DJC Green Building Blog

Northgate – what exactly is light rail’s urban development responsibility?

Posted on November 30, 2011

On Nov. 17, the DJC published this article I wrote about Sound Transit's Northgate light rail station. The Northgate station is one of three that will be part of Sound Transit's North Link light rail extension, running from the University District to Northgate Mall. The Northgate station is the only one that it above ground. Because of this, and a number of other factors, it is also the most complex of the three. It is designed by Hewitt.

The article centered on the station's design, and was based off a Seattle Light Rail Review

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Panel meeting I attended. The panel, which reviews the station's design, had a lot of criticism that is detailed in the story. Their main point was that the structure wasn't living up to its responsibility in helping to transform the neighborhood.

This is from the story:

Julie Parrett, who is on the review panel and the Design Commission, said this station is unique because the area around it is going through a transformation. Northgate was built for cars and a more suburban lifestyle, but today there is a city-wide effort to make it a place that works for pedestrians, residents and the surrounding community.

Thornton Place, she said, has helped set a standard for new development and the station can reinforce that. She said she doesn’t view the current design as helping shape a new Northgate.

“These are buildings and projects that are going to last for 50 to 100 years and we can’t forget that,” she said. “They do have a civic responsibility and right now, I feel like this building is really turning itself inward and not reaching out and not thinking in a conceptual way what its role (is) as a precedent or precursor in this area."

After publication, Ian Hernandez, a friend of mine, posted this comment on my personal Facebook page:

"Speaking of, great article on the North Link Northgate station the other day! Some of those panel comments crack me up - it's like they think that Thornton Place somehow turned that area into a shining jewel of urban transition, when it's really still just a bunch of crapshacks bordered by a giant movie theater and ugly parking garage."

Image courtesy Sky-Pix
Big, boxy Thornton Place certainly isn't perfect but it's better than the empty parking lot that used to be there. At least the space now offers movies and a few retail and eating options. Whether you like it or not, it's there. The question is what happens next and what is the light rail station's responsibility in helping to guide that change?

When I went to the last Northgate station open house, the audience members seemed generally pleased with the station design and some even commended Sound Transit for its work. The Light Rail Review Panel was quite critical, but it looks at the project with the eyes of people who have a responsibility of curating the city's future through projects and urban development.

Here's what's sure: The Northgate area is changing and light rail will be transformative, no matter what it looks like. Given these two things, how much does the station's design really matter? Does it need to serve as a bridge to the future or does it just need to be there? In a perfect world, what would you like to see the station look like?

Also, as a sidenote, this station will have restrooms unlike the ones at Brooklyn or Roosevelt.

Also, if you're really intersted in this topic, go to this open house on Dec. 8 at Aljoya Senior Apartments (a part of Thornton Place). Sound Transit says it has drawn up a "few options that show future urban design and development possibilities for this area south of the mall."

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In 2011, Seattle moves towards district energy

Posted on January 13, 2011

This week, we ran this story in the DJC about Yesler Terrace, CollinsWoerman and the effort to start considering resources on the broader scale.

For those of you that don't live in the area, Yesler Terrace is a 28-acre publicly subsidized housing community owned by the Seattle Housing Authority. It is  in the process of being redeveloped.

Imaging one energy and water system for all this space.
CollinsWoerman is a local architecture and planning firm.

District energy systems are common in Europe, especially Denmark. They allow buildings to connect to each other, increasing efficiency and reducing costs by letting several buildings share energy from a main source, such as steam, geothermal, biomass or waste heat.

But they are often cost prohibitive because streets must be torn up for a network of pipes to be built underground.

Steve Moddemeyer, principle of sustainable development at CollinsWoerman, said according to a CollinsWoerman study for SHA, a district water system could cut water use by half for Yesler Terrace and reduce wastewater flows by 70 percent for the same or less cost as a traditional system. Just imagine if you could do that for an entire city!

The fact that Yesler Terrace is considering a water and energy district is really exciting. But what's more interesting is what it says about Seattle. District energy has long been a buzz-term in the city's green community. It seems like we might finally be moving towards getting momentum on new projects.

