Archive for the ‘Planning’ Category

10 ways to make cities more walkable

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Seattle has a number of walkable neighborhoods, from Capitol Hill to Belltown. An article in The Atlantic Cities offers 10 tips for making cities more walkable

Ballard is an urban village and a fun place to walk. Photo by Clair Enlow.
. The suggestions come from Jeff Speck’s new book, Walkable City.

Challenge your inner pedestrian

Friday, September 21st, 2012

HBB Landscape Architecture has created the Palletable Plants Park, a temporary installation in a parking space in front of the firm’s Seattle office at 215 Westlake Ave. N.

Photo courtesy of HBB Landscape Architecture

The “park” highlights edible and ornamental plants while showing what can be done with little more than an open parking space, recycled materials and versatile plants. It also has furnishings constructed from recycled pallets.

The installation is part of PARK(ing) Day, an annual one-day-a-year worldwide event designed to show what cities would look like if more public space was allocated for parks, recreation and social interaction rather than for cars.

Locally the event is sponsored this year by the Seattle Department of Transportation. A total of 14 parking spaces, almost all downtown, have been temporarily converted by groups and firms into everything from a photo booth to a Bocce ball court to a place where you can challenge your inner pedestrian by getting a Transportation Tarot Reading.

As part of Park(ing) Day, a number of local organizations, including Feet First, are sponsoring an event in Pioneer Square, which turns Occidental Park, Nord Alley and  parking spots on Main Street into a summer lawn party. It ends at 2 p.m. today.

 

 

China to dominate tall building development

Friday, August 31st, 2012

 

Nine of the 20 tallest buildings under construction in the world are located in China, which is now leading the way in the development of supertall buildings, according to the latest research study by the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

Bellevue-based MulvannyG2 Architecture designed the Wuxi Chong’an development, which aims to be one of the tallest buildings in Wuxi, China when complete in 2013. It is 755 feet high and has two hotel and residential towers above a retail podium.Rendering Courtesy of MulvannyG2 Architecture

There are 239 buildings taller than 200 meters in advanced stages of development in China, far more than any other country. In 2011 alone China completed 23 buildings taller than 200 meters, which was also the top in the world, CTBUH’s research found.

At the end of 2011, there were only 61 buildings taller than 300 meters in the world; by 2017 China alone will have more than 60.

China’s ascendancy represents a fundamental shift in the construction of supertall buildings. In 1970, 92 of the world’s 100 tallest buildings were located in North America. By the end of 2012 only 29 of the top 100 will be in North America.

“China is dealing with the issues and challenges of developing urban environments on a massive scale,” said Timothy Johnson, chairman of the CTBUH and a partner in NBBJ, in a press release.

The surge in tall building developments in China has drawn criticism recently, with some charging that the buildings are too big and too expensive. A recent newspaper editorial referred to skyscrapers as “white elephants.”

The volume and height of tall building development in China is unprecedented. In 1990 there were five buildings taller than 200 meters in China; by the end of 2012 there will be 249.

The list of towers under development includes the 660-meter Ping An Finance Center, which will be the second tallest building in the world when it is completed, most likely in 2015, and the 632-meter Shanghai Tower.

Missed signage opportunities

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

In today’s world of signage and ads plastered everywhere, it seems odd to advocate more. But here we are…some local cornerstones might be missing out on customers, and signage could change that.

The Seattle Center offers great examples. Atop the Space Needle, two comments from the visiting throng seem most frequent aside from ones about Mt. Rainier: kids shouting “there’s McDonald’s, with the “M” on the roof,” and people of all ages asking “what’s that building with all the colors?” The Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum seem to have an awareness issue among tourists. Many of these people are presumably wondering what to do after the Needle, and might love to know about two of our best museums, which might even get the kids excited. Some signage viewable from 520 feet, not to mention some other angles nearby, seems worth the expense.

