Cranes fill the sky and construction crews complicate navigation through Seattle’s streets as development projects downtown and in other close-in urban neighborhoods usher in a higher and denser city.
One of the hottest markets on the West Coast and in the United States, Seattle is experiencing unprecedented development of office, retail, and residential projects, according to the Downtown Seattle Association (DSA). In 2016, 68 buildings totaling $4.4 billion in value were under construction and 100 restaurants opened, DSA reports. Over the past two years, 500,000 square feet (47,000 sq m) of new retail space was built.
The downtown residential population has grown by more than 30 percent since 2000: the housing-strapped city welcomed a record-setting 3,600 housing units in 2015, with another 8,661 scheduled for completion by the end of this year, DSA reports.
Local ULI leaders point to several major development projects that best demonstrate where Seattle is going as a city.
Pike Place MarketFront Expansion and Future Waterfront Connection
Pike Place Market, the quintessential Seattle attraction, is expanding with new amenities, services, housing, and links to a future redeveloped central waterfront for Elliott Bay.
Pike Place Market—renovated six years ago and spurred by the anticipated removal of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, an elevated highway that runs along the waterfront—is expanding with the $74 million MarketFront project. The low-rise mixed-use development being built into a hillside below the market is due to open in late June.
The three-quarter-acre (0.3 ha) MarketFront project will return farmers and other producers to a site that in 1974 was turned into a surface parking lot following a fire. The MarketFront will feature 12,000 square feet (1,100 sq m) of new commercial and retail space, with canopied stalls for farmers and craftspeople, a brewery, and artisanal food producers, plus 30,000 square feet (2,800 sq m) of public open-space deck, terraces, walkways, seating, and landscape with views of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound.
The MarketFront also will include 40 low-income housing units for seniors, with seven live/work artist studios, plus a neighborhood center with social services and gathering spaces, 300 underground parking spaces, 33 bike spaces, and public art. Funding for the project came from the city, state parking mitigation funds, a capital fundraising campaign led by the Market Foundation, New Markets Tax Credits and low-income housing tax credits, and other sources.
MarketFront architecture firm Miller Hull Partnership in Seattle is working with lead waterfront redevelopment designer James Corner Field Operations, designer of the High Line in New York City, to create a connection from the MarketFront’s terraces and walkways to the Overlook Walk, part of the city’s $700 million waterfront park and promenade plan. Waterfront redevelopment is scheduled to begin after the 2019 demolition of the viaduct.
“New open and transparent spaces with a familiar utilitarian character will blend tradition and modernity, enabling the market to do more of what it does best—and to ultimately improve the connection to the waterfront for a positive and lasting impact on Seattle,” says David Miller, founding partner of Miller Hull Partnership.
Transformation of the Waterfront and the Renovated Pike Place Market | More at ULI Spring Meeting
2+U Retail and “Lifted” Office Tower in Downtown Core
Several blocks east of Pike Place Market, the 38-story 2+U is one of the buzzworthy towers rising in the downtown core. Most of the building’s 665,000 square feet (62,000 sq m) of Class A office space will be “lifted” to 85 feet (26 m), creating a high canopy over 24,000 square feet (2,200 sq m) of open space. A ground-level outdoor urban village beneath the building canopy will have restaurants, retail shops, arts and entertainment spaces, and a public plaza.
The lift design, more common in Europe, is new to Seattle, says Murphy McCullough, executive vice president of Skanska USA Commercial Development. “We looked at how we could create a building that isn’t just an office building but provides neighborhood amenities, retail, and open space,” he says, as well as arts and cultural spaces that complement the close-by Seattle Art Museum and Benaroya Hall performing arts center.
The 2+U tower will have 18,000- to 30,000-square-foot (1,700 to 2,800 sq m) open floor plates; sweeping views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains; a 19th-floor outdoor view deck; a fitness and wellness studio with a sauna, showers, and locker facilities; and a bike club with secure storage, maintenance facilities, and charging facilities for electric bikes. The estimated $392 million project, which Skanska intends to develop with cash on hand, will have 476 below-grade parking spots.
Skanska is developing 2+U with a ground lease with the Samis Foundation. The architect of record, Kendall Heaton Associates of Houston, and design architect Pickard Chilton of New Haven, Connecticut, were selected from a “design hack-a-thon” process that started with seven internationally recognized design firms.
