooling via the chimney effect.

Because they don't have to be heated, the external corridors may have the added benefit of reducing energy use. My colleagues and I at GGLO conducted research that found that as much as one third of total building energy is consumed in common spaces (lobbies, corridors, etc).

To me, though, the most intriguing aspect of the project is the broader question of whether this kind of preservation/bonus scheme can can reliably produce a good outcome. The risk with a design like the one proposed in this case is that the building becomes a vapid caricature. Based on the renderings, the design goal would appear to be the aesthetic of the Terminal Sales Building at 1st and Virginia:

But achieving that successfully would require relatively expensive windows, materials, and finishes, and it's not likely to happen, given the economic realities of market-rate housing. So why bother if you can't do it right?

My inclinations lie at the other end of the spectrum of possibility, that being complete contrast with the preserved historic facade, as in the LEED Silver affordable housing project designed by David Baker + Partners in San Francisco:

Now that's what I'm talkin' about. That's the flavor of bold, iconic design---rarely seen in Seattle---that would give the prominent corner next to the park the the character and imageability it deserves. And if done well, it would strike a balance between honoring the old and moving forward with the new.

The Seattle Design Review Board meeting for the project is coming up next week, July 21, 6:30 p.m. at the Seattle University Alumni Relations and Admission Building, 824 12th Ave.
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