The Center House (ok, the “Armory”) is gradually adding new food outlets. But some break a cardinal rule of food courts: you can’t read the signs from across the room, particularly from some directions, and even if you can read the sign they’re not always clear from 150′ away about the cuisines they offer. Many visitors walk in, stand in one place, and decide what to eat, particularly families. The big signs seem to be winning. They’re aided of course by people’s familiarity with brand names, vs. local sellers who might have an artsy name and then, like Skillet, use smaller secondary signage to explain what they sell. For example Starbucks tends to have a line all day, often an absurdly long one (dammit), but a little coffee stand nearby goes mostly unnoticed, though in its defense it does say “coffee” if you’re looking from the south. For the Armory itself, a little of that “M” mojo would be useful too; why not tell Space Needle visitors above that food is available next door?

The new City Target is a welcome addition to Downtown. Their signage is clear – if you’re a block away, looking up, and familiar with their logo. But walking by, even the logo isn’t as easily seen. On high-traffic Pike especially, shouldn’t there be something pointed at pedestrians, a little above your head, that gives you some indication that it’s a Target store? Maybe even something that say they sell groceries, electronics, etc.? There’s a sign listing departments but it’s flush with the exterior and in small font, mostly useful as wayfinding for those about to walk in.

In Belltown there’s a place called Form/Space Atelier. It’s downstairs out of sight with only a small sign by the street entrance. After years of vaguely wondering what it is, this blog post was impetus to WebCrawler them. Turns out they’re an art gallery, not a furniture store. Good to know. Perhaps the sign by the door could have the word “gallery” added, unless this knowledge is
intentionally being closely held, or only for people who know that an atelier is typically the “workshop of an artist in the fine or decorative arts” according to wikipedia?

Again, the world has plenty of ads and signs. Actually far too many. But sometimes an addition is welcome – descriptive, not in anyone’s way, and pointed at likely customers.

AIA Seattle supports changes in parking requirements

Friday, May 25th, 2012

The American Institute of Architects Seattle has sent a letter to the city council in support of proposed changes in the land use code that would eliminate the requirement for parking within a ¼ mile radius of  “transit rich” areas of the city.  Go here to see the letter. You can also read more about the issue in a post by SeattleScape contributor Matt Hays.

A group of local investors plans to start construction in the summer of 2013 of a large “workforce” apartment complex near the Mount Baker light rail station. Image courtesy of Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects

 

Harbor Island losing its bus?

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Generally it’s a good idea to focus transit service on trunk lines, to put the service where the most riders are. So, generally, King County Metro should be congratulated for its proposed route changes.

But that’s not the only priority. While nobody expects Metro to go everywhere, it shouldn’t cut entire neighborhoods off, particularly job centers where workers have grown to rely upon transit, which benefits all of us as well as the riders. Outside the major nodes it’s ok to ask people to walk, in excess of a half-mile in some cases, but how much beyond that is ok?

Harbor Island is about to lose its service entirely outside of the SW Spokane Street corridor at the south end. It’s more than a mile from there to the northern-most employers such as Vigor Marine and Crowley, much of it not particularly safe or comfortable, particularly in the dark. Today Route 35 runs two buses each rush hour (none the rest of the time), a bit

Photo courtesy of King County Department of Transportation
earlier than normal closing times in the afternoon but moderately workable for now. This route will go away under the current proposal. Only Spokane will be served by the new Route 50, leaving the rest of the island 100% high and dry.

The current riders don’t want much, or so says the one who inspired this post — just a couple trips up the island at rush hour, ideally including one a little later than the current 4:09. Something a few blocks from work rather than the solid mile.

Solutions might be a special looping version of Route 50 a couple times per rush hour (either in addition to or instead of the main 50), or a separate rush hour shuttle connecting from the 50 to the north end of the island. Neither would be free, but either would be cheap vs. deleting a whole district from service.

Transit should help the the city function well, and parallel our regional strategy. Harbor Island packs a lot of economic punch, cramming in a lot of seaport and industry uses. It’s done this for generations. We’re not talking about leapfrogging new development and expecting new public services to cover it. This is about serving what’s existed for generations, and an existing community of riders.

Please don’t cut off this community.