The project is targeting a Gold rating under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, devised by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Developers broke ground in mid-February, and opening is scheduled for the second quarter of 2019.
Weyerhaeuser’s Headquarters in Pioneer Square
About 14 million square feet (1.3 million sq m) of office space is in the development pipeline in downtown Seattle, according to DSA, and much of it reflects the movement of companies away from the suburbs.
A primary example is Weyerhaeuser’s new headquarters in the Pioneer Square national historic district. Developed by Seattle’s Urban Visions on a half-acre (0.2 ha) former parking lot, the eight-story, 213,000-square-foot (20,000 sq m) concrete, glass, and steel structure began as a speculative office building until Mithun partner and lead project designer Bill LaPatra brought Weyerhaeuser leaders to the site.
Weyerhaeuser, the timber industry giant, had its headquarters on a 400-acre (162 ha) forested campus in suburban Federal Way about 23 miles (37 km) to the south, but wanted to evolve as a company and relocate to an urban Seattle setting to enhance its branding and recruiting for the next generation of employees. The company found the site near the waterfront, where the timber industry helped launch the city of Seattle, to be appealing.
Weyerhaeuser leadership “liked the location within a five-minute walk of several transit modes, the access to Seattle’s culture, and the ability to shape the building to their culture and products,” says LaPatra. Also appealing was its location next to Occidental Park, with an existing canopy of London plane trees, which Mithun incorporated into the design to create a feeling within the building of being immersed in the treetops. Last October, the company moved 700 employees into the new building on a long-term lease.
Design of the LEED Platinum–rated building includes large floor-to-floor heights—over 12 feet (3.7 m), compared with the standard nine or ten feet (2.4 to 2.7 m). Plentiful daylight and fresh air are provided by floor-to-ceiling glazing, with windows that are operable to allow fresh air and natural temperature control. The building has a penthouse with a kitchen/lunchroom and a green roof with a meadow design. Employee amenities also include a rooftop deck with a fire pit, Ping-Pong table, and barbecue grill, plus lactation rooms, a children’s playroom, bike stalls, and locker rooms with showers.
Mithun’s interior design focused on four words—industrial, natural, warm, and raw—and used the company’s products in creative ways for flooring and room cladding, featuring salvaged old-growth timber for stairways and furniture.
Gates Foundation Headquarters at Seattle Center
A few miles to the north, next to the Seattle Center, a 74-acre (30 ha) park and arts and entertainment center, is the 12-acre (5 ha) Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation headquarters, which opened in 2011, replacing a parking lot. The 640,000-square-foot (60,000 sq m) development includes two six-story boomerang-shaped office buildings (a third building is planned for later expansion), a courtyard plaza, and a reception building. The visitors center, designed by Olson Kundig architects in Seattle, is integrated into the structure of the Seattle Center Fifth Avenue North garage.
The project’s design theme embodies the foundation’s mission of “local roots and global reach,” reflecting its place in the city and response to local context, as well as its global work related to health, education, poverty, and other issues. “We wanted to create a world language through highly durable natural materials” like limestone, copper, wool, ingrained wood, and woven rope to suggest broader connections to the world, says Steve McConnell, managing partner for Seattle’s NBBJ architecture firm, which designed the project.
The design also stresses transparency and egalitarian principles: glass-walled buildings are a narrow 65 feet (20 m) wide with a lot of open workspace and natural light. On each floor, casual meeting spaces provide opportunities for people to bump into each other, enabling creativity and productivity among the staff of 1,000 plus international collaborators.
Built as an investment to last 100 years, the project is certified LEED Platinum, with rooftop solar hot water and a thermal energy system that reduces energy use by storing chilled water to cool buildings during the day. Two acres (0.8 ha) of living roof reduce stormwater runoff, moderate interior temperatures, and provide habitat for birds and insects. A 1 million-gallon (3.8 million liter) rainwater storage system provides 80 percent of the water needed for irrigation, reflecting pools, and toilets. Bill and Melinda Gates underwrote $350 million of the $500 million project cost.
