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Time Passages (They Grow Up So Fast)

[ 4.30.08: John and Pontius ]

[ 8.29.09: John and Pontius ]


[ 4.25.08: Denny and Westlake ]

[ 6.24.09: Denny and Westlake ]


[ 4.25.08: Taylor and Denny ]

[ 7.20.09: Taylor and Denny ]


[ 5.5.08: 8th and Columbia ]

[ 6.4.09: 8th and Columbia ]

[11.17.09: 8th and Columbia ]


[ 5.5.08: 7th and Madison ]

[ 11.3.09: 7th and Madison ]

[ 11.17.09: 7th and Madison ]


[ 2.23.08: 9th and Jefferson ]

[ 11.17.09: 9th and Jefferson ]


[ 2.23.08: 5th and Yesler ]

[ 6.23.09: 5th and Yesler ]


[ 3.13.08: 8th and Olive ]

[ 4.7.09: 8th and Olive ]


[ 10.21.08: Terry and Stewart ]

[ 4.21.09: Terry and Stewart ]


[ 7.8.08: 8th and Westlake ]

[ 3.19.09: 8th and Virginia ]

[ 9.09: 8th and Westlake from 5th Ave ]


[ 2.13.08: 2nd and Pike ]

[ 10.2.09: skyline ]


[ 3.18.08: 4th and Virginia ]

[ 8.30.09: 4th and Virginia from Westlake ]

[ 10.2.09: skyline ]


[ 11.25.07: Jackson and 18th ]

[ 12.13.08: Jackson and 17th ]

[ 12.8.09: Jackson and 18th ]

[ 11.17.09: 17th and Jackson ]


[ 10.5.08: 19th and Yesler ]

[ 11.3.09: 19th and Yesler ]


[ 11.28.08: 21st and Union ]

[ 2.7.09: 21st and Union ]

[ 7.11.09: 21st and Union ]


[ 12.20.07: 14th and Union ]

[ 6.26.08: 14th and Union ]

[ 4.12.09: 14th and Union ]

[ 12.24.09: 14th and Union ]


[ 12.27.07: 15th and Madison ]

[ 7.14.09: 15th and Madison ]


[ 10.4.08: 12th and Pine ]

[ 12.24.09: 12th and Pine ]

[ 11.17.09: 12th and Pine ]


[ 12.26.07: Broadway and Mercer ]

[ 12.26.07: Broadway and Mercer ]


[ 12.24.07: 11th and Denny ]

[ 8.1.09: 11th and Denny ]


[ 12.24.07: Denny and Nagle ]

[ 10.18.09:  looking north from Denny and Nagle ]

[ 12.24.07: inside Vivace at Denny and Nagle---this building is no more ]


Tunnel Law Suit Filed Today

As has just been reported at Publicola, Elizabeth Campbell and The Citizens Against the Tunnel filed a lawsuit today to stop the deep-bore tunnel. Check out the gory details here (3 MB pdf).  Campbell’s group supports a new elevated solution to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, but that is irrelevant to the case being made against the tunnel.  Interestinger and interestinger.

Pb Micro-Ghost Towns

Pb Elemental cranked out a remarkable number of progressive projects like this one with the big orange wall on 23rd Ave.   Alas, their timing was just a wee bit off.  The three Central District projects in these photos were looking pretty lonely last time I checked.  It’s too bad, cause Pb pushed design innovation much further than most in Seattle, particularly with the creative use of site.  But now that the recession is over, perhaps these bad boys will start filling up.

[ 23rd and Dearborn ]


[ MLK and Norman ]


[ 21st and Union ]

Do We Really Still Not Know What Makes It Green?

First, the 411:
AIA Seattle’s annual What Makes It Green? awards event is this Tuesday, April 28th, 5 – 7pm at the Farestart Restaurant at 7th and Virginia. It will be a unique opportunity to view examples of the latest and best green design efforts in the region.

Second, the gratuitious rant:
Can we please, for the merciful love of the deity of your choice, move on from chattering endlessly about what is and isn’t green? Cause anybody with a pulse who’s paying the slightest bit of attention already knows. OK, so the What Makes It Green? competition is a good thing and doesn’t deserve snark, but something about that tag line question brings out the petulant bee-awtch in me — like a tipping point in a rising ocean of green cognitive dissonance.

