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October 31, 2013

A&E 2013 Surveys: Hewitt

Rendering courtesy of Hewitt [enlarge]
Hewitt designed a unique venue space on the ground floor of the Dimension by Alta apartment in Belltown.

Specialty: Architecture, landscape architecture, urban design

Management: David Hewitt, founding principal

Founded: 1975

Headquarters: Seattle

2013 revenue: $5 million

Projected 2014 revenue: $6 million

Projects: Architect and landscape architect for Wood Partners’ 298-unit Belltown apartment called Dimension by Alta; Rainier and Mercer Island stations of Sound Transit’s East Link Extension light-rail system; landscape architect on the James Court Park and Woonerf for the city of Seattle

Hewitt’s founding principal, David Hewitt, answered questions from the DJC about his firm and the market. Here is what he said:

Q: What are the biggest trends in your industry locally?

A: With more people living and working in the urban core, high-density housing is flourishing in Seattle. Sound Transit’s light-rail system expansion, the streetcar and bus rapid transit are working together to link urban centers. With the Puget Sound’s focus on expansion, our public transportation is helping to spur this housing development and positive environmental benefits. It’s an exciting time.

Q: Where will growth come from in the next few years for your firm?

A: With such an increase in city living for people of all ages, from millennials to empty-nesters, the housing market will continue to be a growing market for this firm and for the local industry. The increased density also spurs the development of civic investment, such as Bell Street Park where we are reclaiming a four-block stretch in the public right of way to provide more green space for the Belltown neighborhood.

Q: Any ideas how Seattle can create more affordable housing?

A: With more housing coming on the market, the choices for housing in all categories are increased. By simply creating more housing and increasing the inventory of the rental market you increase the options available.

Another tool yet to be fully developed is incentives for developers such as additional height and entitlement benefits. By gaining an additional floor on 515 Harvard Avenue East, a mixed-use project by landowner Greg Stein and developer Maria Barrientos in Seattle, we were able to provide affordable housing units.

Q: Your firm works on a mix of projects. How important is that?

A: Having a mix of project types, high-density housing, transit and other institutional work has benefited our office by making us better prepared to weather market fluctuations so we can move on to other areas when one begins to soften. By having the flexibility in the changing economic cycles we add an interesting intellectual mix in the office that stimulates discussion about our perception of the city. This improves the quality of our work.

Q: How is modular housing affecting architecture, landscape architecture and urban design?

A: Modular housing is being built and will continue to be, and the architecture of these projects will continue to get better and better. The architectural quality of the projects will vary as with any other method. It will be a reflection of those creating the work.

Landscape architecture and urban design will complement the work as it does with traditionally built projects. However, there is an opportunity to build a certain type of housing effectively. Maybe it is an answer to affordable housing.

Site development can enhance the project in light of a simpler architectural expression and shift attention to how the landscape works for both the residents and community.

Q: What are clients asking for now versus five or 10 years ago?

A: Speed. Projects are expected to move remarkably fast and architects are using technical tools to keep up. On the other hand, the entitlement process is getting longer, so that slows projects down.

The housing market is getting more sophisticated. Apartment and high-density living is about the quality of life and the opportunities offered. There is a growing perception that you can’t just build a building and leave and it will be successful. On Dimension by Alta at Third Avenue and Cedar Street in Belltown, we have created a one-of-kind venue space on the ground floor in lieu of more traditional retail. We feel this makes a more meaningful contribution to the entire community and highlights our client’s vision.

Another change is that projects are being financed by entities not located within this region and there is less awareness of the value structure of this community. With more money coming from disparate sources, it’s our new responsibility to build an appreciation for the local context.

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