 

Redevelopment planned at Melrose and Pine

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

 

Ground Zero – Melrose and Pine

Madison Development Group plans to redevelop the “Bauhaus Books and Coffee” block on Capitol Hill. Photos by Patrick Doherty

To read the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog and its various commenters, that’s exactly how you might describe the current local sentiment about the impending redevelopment of a site at the southeast corner of this key “gateway” intersection, as it’s identified in the City of Seattle’s Pike/Pine Design Guidelines.
But seriously the collection of structures at this site (most recognizable as the “Bauhaus Books and Coffee” block) is definitely a character-defining element of the Pike-Pine Corridor, both in terms of its historic structures and some much-loved, iconic businesses located therein. In addition, as its “gateway” identification connotes, it’s one of the first remarkable collection of older, character-defining buildings as one arrives to the neighborhood from Downtown.
And now comes Madison Development Group (MDG) with a proposal to redevelop the entire site with a mixed-use building, which naturally raises local hackles.  Why, ask many locals, do these sites need to be redeveloped when they contain such lovely buildings?
Well, market forces are obviously at play here, combined with permissive zoning that allows substantially more development potential than the existing buildings embody – as the City implements its growth-management-sympathetic goals of accommodating urban growth, supporting transit-oriented communities and generally building urban villages.  In fact, the zoning has allowed greater development there for decades.  But market forces are finally catching up with that development potential.
What tempers the all-out higher development potential of the underlying zoning are the above-mentioned Pike/Pine Design Guidelines that contain some very specific language encouraging the most sensitive design possible where “character structures” are involved.  In essence, within the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District such “character structures” should be incorporated to the greatest extent feasible within the new development scheme.  Some purists scoff at this, labeling it as a “façadectomy” approach  to historic-building conservation, but frankly, short of full-on landmark or preservation-district level of control, that’s about the most the City can do legally to “conserve” these character-defining elements of such a neighborhood (be that Pike/Pine, Fremont or Greenwood).
What we should all hope for now is that MDG and its architects live up to the challenge to bring a truly sympathetic solution to this thorny design problem.  Somewhere between preservation of the buildings as-is and a pastiche-level façadectomy approach should be the right, elegant solution that melds the character and essence of these historic buildings with a handsome, contemporary companion.  This can be done, but it takes a high level of finesse not often seen in this neighborhood or elsewhere in Seattle . I won’t drag you through my list of successes and failures, but suffice it to say there have been some recent examples in this very neighborhood of both elegant additions, breathing new life into character buildings, and awkward, heavy-handed boxes abruptly shoved down on top of historic buildings.  Let’s hope the former examples inspire MDG, not the latter!

To learn more about the planned redevelopment, go to http://www.djc.com/news/re/12039698.html

Controversy over Counterbalance Park

Thursday, April 12th, 2012
Counterbalance is an urban plaza in Seattle’s Queen Anne/Uptown neighborhood. Photo by Murase Associates

Photo by Murase Associates

An addition to Counterbalance Park at Queen Anne Avenue and Roy Street in Seattle is causing a debate about whether the public work of an architect should be changed without appropriate oversight. In this case, the work is by well-known Pacific Northwest landscape architect Robert Murase, who died in 2005. Here and here are some articles about the controversy.

 

The evolving open office

Wednesday, March 21st, 2012

The New York Times has an interesting article on the new office environment. It has less space per worker, no private offices, and more daylight and gathering spaces. The story looks at Seattle office spaces, including those of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, architecture firm NBBJ, and Russell Investments.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation atrium. Photo by Benjamin Benschneider, courtesy NBBJ

Should Amazon.com build taller in Seattle?

Monday, March 12th, 2012
Do we want the Amazon buildings to look like the Russell Investments Center, the widest building on the Seattle skyline? Here is the Russell building times three. Photo montage by Scott Surdyke.