The city of Seattle hired AEI and Cowi to study district energy opportunities for the city. They are looking at where these systems would be feasible and will identify the top three places. Moddemeyer has seen such interest in district energy and water, he said Yesler Terrace might not be the first project to employ the system. If private developers move forward, he said district systems could be the norm within five years. (Can you even imagine that scenario...?!)

Separately, the city is also working with Trent Berry, a partner with Vancouver, B.C.'s Compass Resource Management. Berry is also providing expertise on district energy systems.

The city of Bothell is also looking at installing a district energy system.

The new projects point in the direction Seattle is heading. But we are also lucky to have Seattle Steam here. Seattle Steam, a district heat provider for 200 downtown buildings, has been around for over 100 years. I'm sure there's a lot of experience they can add to this discussion.

It seems like Seattle has an opportunity here to be a real leader.

Moddemeyer said the biggest obstacle to progress is our faith in the current system. Projects like King County's $1.8 billion Brightwater Treatment Plant put all our water treatment eggs in one basket, betting that water will continue to be treated the way it is in years to come.

What do you think?

P.S. Like me on Facebook for regular updates on blog posts and similar green building information: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Katie-Zemtseff/301025823604

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The UW’s Paccar Hall: creating places people love

Posted on October 11, 2010

Last week, I toured the University of Washington's Paccar Hall at the Foster School of Business. I'm not an architectural critic so I won't pass judgement on the space itself (Lawrence Cheek was on the tour, so  you might look forward to his take sometime). I will say the space itself almost tempted me to go back to school.

I wrote about the building in the DJC here. But what I didn't write about was the way it made me feel.

Often, I tour a space and listen to the words of the architect. They speak about aesthetics, connections and a building's grand goals. In Paccar Hall, I didn't so much need to hear Mark Reddington of LMN speak about what the building was meant to do --- as I needed to look around and see everything he was talking about playing out in person.

Creating space that fostered random conversations between people? Check. Creating space with lots of nooks and comfortable areas for people to rest and do their own thing both indoors and out? Check. Creating space that felt like a broader piece of the UW's campus, rather than a segmented section of learning? Check. This is a building that was crawling with students interacting at all different levels, I'm guessing not all from the business school.

The sustainability features were also interesting, the most obvious one being daylit space. I've been in a lot of buildings that are "daylit" and sure, you see the outside and notice that you're getting natural light. But in Paccar Hall, the daylighting wasn't just a feature. It was the building and screamed for your attention. Having said that, I do wonder about the efficiency of a building that is over 45 percent glass. Architects on the tour assured me that numerous strategies had been put in place to take care of the solar load - very visible interior sunshades, exterior sunshades and glazing. I'd like to see the concrete operational numbers for the first few years to see how much energy it saves (it is LEED gold, after all).

The building has a number of other green features - it saved trees on the property, has automatic lighting controls and displacement ventilation. A planned green roof was value engineered out, though a decorative green space lines the outdoor terrace.

I've been thinking about the building and it raises a question for me: is it more sustainable to create a building that people love and will use thoroughly, or should teams concentrate on the green credentials?

In a perfect world, all green/sustainable/LEED certified buildings would also make you want to stay inside them. But the thing is, they don't. Often, a LEED building feels just like any other building with the addition of that familiar plaque by the door. Personally, I wanted to spend more time in Paccar Hall. The more I digest this space, the more impressed I am. People end up loving buildings like this. And in 30 years, they won't let it get torn down - a stark contrast to the original 1960s business school building just visible in the right corner of the first picture below that people can't wait to demolish.

Can we say that for all the "green" buildings out there?

Here are a number of pictures I took from the tour. For more check out my Facebook fan page.

The backside of Paccar Hall
Ground floor of Paccar Hall, opposite the open cafe area
Open cafe space on the ground floor

Interior atrium

The front of the building, facing the UW\'s north entrance

Someone enjoying the sun on the building\'s outdoor terrace
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Is this building ugly or not?