Like most in the endless parade of green lectures and meetings in Seattle, the AIA event this Tuesday will be overflowing with big-brained folks who possess piles of knowledge, skills, and desire to make green development happen. But the vast a majority never get the opportunity to implement all their great ideas in real projects. And that is our integral predicament: we know what to do, but we’re not doing it. Green buildng is not a design problem or an engineering problem, it is a people problem — institutional, political, economic, cultural.

Take for example the new Weber Thompson HQ that has been piling up green design awards. The two key design features that make that building most exceptional — passive ventilation and daylighting — have been understood and practiced in buildings for millennia. It’s not the design that is the big mystery here. No, the mystery that we need to solve is why, given the dire need to make buildings more energy efficient, isn’t every new midrise office building being designed for no air-conditioning in a temperate climate like Seattle’s?

There is more processing power in an iPod than would be required to monitor and provide real-time optimization of energy use in a large building. So why is that most of our buildings are operated as if the integrated circuit had never been invented?

Over the past half century it has become blindingly obvious that the single most important strategy for greening cities is to reduce car dependence. So why is it that in the vast majority of Seattle, we still have laws that require on-site parking for development? And why is it that after Metro bus ridership has risen 20 percent over the past three years it now faces a 20 percent budget shortfall and has to go begging to the State for permission to establish new revenue sources, even as the State signs off on $2.4 billion for an underground bypass freeway for cars?

Transit-oriented development (TOD) is widely recognized to be a critical ingredient for sustainable growth in the Puget Sound region. So why is it that so little progress has been made in terms of planning for and establishing TOD at the new light rail stations in Seattle? And why such animosity towards our established policy experts in sustainable growth and urbanism when they propose policy to promote TOD at the State level where it actually would stand a chance of being effective?

It is not new information that sprawling development is destroying salmon habitat and creating massive runoff pollution in Puget Sound. So why is it that as you read these words, billions of dollars and the creative energies of millions of people are being directed towards creating the same formulaic combination of pavement and dispersed single-use buildings that we all know is killing the planet?

It is not, I am afraid, because we don’t know what makes it green.


Ah well, that’s this world over
Ah well, next one begins
Ah well, that’s this world over
You sadly grin…

Will you tell them about that far off and mythical land
And how a child to the virgin came?
Will you tell them that the reason why we murdered
Everything upon the surface of the world
So we can stand right up and say we did it in his name?*

*This World Over lyrics by XTC, written in the context of the threat of nuclear war during the Reagan years, but the “ah well” sentiment nails what often seems to be the prevailing attitude today as well.

South Lake Europe

What’s all this then, Seattle’s first Euro-modern mid-rise housing? One way to check is if you can take major sections of the building, flip them upside down in your mind’s eye, and it all still looks about the same.  As in, vertical symmetry.  Apparently the designers think we don’t need a cornice or some other decoration to remind us where the top of the building is.  Audacious.

Located on the northeast corner of Westlake and Denny in South Lake Union, they call it Rollin Street Flats, and it was designed by Portland-based Ankrom Moisan.  That firm is currently designing another project right next door at 975 John St, and also is responsible for the not-so-Euro — more Floridian, you might say — stocky hulk known as Mirabella.

Up until now, NBBJ’s Alley 24 was about the most Euro midrise project in Seattle.  But Rollin St pushes it further with the picture frame motif — like Pb Elemental’s cliche trademark writ large (not that Pb invented it).   And I can’t help thinking that Rollin St must have been heavily influenced by the building shown at the bottom of this post.

All rambling aside, I like it a lot.

Did Somebody Say Context?

Such a charming row of Victorian cottages — but wait, what’s that big brown box down at the end?

Why, that big brown box at 812 23rd Ave in the Central District is a brand new home designed by Pb Elemental, that just so happens to be located at one end of a highly unique row of five late nineteenth century houses with historic landmark status.

A similar sixth historic house once stood on the site, but oddly, was demolished in 1986, even though it had been landmarked in 1979.  And though the original house is gone, the landmark status still applies to the site — the Landmarks Preservation Board “indicated that it will not approve any development of the site that does not respect the historical character of the Twenty-Third Avenue Group” (via CD News).  As a result, Pb Elemental was granted a variance (pdf) to allow front and side setbacks that match those of the historic houses.