Museum of History and Industry in South Lake Union
Located north of downtown on pilings rising from Lake Union, the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) tells the story of life in Seattle, from its Native American roots to its emergence as a global innovation hub for aerospace, maritime activity, computer technology, music, and other fields. Once a decaying remnant from a large U.S. Navy campus given to the city in 2000, the museum building has become a star attraction at the center of South Lake Union redevelopment with new exhibit galleries and multimedia displays.
Opened in late 2012, the $45 million museum is an adaptive use of the 52,000-square-foot (4,800 sq m) former Naval Reserve Armory, which served as an advanced naval training school during World War II. Designed in the 1930s by local architect B. Marcus Priteca as a Works Progress Administration project, the concrete building was completed in 1942 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. MOHAI has won awards from preservation agencies and is one of the few LEED Platinum–rated museums in the United States.
The challenge for local architecture firm LMN Architects was transforming an unlikely building—one with huge open spaces, windows looking out on the water, and no basement or attic—into a museum that “retains those views and sense of space and light,” says MOHAI executive director Leonard Garfield.
The core of the museum is the 40-foot-high (12 m) Grand Atrium, formerly the Drill Hall, with original floors and rafters, which provides space for large-scale exhibits and special events.
The museum also houses the MOHAI Bezos Center for Innovation, funded by $10 million from Amazon chief executive officer Jeff Bezos and his wife, MacKenzie Bezos. Designed by Seattle’s Olson Kundig architects, the Center for Innovation has interactive exhibits on the role of industrial innovation in human advancement, including narratives from Paul Allen, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and other tech titans.
Exhibits are displayed on four levels, with a balcony wrapping the atrium and movable exhibit partitions that allow flexibility. New elements such as a glass elevator, staircase, and railings hew to the historic industrial, art deco, and maritime design character. On the ground level, a café and terrace open to a city park. As part of its move to the site, MOHAI developed separate administrative offices, a research library, and collection storage in the MOHAI Resource Center located in south Seattle.
Stone34: Brooks Sports Headquarters on Burke-Gilman Trail
A number of Seattle buildings demonstrate cutting-edge standards for high performance. The Bullitt Center, for example, a mid-rise office building on Capitol Hill developed by the Bullitt Foundation and opened in 2013, is an ultra-green model for the Living Building principles of net-zero energy and water use developed by the International Living Future Institute.
Another super-sustainable building is Stone34, a retail and office building on the north shore of Lake Union several miles north of downtown. Built as the global headquarters for Brooks Sports, a running-shoe and apparel manufacturer, it is certified LEED Platinum and a pioneer project for Seattle’s Deep Green Pilot Program, which requires that buildings use 75 percent less energy and water than standard office buildings.
Opened in 2014, the five-story, 129,000-square-foot (12,000 sq m) mixed-use building, designed by LMN Architects, has 21,000 square feet (2,000 sq m) of retail space on the ground floor. Brooks’s concept store, its first retail venture, occupies 4,600 square feet (400 sq m) of space at the corner of the building; an outdoor equipment retailer and a restaurant occupy other spaces. The project also has a large public plaza, showers, sculptural bike racks, a rooftop deck, and 218 below-grade parking stalls.
Brooks chose the site for a ten-year lease for its headquarters before the building was erected. A key advantage for employees was the site’s location across the street from the 27-mile (43 km) Burke-Gilman Trail, which winds along the north shore of Lake Union and is popular with runners and cyclists.
“The focus initially was the office space, and then Brooks considered the retail opportunity and the open space” that could serve as a trailhead for running clinics and gatherings, says McCullough of Skanska. Stone34 was the first commercial real estate development in Seattle developed by Skanska, which sold the property to a joint venture of Unico Properties and Laird Norton in December 2014 for $70 million.
The building’s ultra-energy-efficient design includes a hydronic heating and cooling system that uses circulated water to control the building’s temperature, high windows that maximize natural light, and LED lighting and motion sensors. Like the Bullitt Center, it has a building management system that informs occupants of their energy use, encouraging conservation. The building captures and reuses at least 50 percent of the stormwater on the one-acre (0.4 ha) site for water features and to irrigate the edible plants that make up the landscape.
Kathleen McCormick, principal of Fountainhead Communications in Boulder, Colorado, writes frequently about healthy, resilient, and sustainable communities.