Posted on June 17, 2010

This week, Dan Bertolet published a great post titled simply 'McNeighborhood,' over at Publicola. The post discusses a project called The Corydon Apartments/Merril Gardens, located a few blocks north of University Village. Bertolet characterizes the project (which is pretty giant at two city blocks long) as a McNeighborhood and has this to say about its design:

"The overall effect is, well, just fine, I guess. Pleasant, though not inspiring. Sort of like the Pottery Barn aesthetic writ large—it looks good on a superficial level, but the soul is missing."

I read the post with interest, then I read the comments. Many are quite positive. Commenter Cook says: "The building is actually quite nice compared to what could have gone in there." Commenter Gomez said the design criticism has weight but the project is better than what was on site before -- nothing.

Commenter giffy says: "I'd say this is exactly the kind of development we need more of in this city. And

Image courtesy Dan Bertolet, Publicola
really, much of the "lack of soul" is simply because it's new. Wait fifty years and people will be bitching when they knock it down to put in support columns for our Jetson houses."

Taken together, I think the post and comments pose an interesting question: just how much should we require of design? Should this project be commended for being better than what previously existed or should it be penalized (in our opinion) for not being as good as it could be?

In the interest of total disclosure, I'll tell you that I grew up in this neighborhood and now live in it, so I've watched this site change and develop over a period of many, many years. Yes, the Corydon/Merrill Gardens is a big, big development for the area. But at street level, it is less jarring than a number of other nearby projects. Additionally, the storefronts are filling up with (mostly) local, user friendly shops. A liquor store, a clothing boutique, a Peet's Coffee and a Japanese restaurant.

The new project is also a lot better than the burned out husk of an Italian restaurant that used to be there (Ciao Bella, though in all fairness, the space wasn't a husk for too long and was renovated following the fire in 2003).

So here's my question: just how ugly is this building? Is it an example of poor design? Or is it pretty darn good for the area it is in. What do you think? To see more pictures, click on the link to Bertolet's post above or click on the link to Corydon.

Image courtesy The Corydon
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Interested in backyard cottages? Event May 24 is for you!

Posted on May 14, 2010

On May 24, Method Homes and Infiniti RED are holding an event that will showcase the work of 35 local architects and designers related to backyard cottages. It should be an interesting time.

At the end of 2009, the city of Seattle legalized backyard cottages on Seattle lots over 4,000 square feet. This

Image courtesy Infiniti RED
event, launched in April, asked local architects and designers to come up with innovative backyard design to offer for Method Homes customers.

Those who attend the event will see all the design challenge entries, meet the designers, participate in the awards ceremony and enjoy food and drink. A jury including David Cutler of the Seattle City Planning Commission, Robert Humble of Hybrid Architecture and Colleen Groll of O'Brien & Co. will judge the entries. Andrea Petzel, Seattle City Planner, will act as advisor to the judges.

There will be five awards given out. Awards will be given for overall best design, honorable mention for best design, most innovative, most sustainable and most adoptable.

The free event will be at 7601 Greenwood Ave. N. and begins at 5:30 p.m. For more information, contact Brian Abramson at Method Homes at (206) 790.2852 or Infiniti RED at (206) 235.6925. eva@infinitiRED.com.

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Living Future Unconference: the future is a strange mix of doom and hope (so far)

Posted on May 6, 2010

This is my fourth Living Future Unconference. With the expection of last year's talk by Janine Benyus, each keynote talk has been somewhat doom-filled. Well, last night's talk by James Howard Kunstler was the most frightening and depressing of all.

HOWEVER, that's not to say it was a bad talk. It was a great talk. Just sweeping, opinionated and scary.

Kunstler basically said that our entire future is going to change and quick. In the next five years, he said air

Is this what we want our cities of the future to look like?
traffic and flying will be a thing of the past. It will become so expensive that it will become an elite sport: the rich will do it and the rest of us won't. Another thing we won't be doing is driving everywhere. Here are other things that will be totally different: suburbs, skyscrapers, green building, schools, food production and daily life.

Education he said, will be done mostly via homeschooling and groups of homeschooled kids. This will give children an 8th grade education level, he said, which is better than current college students are receiving.