How else did the new house respect the character of its historic neighbors?  Study the photo below:

Surely no coincidence, the size and location of the windows and door, though the Pb house looks to be a tad wider, and the second floor window is higher.  I could find no documentation on whether or not these features were part of a deal, or a gesture made by the free will of the designers.  Either way, the result is an provocative twist on the idea of architecture responding to context.

Pb Elemental made a name for itself by blatantly disregarding context:  their Sterling Residence on Queen Anne was recognized with a 2007 AIA Honor Award Commendation for how it dared to be such an antithesis of its traditional bungalow neighbors.  And there is a similar smell of publicity stunt around the 812 23rd Ave house — it’s not hard to imagine the Pb’ers going after the site because of its potential for controversy.

Though some will no doubt opine that such obvious mimicry is sophomoric, I like it.  Old meets new, nothing subtle about it.  Mess with people’s heads a little, make them notice a building and think about it.  Good stuff.

A Candle That Burns Twice As Bright…

…burns half as long.

Almost a year ago I wrote, “Pb Elemental is on fire.  But will they go down in flames?”  The candle may not be out, but it appears to be flickering: the newly renovated Pb Elemental HQ is up for sale.

There are those for whom the downfall of Pb is food for gloating.  Not me.  Though I don’t like all their stuff, overall I’ve been a fan because of how they gave Seattle architecture a much needed jolt of boldness — and they’ve gotten a pile of HAC ink: here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

There are Pb projects under construction and for sale sprinkled all over Seattle — worth many millions.  Surprisingly, construction is still moving ahead on the Pb work loft project in my neighborhood.  Perhaps the owners will end up OK if they can finish and sell off enough of their inventory.  Like a candle in the wind…

Design Review Revue

Housing development in Seattle may be in a slump, but there projects are still moving through Design Review. A sampling of the latest:

Angel Square at 401 East Pike (Pike and Bellevue) on Capitol Hill. 51 residential units, 2 live-work, 2635 sf retail, 59 underground parking stalls, designed by Nicholson Kovalchick Architects. The facade has some of the same flavor as 2203 East Union.


3501 Rainier Ave S, just north of the Taco Bus site. 20 live-work units designed by Pb Elemental. Will be a good testing ground for the live-work concept.


Stone Way Village, at 3920 Stone Way N. (Safeway site) in Wallingford. 143 residential units, 7 live-work, 17,190 sf retail, 189 underground parking stalls, designed by Baylis Architects, developed by Prescott. This is one long building, and the designers have attempted to break up the facade.


Brooklyn Court at 6515 Brooklyn Ave NE in the Roosevelt neighborhood. 54 residential units, 4 live-work, ~5000 sf retail, 69 structure parking stalls. Looks pretty generic, but dig that crazy blue sky.


Leilani Square at 10201 Greenwood Ave N (Leilani Lanes site). 301 apartments, 3(?) live-work, 7500 sf retail, 601 underground parking stalls, 40,000 sf of below-grade mini storage.  Perhaps it’s in a generic contest with Brooklyn Court.

Icon Interbay at 2810 15th Ave W, with 46 residential units, 4,222 sf divided into 4 “commercial units,” 46 parking stalls located on the second floor, designed by Shugart Bates. It’s got a certain “Pb” look to it.


38th and Alaska, at 4550 38th Ave SW , with 200 residential units, 13,700 sf retail/commercial, and 171 underground parking stalls; designed by Baylis Architects and developed by Harbor Properties.


Massing concept for Lowe Enterprise–High Point development on the SW corner of Seattle Housing Authority’s High Point Hope VI Project in West Seattle; Mithun is the architect.


815 Pine St, just south of the Paramount theater, another tower to keep Olive8 and the Olivian company. It’s a 440 foot tall tower with 330 apartments, 5000 sf of street-level retail, and 300 parking stalls both above and below grade; designed by Bumgardner and developed by Security Properties.

Bipolar on Towers

[ Candela rendered elevations by Olsen Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects ]

The Candela Hotel and Residences (renderings above) at 2nd and Pike is in the design review process, but just a block and a half to the north, the 1 Hotel and Residences has only made it as far as a bare hole in the ground dug in 2007.

