April 19, 2001

Private projects become urban environments

Murase Associates

North Garden, 505 Union Station
North Garden, 505 Union Station

The Puget Sound region may be riding a new wave of design awareness. Requirements for open space and bonus points for artwork, landscape and other public amenities, are causing developers to realize the value of these improvements, not just for leasing, but for keeping tenants as well.

Murase Associates has long been involved with crafting detailed urban environments in public projects and public-private partnerships. The interior atrium courtyard at Pier 69, completed in 1993, serves as a quiet arcade, replete with the sound of water flowing over stone in the cathedral-like space.

The Garden of Remembrance at Benaroya Hall, which opened in 1998, has become a destination spot at the head of the primary city hillclimb linking the waterfront to downtown via the Harbor Steps, the Seattle Art Museum and Benaroya Hall.

The success of these three blocks is the result of sound city planning and a sophisticated private and public developer climate. The city articulated clear incentives for hillclimb improvements, and developers imagined the possibilities of good location and judicious design.

Harbor Steps, Seattle Art Museum and the Symphony all benefit from their arrangement along the hill, and the quality of the built environment.

Interest in rich pedestrian environments is spreading to the private sector. Murase Associates has been working with several of the parties involved in the Union Station development since 1997.

Entry garden at Opus Center
Entry garden at Opus Center

Working with NBBJ Architects to refine the site plan, the team realized that a careful study of layout would be key to getting pedestrians through the seven-acre site, built on a structural platform over and around the Metro International District Station. The resulting plan, which deviates from standard leasing assumptions, orients building entries off the central pedestrian spine and anticipates pedestrian flows from the new Weller Street Bridge, the reopened Union Station, the Metro Station and the International District.

Key to the success of this pedestrian strategy was making the site design an integrated, cohesive space even though the building sites were independently developed and there were separate design teams for each project. The overall design guidelines for the project identified common elements to lend consistency, such as paving and wall types. There are also distinct elements — entries, features, plantings — to increase interest and diversity of the development.

This strategy permitted designs to be tailored to the individual projects, while keeping in mind the overall approach. Working with a common palette of materials — charcoal granite, basalt, precast pavers and pan-Asian plantings — individual gardens were developed to lend identity to areas of the site.

The North Garden at 505 Union Station, inspired by the owner’s request for a Zen garden, is a small contemplative space that includes a raked gravel field, rough granite planks and a simple stone water font. The major entry plaza, a close collaboration with sculptor John Hoge, includes three clusters of finished basalt columns with two associated water features.

Hoge’s pieces were connected to the site by using the same stone for the walls and pavement in the both the Weller Street entry plaza and at the entry to Opus South, opening this month.

Murase also worked with Hoge to develop the organic form of the water features at 505 Union Station. For Opus Center, they worked with a separate team of architects from NBBJ to design a minimalist pair of reflecting pools at the entry to Opus East and West.

The time and effort spent anticipating pedestrian patterns has paid off for the development. The entire site, transformed within weeks of opening by the legions of building occupants, is further animated by visitors lingering. A sunny morning finds all corners of the site occupied.

This design approach is being used for other projects in the area.

In Bellevue, the city’s administrative design review process supports public amenities including art installations, public pedestrian ways, landscape features and water features. The challenge is to make them contribute to the larger pedestrian arena. The close interaction between the developer, architect and landscape architect is key to realizing the full potential these projects offer.

At Civica Office Commons, developed by Schnitzer Northwest and designed by LMN Architects and Murase Associates, the developer team realized the required open space set asides could become a significant asset to the building development. The project, just completed, includes an entry plaza generously finished with stone walls and a rich tapestry of plantings.

The treatment goes beyond street appeal, with the landscape concept extending through the building. The “Great Room” includes a stone water table and major fireplace to the Western outdoor terrace, where building patrons can relax in the afternoon sun next to the water feature.

Currently, our firm is working closely with NBBJ Architects for Spieker Properties for the Northeast Eighth Street Tower in Bellevue. As the project goes through the design review process, the developer/design team continues to focus on making the pedestrian space all it can be, for all the right reasons.

Karen Kiest is a principal in the Seattle office of Murase Associates.

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