 

Scott Surdyke,  SeattleScape’s newest blogger, has some things to say about Amazon.com’s proposal to build a large office complex in downtown Seattle. Here is his take:

The news is REALLY BIG: Amazon and its architect, NBBJ, will present to the downtown Design Review Board on March 27th its proposal for a MASSIVE new office tower campus in the heart of the Denny Triangle. The proposal is expected  include up to three (3) 1-million-square-foot towers, and may include up to two towers per block. In ANY city today, this would be viewed as a once in a lifetime project, a signature addition to the skyline, and an equally important opportunity to provide great public benefits such as open space and other on-site amenities. However, the scale and potential bulk of these proposed towers is concerning when you consider just how big (wide) a million-square-foot building has to be when it only has 500 feet of height to work with.

A tale of Two Towers:

The widest building on the Seattle skyline is the Russell Investments Center (former Washington Mutual Tower). This is a 1.2 million SF building, also designed by NBBJ,  squeezed into 575 feet of height, and it is a full block wide. The size and shape of this building was determined by the former “CAP” on building heights, which were first reduced to 450’ in the late 1980s.  Since then, height limits for major towers have incrementally crept upward as Seattle has warmed up to the fact that taller, narrower buildings (think Vancouver BC) are much more desirable than squat, full block buildings, which tend to block out sunlight, create a “canyon” effect and offer little or no public open space.

A major contrast to the Russell Investments Center is the original Washington Mutual Tower, which at 772 feet is widely considered one of Seattle’s most beloved skyscrapers. That building, even though it’s approximately 200’ taller, is roughly the same size (1.1 Million square feet) as the Russell Investments Center, if not a little smaller. Not only  is the building, now called 1201 Third Avenue,  a striking and elegant addition to the Seattle skyline, but it also offers substantial public open space with its sunny and lushly landscaped plaza.

Today our city planners and leaders have thankfully embraced the blueprint for a truly sustainable and livable downtown, whereby taller, more slender towers are encouraged in order to provide greater public benefits such as open space, light and air between buildings. Vancouver, BC is an ideal model of how this can be achieved, and even that city has now raised its height limits in anticipation of buildings in the 600-700’ range. However, in order to achieve that height, new towers in that city are subject to more rigorous design review, and they are expected to meet greater architectural standards as well as increased open space and LEED requirements.

Similarly, heights in Seattle’s central downtown core have been lifted. However, the adjacent Denny Triangle, often considered a “secondary” office core, has height limits of only 500’. Perhaps there was an assumption that those million-square-foot tenants (of which there are very few) would likely go in a single tall (or is that double-tall?) tower in the central downtown core.  Such is not the case for the Amazon proposal, where the preferred location of its new towers is appropriately much closer to its new campus in South Lake Union.  Planners at the time likely did not conceive that there would someday be demand from a single user for 3 million square feet in a neighborhood that is largely known for vacant lots and  car dealerships. This, then, may be one of those instances where it makes much more sense to consider allowing buildings with a taller, leaner profile.  As Seattle gets denser, we will have precious fewer opportunities to for light, air, open space and the views that are cherished by so many. It would be prudent for Amazon and our city leaders to at least consider an option that allows for a taller tower configuration (much like the way the City already accommodated Vulcan and Amazon by raising height limits for several of its South Lake Union buildings). Rather than three or more towers of 500’ each,  a tower campus with a true variety of heights might achieve greater long-term benefits for our city.

Before the City accepts a proposal that could equate to the combined mass of three Russell Investments Centers (see above),  we should at least give Amazon and NBBJ the opportunity to consider narrower, taller buildings for its new tower campus.  The current density would not have to be increased, however allowing flexibility for taller and narrower buildings could bring more open space and provide other public benefits to our “new” downtown.

According to the city of Seattle, a public meeting will be held Tuesday, March 13 at 6:00-7:30 p.m. at Seattle Municipal Tower, Room 4050 to identify concerns about the site and to receive public input into establishing priorities for public benefits which may include low income housing, townhouse development, historic preservation, public open space, implementation of adopted neighborhood plans, improvements to pedestrian circulation, urban form, transit facilities and, or other elements that further an adopted city policy and provide a demonstrable public benefit.

A copy of the proposal materials are available at the DPD Public Resource Center, 700 5th Avenue,  Suite 2000. The center is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. The telephone number is (206) 684-8467.