Intracorp is selling off its 24-story residential project at 1915 2nd Ave, while practically next door at 1931 and 2015 2nd Ave the Justin Company’s pair of proposed 400-foot residential towers is moving ahead. One block east on Virginia, Tarragon’s proposed 43-story apartment tower began the design review process back in 2005, but appears to be in purgatory. And two more blocks east on 5th Ave, the twin-tower, 43-story Heron Pagoda was put on hold this summer.

Up in the Denny Regrade area HAL Real Estate Investments recently proposed a 400-foot apartment tower at 2116 4th Ave, which happens to be right around the corner from The Martin, Vulcan’s proposed 24-story condo tower that has been languishing since 2006.

And last but not least, way out on the manic end of the spectrum: the recently proposed 35-story condo/hotel project at 1012 1st Ave has units offered for sale before permits have been applied for, and conceptual designs have been produced by two architecture firms (see below) even though neither concept could likely be built because it is too close to the Hotel 1000 building to the south.

[ 1012 1st Ave coneptual designs:  Ismael Leyva Architects on the left, Pb Elemental on the right. ]

Craigslist Brilliance

hipster fixie ‘the bumblebee’ you want this! – $800 (Capitol Hill)

Reply to:
Date: 2008-08-03, 9:24AM PDT

Come one come all! Hipster kids behold: the Bumblebee. Ok so I never got around to painting it like a real bumblebee but you could.

This is your perfect ticket of acceptance into your local fixed gear scene.

  • Ever wanted to go to Linda’s, but didn’t have a fixie to park out front?
  • Ever wish you could ride up alongside the cute chick with tats and piercings and strike up a conversation on the road?
  • Ever wanted to be one of the cool kids doing tricks on the basketball court at Cal Anderson?
  • Trackstand outside the party with a PBR in one hand and a cigarette in the other?
  • Ever wanted to slam into the back of a car because you don’t have brakes? You should, more battle scars for the ladies to gaggle over.

This bike is a true attention grabber, and thats what riding a fixed gear bike is all about. You want to be (scene/seen) by the world! What could be more confirming of your pimp status than cruising down the street and seeing the heads turn..Getting a nod of approval from your local fixed gear allstars as you ride backwards on the basketball court..Someone will have already poured you a PBR at Linda’s by the time you lock up and go inside. You could even try your hand at fame and fortune by competing in mock athletic events such as Fast Fridays.

  • No-name steel 54cm frame & fork (has brake mounts)
  • Origin8 crank with 46 tooth Sugino Zen Messenger chainring
  • Surly 17 tooth cog
  • random beast chain
  • Soma steel toe cages with double straps
  • Velocity Deep-V rims with
    • Phil Wood low flange track hubs (these are sick)
    • DT Champion 2.0 spokes
    • front rim is machined if you want to puss out and use a brake

and of course the yellow star grips to match the rims. I’ll even throw in a pair of plain black grips for when you help your roommate build his fixie next weekend. The bike could use a new pair of tires, but these ones will get you laid a couple times until your dead-end job pays out enough to buy new ones. No, the Deep-V’s won’t look as cool as the HEDs (and now Zipps? what the fuck?) at Cal Anderson, but at least real cyclists will quietly dismiss you as a hipster instead of talking really loud about how your bike has a time trial wheel but will never go fast enough to take advantage of its aerodynamic design. This will be a perfect Tonka truck of bicycles until your gears drop.

So theres no better time than now – go pawn the Macbook your parents bought you for highschool graduation. Cash in your mountain of PBR cans at the recycling center. Go get the next size of ear gauges you’ve been procrastinating on. Cut off your jeans. Stop hiding your half-finished tattoo and scrape your pennies together to complete it. Make a unistrap backpack out of duct tape, PBR boxes, and flannels from Value Village. Cruise eBay for an Italian cycling cap. and most important of all, _BUY THIS BIKE!_

Cash only, $800 OBO. Call Jake (phone number deleted).

Update: To the people calling me all raged, I’m just making light of an amusing trend that I too participated in at one point. Pull your panties out of your asses and smile. Yes, the bike is actually for sale.

