So Un-Seattle

Now we’re talking tall and skinny. The building in the rendering above, known as the Trophy Building, is Pb Elemental’s proposed design for a 440′ residential tower with a footprint of a mere ~2000 square feet. There will be only 19 residential units in the building, each unit occupying two full floors.

This tower — like much of Pb Elemental’s work — exudes a quality that is sorely lacking in most Seattle architecture: audacity. Seattle architecture tends to be safe and conservative, adjectives that simply do not apply to a 440′ tower on a 2900 sf lot.

Based on the renderings, the tower form looks to be simple yet memorable: the mark of talented form-givers. And this you tend to see in most of Pb’s design: forms are simple, clear, and bold. There are no compromises, no pretending to be what it’s not, no apologies for what it is. The end result may or may not clash with the context; some love it, some hate it. But at least it’s architecture that says something.

In contrast, much of new architecture in Seattle gives me the feeling of design by committee — design that tries to satisfy everyone, but ends up satisfying no one. There seems to be an overriding desire to not to make waves, and the result is architecture that is essentially invisible. Forms are overly complicated yet unmemorable.

Pb Elemental is also adept at doing more with less, as the Trophy Building project demonstrates. They have a knack for finding overlooked parcels and turning oddities into opportunities, as in this project on a steeply sloping site just off the south edge of I-90. And they are taking risks with innovative projects in challenging areas, such as this live-work development or these townhouses, both on 23rd Ave in the Central District, an area has had ongoing troubles with street crime and gang activity.

In the case of the Trophy Building, Pb Elemental has gone so far outside the Seattle box that the project will slip through a loophole in the City’s design review process because it only has 19 units, even though it will probably be a $50+ million building. Brilliant.

The comments on SLOG’s post (h/t Dominic) on this project are worth a look. Revealing typical Seattle timidity, concerns were raised over how the tower won’t fit in with its context, that it will “stick out like a sore thumb.” Uh-huh. Well, obviously, that building form is unlike anything else in the neighborhood, or in all of Seattle for that matter. Furthermore, the reality is that the site has nothing coherent in the way of context. It’s up against I-5 and the Denny Way overpass, and surrounded by a random jumble of buildings.

More Un-Seattle architecture, please.

(Note: SLOG reported that there was some uncertainty over the land deal for this project, but Pb Elemental has said that the project is moving forward but that they have requested more time from the seller for the air rights to be wrapped up.)