Small is Beautiful*

My favorite mixed-use infill building in Seattle:


1310 East Union Street, developed by Liz Dunn, designed by Miller/Hull. What makes this building exceptional is its modest size and scale. The lot is only 40 feet wide. It’s a 65-foot tall building but is not at all imposing from the street.

This building is a living example of how infill can be done without destroying diversity. Instead of mowing down and replacing a whole city block with a sterile, monolithic street frontage, as will be the case with the 500 block of East Pine and many, many other full block projects in Seattle, this development coexists peacefully between an older three-story brick apartment, and a nondescript one-story building that until recently (alas!) was home to the La Panzanella Italian bakery and cafe.

The problem is that the economic equation drives developers to do too much too fast. It’s cheaper to do a full-block mass-produced building all at once, than to do several separate smaller buildings over time. Pathetically, a significant component in this equation is the requirement to provide parking. Underground concrete parking is expensive ($20,000 – $30,000 per stall), and stalls can be much more efficiently packed into bigger structures.

So the question is then, what can the City do to encourage smaller-scale developments?

*In 1973 E.F. Schumacher wrote a book called Small is Beautiful, Economics as if People Mattered.

6 Responses to “Small is Beautiful*”

  1. Dave B

    That building is nice. One thing the city *should* do is to move away from enforcing a mandatory minimum parking in favor of a san francisco mandatory maximum. That and build some actual mass trasit *ugghhh*.

  2. michael

    Good transit is the key. Seattle is doing away with minimums in commercial/multi-family zones and near light rail stations. However, developers will keep building the parking because they perceive that is what people want, and they are right. If transit sucks, then people need another way to get around – enter the car because not a lot of people are crazy enough to get on their bikes, or consider walking a viable means of getting around…

  3. Ben

    That is the only building my mom commented on during her visit to Seattle and she loved it.

  4. Tall and Slivery | hugeasscity

    [...] Above is a rendering of The Aspen, a 17-story, 194-foot tall condo building under construction in Boise. This building is only 32 feet wide at the base — exceptionally narrow for a building of that height. For comparison, 1310 East Union is 40 feet wide, but it’s only 65 feet tall. Nothing else remarkable about this project as far as I can tell, but worth noting as a good example of an innovative design solution for an awkwardly shaped site. [...]

  5. Doug

    …this is one of my favorite building as well (but I might be slightly biased!).

    we owe it to our community to continue to advocate for great and responsible design!

    (another similar building, completed several years back in Chicago, refines some of the concepts and language explored at 1310: http://www.millerhull.com/htm/residential/Chicago.htm)

  6. eeepc

    This is exactly what Seattle needs more of.

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