  • Location: Capitol Hill
  • it’s NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests

PostingID: 781268604

Copyright © 2008 craigslist, inc. terms of use privacy policy feedback forum

It’s The Water

In the several reviews that followed the release of Jared Diamond’s book Collapse, it seemed as though a multitude of the reviewers concentrated solely on Diamond’s summary of the event’s that led to the end of human occupation of Easter Island. The tone was universal, as though this information was some sort of shocking revelation. More than ten years previous, while I was in grad school for archaeology, I was in a seminar about societal complexity and collapse. The opening statement was about Easter Island.

“The last person, who cut down the last tree on the island, knew exactly what they were doing.”

It was a simple testament, that humans in groups have the capability to overuse the resources they need to survive, even when individuals maybe fully cognizant of that reality.

Withing the last couple of months, I’ve noticed more than a few news items relating to shortages of a very important resource. I’m not talking about corn and rice. I’m talking about water. Have humans every really been all that good about water? Even Frontinus wrote about the growth of the Roman aqueducts as they reacted to population growth, not planning ahead for it, always fighting shortfalls in supply.

There was a chilling piece in WIRED recently. Many outlets have covered the fight that has been taking place between several southern states as of late. McNiel/Lehrer (I’ll still call it that, I’m old) had a great piece about California’s impending water problems. It seemed to paint the picture that Northern California was concerned with growing food while Southern California was concerned about keeping their golf courses green.

The one story that sent a real chill up my spine after a few minutes of consideration was recently on Frontline World. It was a short, ten minute story that covered the shrinking glaciers in the Himalayas and the simply huge numbers of people that will be affected. There are over a billion people north of the Himalayas that depend on the various rivers that flow out of the mountains in their direction. The over a billion people that live south of the mountains are in a similar situation. What happens when either India or China start diverting supplies away from the other? Humans have quite easily gone to war over various commodities that they don’t need to live such as olives, sugar and cocaine. What happens when people with nuclear weapons start running out of water?

Just because the various states don’t have nukes pointing at each other does not mean things can’t get at least a little nasty. That fight is for expensive lawyers where water rights can and easily do spend many years in litigation. Think about that the next time you water your lawn or go golfing. No human died and no culture collapsed for lack of either.


There are aspects of the building shown above that are more consequential than the orange wall, though that bad boy is a piece of work, to be sure. Pb Elemental’s designers, not known for subtle gestures, continue to be the local masters of ignoring context — not that that is necessarily a bad thing, particularly when there is very little in the way of valuable context to ignore. (But if you look closely at the fresh graffiti on the building it reads “your orange wall sucks cause it’s way out of context with Parnell’s Mini-mart!”)

Behind that orange wall is soon to be Pb Elemental’s first completed stand-alone “work-loft” unit, located at 23rd Ave and Dearborn in the Central District. Also under construction on the same development site are a pair of 2-story loft homes.

This is an unconventional project. First, the location would seem to be an unlikely one, for residential as well as commercial. Second, the mix of uses on a single infill site is innovative. And third, the stand-alone, small footprint, 2-story loft layout is unusual for a commercial space. Oh yeah, and it’s bold and boxy and gray and has a big orange wall. And one more thing about that orange wall — it is likely to contribute to the success of the commercial space because it creates such a strong sense of identity.

Pb Elemental has four other work-unit projects listed on their website. And I think they’re onto something good. These small units should help encourage micro-retail and support small, independent businesses. And best of all, since the commercial spaces are so small, they don’t require on-site parking — Pb’s Union and Leary projects have none. We ought to have a sustainability award that goes to every developer who has the audacity to put up a new building with no on-site parking.

Windowless Concrete Penthouse

What is up with that ~30 feet of blank concrete wall at the top of the Financial Center Building at 4th and Seneca? That’s a good three stories of wasted building height way up there where the views are best. Ten feet above roof level to screen rooftop mechanical equipment would not be unusual. So then what about that other 20 feet? A secret CIA detention center perhaps?

Even though it’s almost exactly the same color, Seattle Tower, built in 1929, provides a good contrast. As you would expect, the top floor window head height is roughly one story below the top of the facade. But of course, the much more glaring contrast is in the richness of design (yup, I’m stating the obvious again). The complex art-deco facade is immediately impressive, but there is also an easily missed subtle detail: the shade of brick gradually lightens moving up the building to mimic the play of light on mountains. And the cavernous lobby reinforces the metaphor, suggesting an alpine cave. (Is the Four Seasons building at 1st and Union a modern example of a similar architectural nod to nature?)