Green skyscrapers he said don't exist. It's greenwashing. Skyscrapers will become abandoned and unused.

Suburbs, he said, will just plain die. They have four futures: 1. Being retrofitted, 2. becoming salvage yards, 3. Becoming slums and 4. becoming ruins. A very small amount of suburbs, he said, will be retrofitted. Those that will be will be located strategically near waterways or other useful things for human civilazation.

As a society, he said we better start changing things and getting used to this different future RIGHT NOW.

I just finished an educational session with Bill Reed. He mentioned "wanting to slit your throat" after listening to Kunstler and other similar speakers.

On the other hand, this morning's keynote by Jason McLennan, CEO of the Cascadia Green Building Council totally counteracted the idea that our world is doomed. We have a choice, he said. To move forward and create a brilliant future or to not. The future, he said, is not set in stone. We have every possibility in the world to make it ours. (Bill Reed echoed this theme, saying the future doesn't have to be as negative as some people believe).

McLennan said we need to recognize human failure and feel that pain. Then we must "make a difference in the time that we have."

It's been an interesting dichotomoy of ideas so far that leads to internal pondering of philosphy. Living Future, as always, does just that: it makes you think. Now onto the rest of the day....

If you're interested in up to the minute updates on the conference, follow me on Twitter @KatieZemtseff.

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Neighborhood density in Seattle and Vancouver, B.C. What can we learn from each other?

Posted on April 8, 2010

I've been writing a lot about Vancouver's density recently, in comparison to Seattle's so I know I should move onto another topic. And I promise I will next time. But I just can't resist posting these pictures of my sister's neighborhood, Kerrisdale.

Kerrisdale is about a 15-minute drive away from downtown and a 10-minute drive away from the University of British Columbia. It is a sweet neighborhood, filled with restaurants and shops (but only one bar that I could find). However, what's unique about it isn't the composition of retail. It's the composition of housing types within a two-block radius. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves:

Interesting looking row houses

Mid-rise apartment buildings

Retail

More retail

A large single family home

This neighborhood has nearly every type of housing within two blocks, all mish-mashed up together. That McMansion above? It's located across the street from the first picture of row-houses. The mixing of housing types doesn't feel crowded; it feels like a nice, traditional neighborhood. It's a real urban village.

Seattle has neighborhoods that exemplify this mixed-use concept just as well. Capitol Hill, Lower Queen Anne, Ballard to some degree. But for some reason, the way Kerrisdale did it just felt smoother. Maybe it's primarily an architectural issue? But it feels to an outsider like the apartment building is meant to be located next to a large, single-family house.

To all my density nerds out there, what do you think is Seattle's best example of density that meshes well? It is Capitol Hill or Lower Queen Anne? Any particular street or corridor that really stands out? A really good  recent example, I find, is NK Architect's latest project on Lower Queen Anne called Fourth and Roy. The DJC wrote about it last month here. Basically, the team designed it to consciously fit in with the neighborhood.

In our story, Brandon Nicholson, a principal at NK, said he tries to picture a four-plex craftsman knockoff on the parcel and does not think it would fit in with the neighborhood's character. “In a neighborhood filled with old brick buildings, it might be much more modern in aesthetics but in materials and scale, it's appropriate for the context of Lower Queen Anne.”

Fourth and Roy townhouses in Lower Queen Anne
What do you think? What's Seattle's best example?

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What role do cities play in sustainability? Seattle and Vancouver at the Globe 2010 Conference

Posted on March 24, 2010

I'm at the Globe 2010 Conference in Vancouver, B.C. where I just attended the keynote session. For those of you that don't know this conference, it is focused on the business of sustainability, and the idea that environmental problems provide an opportunity to create business and economic solutions.

Speakers during the keynote included Gregor Roertson, mayor of Vancouver; Frank Wouters, chief executive of Masdar Power, Abu Dhabi, UAE; and James Suciu, president of global sales and marketing for GE Energy in Atlanta, Ga.

The speakers discussed a number of things: Robertson talked about how the successful 2010 Olympics has

Vancouver, B.C.
put Vancouver on the global map, Wouters spoke about the potential for collecting energy and the creation of his company's green city in the desert; and Suciu spoke about GE's commitment to the future green economy.

