Street Walls

I’m the kind of guy who gets excited about street walls. Like the beaut shown above, newly formed by the Trace Condo building along the east side of 12th Ave between Pike and Union on Capitol Hill. At six stories, it’s just the right scale to give a medium-width street like 12th Ave a nice sense of enclosure. European cities such as Paris are full of extended street walls like this. There’s something primitively satisfying about the feeling you get in these spaces — outside, yet inside and protected.

The image above is along Eastlake Ave just south of the University Bridge, and here we have a street wall that’s four stories instead of six. And that’s not tall enough relative to the street width to provide a good sense of enclosure. Apparently this part of Eastlake Ave is in a 40 foot zone. Which begs the question: why not 65 feet? The buildings along this side of the block are practically underneath I-5. What better place to put taller buildings? Perhaps the reason for the 40-foot height limit has something to do with this:

This insane thing, known as the Coronado Apartments, is six stories and just a block south of the building shown in the previous photo. I suspect it wasn’t such a popular building with the neighbors, and steps were taken to make sure another one like it couldn’t be built.

Below is another look. Even though it’s six stories tall, a proper street wall it fails to form, because of the setbacks at the street and at the fourth floor.

There are so many wacked out features of this building, I want to nominate it for historic preservation. By gosh there’s even a swimming pool behind that cedar fence.

12 Responses to “Street Walls”

  1. Cow

    Was the Coronado there actually meant to be apartments? It looks like it ought to have been built as a hotel (a swimming pool! and those horrible colors).

  2. Steve

    The Coronado is horrendous. Though the new construction across the street from the Coronado creates a pretty good street wall, IMHO.

    That part of Eastlake will probably never have enough momentum for good street life, though — with the lake and I-5, it draws from a narrow residential area, which makes walkable retail less economically feasible, which makes walkability less desirable.

  3. Dan Staley

    I currently have a number of session proposals out that call for setting back the upper stories to make room for tree canopy.

    The canopy still provides enclosure and 2nd-3rd floors can have plazas-seating areas. The tradeoffs are minimal and the gains are enough to let us consider this proposal. If it gets accepted to state APA I’ll share the feedback I get.

  4. Jonathan

    I, too, welcome the street walls. Living in South Lake Union, I have seen Westlake go from a low slung avenue to, as you described, being outside yet snug and enclosed between the buildings. It makes for a nice corridor now between Lake Union and downtown. I hope Fairview Avenue can join in the ranks and with its full growth trees, it can look spectacular with some 5-10 story buildings gracing the distance between Denny and the Lake.

  5. Brian

    Those first couple of pictures totally reminds me of the Pearl District in Portland. I like!

  6. Kalakalot

    The Coronado does indeed have some awesomely whacked-out features, but I do hope you’re joking about preserving it for historic preservation! That building is a bitch to live in. The walls are concrete, which makes it cold as balls in the winter, hot as balls in the summer, and damp year round. The “motel style” unit entrances (i.e. people walking directly in front of your apartment all the time) result in everyone keeping their west-facing living room blinds permanently closed. This is unfortunate, since the units are designed to get most (if not all) of their natural light from the building’s western exposure. The most positive thing I can say about it is that if you removed the stairs and camped out on one of the upper levels, it would probably be a fairly decent place to stave off a zombie attack.

  7. Kalakalot

    Yikes … nominating [the Coronado] for historic preservation, that is.

  8. michael

    I think an important aspect of the Trace example is the fact there is a courtyard entrance that breaks up what would otherwise be a monotonous street wall. Yes, urban form and the scale of buildings in Paris do provide a nice sense of enclosure, however if it wasn’t for the architectural detail of many of the buildings in Paris, the monotony would be completely mind-numbing.

    As to upper story plazas and seating areas. I appreciate the nod to the tree canopy, but in general encouraging such amentities is a bad idea. I suspect these areas are little used, and they do negatively effect the street wall and sense of enclosure, especially on wide streets. Better to encourage deeper setbacks of the entire building (perhaps through FAR bonuses), and create both room for the tree canopy, and for active street-level uses, i.e. seating, vegetation, public art, etc.

  9. Cale

    That part of Eastlake (2nd picture) has tons of potential, but it would be a whole hell of a lot better if they installed quieter pavement or a sound wall on that part of I-5.

  10. Dan Staley

    it would be a whole hell of a lot better if they installed quieter pavement or a sound wall on that part of I-5.

    I used to live on Latona, just a bit farther from I-5 than that picture above. I can’t find it anymore, but WSDOT did a study on the ship canal bridge, estimating cost for noise suppression/attenuation – the duplex I rented was where the last decibel meter was placed. Cost & aesthetics weren’t pretty.

  11. What’s Wrong With Four Stories? | hugeasscity

    […] Following up on my street walls post, check out some more of the 4-story corridor that’s coalescing on the northern end of Eastlake Ave: […]

  12. Lee Roberts

    I agree with Michael – a streetwall in and of itself isn’t enough – there are plenty of buildings in Seattle that hold the street wall but have no pedestrian interest or relief.

    Streetwalls and streetlife need to go together.

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