Some probably feel that Seattle Tower’s art-deco style is overwrought and has not held up well over time. But if nothing else, the building’s design reflects a passionate belief in something, whereas buildings like the Financial Center speak of a culture driven solely by dry utilitarianism.

In the present era, our culture has no unifying sense of beauty or pattern or pride that manifests itself to any substantial degree in our buildings. But there is some hope: ecologically sensitive design has great potential to bring some deeper meaning back into architecture. The Seattle Justice Center and the Ballard Library are two good local examples of compelling built form that embodies cultural values rooted in sustainability.

SoDo Mojo Risin

As most Seattle urbanist geeks probably know by now, the City of Seattle recently unveiled proposed rezones for South Downtown area as part of an ongoing strategy to stimulate development in the “CenterCity.” This PI piece has a good zoning map.

During the currently winding down development cycle, south downtown experienced surprisingly little development. So it’s probably reasonable to expect that the coming upzones will help unleash a pent up demand in the next upturn, or perhaps sooner. Let’s take a look at recent goings on down there, and how the new zoning may or may not be relevant.

[ 200 Occidental rendering: Urban Visions ]

A big loss for Pioneer Square came in April when the City made a final decision not to resurrect the waterfront streetcar, scuttling plans for a ten-story mixed-use building at 200 Occidental that would have housed the trolley storage barn. Mithun’s design won a Seattle AIA honor award in 2007. The site is on the east edge of Occidental Park, and the building would have provided long needed activation to that open space. The proposed building tops out at 130 feet tall, and so could not be built without a building height upzone from the existing 100 feet to the currently proposed 130 feet.

[ North Lot redevelopment concept, rendering by Anita Lehman ]

It’s been nearly two years since King County selected Nitze-Stagen, Opus, and the Seattle Housing Authority to redevelop the 4-acre chunk of the QWEST Field parking lot known as the “north half of the north lot,” and a year since the $10.1 million land sale was approved. The $270+ million project will include at least 400 housing units, including 100 affordable units. The project must also accommodate 500 parking stalls to replace the existing surface parking, which will be a serious design challenge, especially since the site elevation allows for very little excavation — most of the parking will have to be above-grade.

There has been little information made public on this project since the land sale. Reportedly the developers have been waiting on the finalization of upzones, and it appears the City is about to give them what they want — the proposal calls from raising the maximum building height from 120 feet to 240 feet, specifically on the north half of the north lot.

[ Stadium Lofts rendering: Barrientos ]

Depicted in the rendering above is Stadium Lofts, a condo project to be built on top of the the historic Seattle Plumbing Building located between QWEST Field and the 1st Ave Highway 99 on-ramp. First proposed by Nitze-Stagen, the project is now being developed by Barrientos and designed by Weinstein A|U (the second triangular building for this team). The 84-unit building will top out at 100 feet, and is in a area that is currently zoned for 120 feet, with no changes proposed.

[ Stadium Lofts rendering: Weinstein A|U ]

And speaking of flatiron buildings, there’s a big hole in the ground at 505 1st Ave S, just to the north of the Triangle Hotel and Bar. Soon to fill that hole will be a 7-story, 308,000 sf office building with 440 underground parking stalls, to be occupied by Starbucks. This building is allowed under existing zoning.

[ ID Building concept massing: Pb Elemental ]

Up at 4th Ave and S. Washington St, Pb Elemental has proposed a 24-story mixed-use project with a 144-key hotel, 105 condo units, retail, and 140 above-grade parking stalls (as noted here). The bus/light rail tunnel is below the site, which is why the parking must be above-grade. The current zoning at this site allows a max building height of 120 feet, and the proposed upzone is for 240 feet — this project could not happen without the upzone.

[ ID Building concept rendering: Pb Elemental ]

Just across the south boundary of the south downtown planning area at 1st Ave and Holgate, we have apparently given up on all that pedestrian-oriented urban design nonsense: Here you’ll find a supreme example of suburban-style car-oriented retail at the Krispy Kreme donut factory/cafe, built only a few years ago. Check out that perfect, and perfectly useless lawn!