But all of them focused on cities in some way, and the power cities have to effect change. Robertson discussed how Vancouver, B.C. aims to be the greenest city in the world by 2020 and how it is moving towards that goal. But Vancouver is just one of many cities moving in this direction. He said it is the city's job to push policy and business forward, as national governments have become "frustratingly stagnant."

"The cities are destined to be the major partners with green business in creating the change and prosperity that we need."

He said cities that aggressively target this sweet spot between supporting business and driving public policy will lead the future, while pulling more business to them, causing economic success.

I'm wondering where this balance exists. How much of the responsibility rests with cities, and how much rests with federal governments? Anyone have an answer?

Vancouver is doing this in a number of ways. The city council recently voted to have all new buildings going through the rezoning process in the city shoot for LEED gold as of July of this year, he said. It also has the highest number of entrepreurs in North America and a number of federal and municipal incentives, such as paying half the salary of R+D workers.

"A generation ago, our goals would have been seen as an obstacle to business but in 2010, they are a huge opportunity."

Of course, when I hear about Vancouver and all the great goals they are targeting and achieving, I inevitably compare it to Seattle. It is striking to me that in Vancouver, all buildings going through the rezoning process (representing most buildings built in Vancouver) will have to be LEED gold while in Seattle, you can still get away with building a project in the city that doesn't have to achieve any green certification at all. Seattle's green building team is currently working on an update of its green code and is looking at enhancing it... but on these sweeping issues it seems like Vancouver is always one step ahead of us.

(Is Vancouver greener than Seattle overall? Answer our new poll at right!)

In this post, Brent Todarian, director of planning for the city of Vancouver, says the LEED gold move wasn't made without difficulty, but still, it happened. Here's how he described it:  "Although Council conveyed sympathy and understanding for the industry's challenges, and sought to provide flexibility and further consultation and partnership on the details, they ultimately chose to take another key step toward our greenest city goal."

What would happen if Seattle took that lead, especially in this down market? Would we be able to achieve a similar goal and would we even want to? In this down market, is it the time to be making these type of changes or should we leave it for another day? Thoughts to chew on.

Anyway, I'll be here until Friday and will post more updates as the conference goes on. I have a feeling cities and their power to create change is going to be a big theme....

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Vancouver B.C. questions traffic options after Olympics

Posted on March 3, 2010

Over at HugeAssCity on Publicola, Dan Bertolet has a great overview of Vancouver, B.C.'s transportation experience during the Olympics, then connects that to Seattle's current replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct debacle. It's an interesting overview, though I have to say the post's comments are possibly even more interesting....

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Party, party, party party! (Party) for urban livability on Thursday

Posted on February 19, 2010

We've got some exciting green events this week.

The biggest, and most flamboyant by far, is a fundraiser for Great City called the "Fete du Flaneur." The fete is a fundraiser for the nonprofit, which advocates for urban livability and sustainability. The nonprofit has

The event promises to be a fun time

The event promises to be a fun time

also spawned a large portion of Seattle's current mayoral administration, many of which will be in attendance. Mayor Mike McGinn, Great City's founder, will be at the event, as will Deputy Mayor Darryl Smith and City Council Members Mike O'Brien and Tim Burgess.

The evening features never-ending drinks, munchies from local chefs (by Cafe Stellina and Sitka and Spruce), a silent auction, the crowing of the Great City-Cascade Land Conservancy Mustache Challenge and performance artists (a clown, an acrobat and Lily Verlaine burlesque).

Tickets are pretty well priced (compared to a general night on the town) at $45. So, if you're in the mood to shmooze and watch some fun performances Thursday, it's the place to be. For more information, go here. To buy tickets, go here. The event is at Melrose Market on Capitol Hill, a new space  being developed by Liz Dunn and Scott Shapiro.

On a more somber but no less interesting note, Helle Soholt of Denmark's Gehl Architects will give a lecture on Tuesday on how Seattle can become the most walkable city in America. The lecture is at the Seattle Art Museum at 6 p.m.

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