Would it not have been possible to ask them to put the building out on the corner and the parking behind? Most of the older buildings along this part of 1st Ave have little to no setbacks. Granted, this is not an area that anyone would claim to be a pedestrian paradise. But in a few decades, there will likely be considerable of numbers people walking these streets.

Bring On The Life Care For Successful Aging

How sexy is that? (Can’t we just not talk about getting old?)

The baby boomers are a demographic bulldozer. As that big hump in the population vs. age graph slides across time it transmutes everything in its path. And at long last, it’s retirement accommodations that are getting a redo. “Life Care” and “Successful Aging” are the latest marketing buzzwords. Amenities galore. And increasingly, seniors are seeking retirement communities in big city downtowns, with the aim of staying culturally active.

Seattle currently has two projects under construction that are representative of these latest trends in retirement: Skyline at First Hill (rendered above) and Mirabella.

Skyline is 26-story, full-block project at 9th and Columbia on the steep west slope of First Hill. Developed by Greystone Communities for Presbyterian Retirement Communities Northwest, and designed by Perkins Will, the 199-unit complex will offer residents independent living, as well as access to assisted living, skilled nursing, and memory support, if needed — a.k.a., “life care.” You pay an up-front fee to get in, and that gets you a discounted rate on any expensive care you may need in the future. Everything is taken care of. Isn’t it fun to think about such scenarios?

In line with the tastes of retiring boomers, Skyline common areas will include a fitness center with indoor pool, a club room with outdoor patio, an auditorium, several dining rooms, and a library. Boomers also want the full spectrum of urban amenities within walking distance, and First Hill is a relatively walkable neighborhood, though I-5 is an imposing barrier to downtown, and the steep hill on the site is likely not doable for many seniors.

Mirabella (shown above) is a 12-story, u-shaped building that covers the entire block at the NE corner of Denny and Fairview, on the southern edge of the South Lake Union (SLU) neighborhood. Developed by Pacific Retirement Services and designed by Ankrom Moisan, it is a startlingly massive new presence. Three of the four sides go virtually straight up to 12 stories from the property line. It seems to belong in Florida.

Like Skyline, Mirabella will offer “life care.” And not to be outdone, the 400-unit project includes all the amenities Skyline has, plus a wine tasting room. Its marketability as walkable is a bit of a stretch — neither SLU, nor the Denny Triangle neighborhood across Denny Way are especially compelling to explore on foot, though both can be expected to improve over time. I wish them the best of luck crossing Denny.

The growing cultural preference for retirement communities in urban cores is an opportune evolution for creating more sustainable regions. Urban infill for seniors takes development pressure off of outlying areas, and puts density where it belongs. These projects will help raise residential densities to levels that create vibrant, walkable streets and make mass transit viable. At the same time, they provide seniors with an alternative to being put out to pasture in isolated suburban retirement homes. And one big bonus for the city: many seniors can’t, or don’t want to drive cars.

Overall, it’s a win for the people and a win for the planet. As it should be. Indeed, as it must be, since everything is connected.

Gray (Affordable Housing for Artists)

Artspace, the folks who developed Tashiro Kaplan Artist Lofts in Pioneer Square, are just finishing their second Seattle project, Hiawatha Lofts, a block southeast of Rainier Ave. and Dearborn St. The building houses 61 low-income artists lofts, 5000 square feet of retail space, and 54 underground parking stalls. Designed by SMR Architects, who specialize in low-income housing and historic preservation; project cost: $17 million.

Yes, she’s a gray lady, all gray but for a splash of intense blue on either end, and the brown wood lintels over the storefronts. And all those white window mullions, which, while they do have that cheap vinyl look, also give the facade an unusual and satisfying rhythm and texture.

A gray building in gray Seattle. So be it. The art inside can provide the color. Overall, I think this building is successful architecturally because it is based on a few simple and strong ideas: a clean and crisp 4-story box; gray metal siding; tall and skinny floor-to-ceiling windows. No doubt this project had a very tight budget, all the more reason to stick with simple design elements.

Seattle needs more low-income housing projects like this — so how did it happen? First of all, the City of Seattle gave the land (valued at $1.7 million) to the developers in exchange for the guarantee that the low-income housing will be available for 75 years. The project also requested $3 million from the City’s 2002 affordable housing levy. The State chipped in $1 million, and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation contributed $400,000. All in all, it appears that roughly one third of the project cost was subsidized.

And that’s the bottom line: If we want affordable housing built in Seattle, it will have to be heavily subsidized. Socialism is us.

Pb Elemental is on Fire

But will they go down in flames?

Based on their web portfolio, the design/build firm has yet to produce a building more than three stories tall. Yet within the past month they have unveiled plans for a 440-foot residential tower, as well as the 24-story hotel/condo project shown in the rendering above.

As for midrise, this 20-unit mixed use project at 151 12th Ave in the Central District will be the firm’s first (early design guidance was in January). A second midrise is also on the boards, rendering below:

Meanwhile, the firm continues to crank out smaller-scale projects — there are 18 listed on their web site that are either in the design phase or under construction. Six of these are “live-work,” which is still a relatively unproven building type in Seattle — the City’s live-work ordinance was passed just five years ago. The live-work typology has great potential for improving neighborhood vitality and sustainability, and it’s commendable that Pb Elemental is willing to take the risk. Their “9th Avenue” live-work project is rendered below.

Nearly all of Pb Elemental’s projects have striking form, and as such stand out from most other new architecture in Seattle. And this is creating a distinct marketing identity.

So who is Pb Elemental? Their two founders are in their early thirties. The firm has grown from 2 to 50 employees in just four years. They have brought on a new President and CFO who was formerly the CFO of Lorig Associates. They are currently building a new company headquarters. They won an AIA honor award in 2007. Both the Seattle PI and The Stranger have praised them.

It all sounds so dot-com.

Clearly the latest development cycle has peaked. Has Pb Elemental overextended itself? It wouldn’t be the first or the last development and/or architecture firm to do so.

Or, will their burn just keep getting hotter? For the sake of Seattle architecture, here’s to hoping it’s the latter.

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.)

Double Vision

[ Photo: Dan Bertolet ]

[ Photo: Dan Bertolet ]

Do I detect a pattern here? Both projects were designed and built by Pb Elemental. Now don’t get me wrong — for the most part I love this firm’s work. But I couldn’t help noticing how many of their projects have this mirrored dual symmetry (e.g. the live-work project noted here).

Pb Elemental is proving that it is possible to produce townhouses that don’t suck. However, I have to point out that both of the projects pictured above are a bit weak when it comes to engaging the street. Hmm, where are the front doors? Frontages like this are not conducive to people interacting with their neighbors. Imagine the project in the lower photo with four cars parked up against it — a pretty sorry street presence.

As with most townhouses, even the thoughtful designs shown above are debased by accommodating cars.

Does Live-Work Work?

UPDATE: See comment #1 for a clarification on the building shown below from the developer. In short, it is not live-work, but “live above work,” consisting of five separate mixed-use buildings.

[ Photo: Dan Bertolet ]

This is a recently constructed live-work unit development at 25th and E. Union in the Central District. There are five units, with commercial space ranging from about 500 to 900 sf, and residential space from about 1400 to 1500 sf.

[ Photo: Dan Bertolet ]

The City of Seattle approved a live-work unit ordinance in 2003. Live-work units combine residential and commercial space in a single unit, and residents must possess a business license. A key provision in the code is that no parking is required for the residential portion of the units, which provides design flexibility and encourages small-scale buildings that are not dominated by surface parking or garages.

It’s easy to like the idea of live-work units. They encourage small businesses and help strengthen community at the neighborhood level. They bring interest and activity to the street. And they help reduce commuting.

But I can’t help being a tad skeptical: Do they work as advertised in the real world? What fraction of the live-work units out there have healthy, operating businesses, and what fraction are essentially functioning as apartments? Is there demand for these units in Seattle, or is there already a glut? Help me out here — anyone?

The project shown above is relatively isolated from other commercial uses and gets very little passing foot traffic. And so these spaces are not likely to be successful for many types of businesses, at least until there is more commercial development around 23rd and Union.

Coincidentally, there are two more live-work developments proposed within a few blocks of the E. Union St. project described above. The first is at 26th and East Cherry St (careful, big pdf) , rendering shown below:

The second is on East Union between 20th and 21st, designed by Pb Elemental, rendering below:

These two projects are also located in areas that will not provide much commercial synergy. All three live-work developments will be will be trailblazers, and here’s to hoping the neighborhood can absorb and support them.