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October 4, 2000

Project of the Month: Fun follows function

  • A new child-care facility transforms a small warehouse into a beacon of color and visual play.
    Special to the Journal

    Light floods from above into spacious rooms and alcoves. Cascading chords of soft music drift down to quiet groups. It might be a church, but the occupants are asleep on their mats on the floor, and the colors are preschool primary.

    Photos by Steve Keating Photography and by Environmental Works staff
    The full height of the original structure is seen in circulation areas.
    Inside the toddler area at the child care center.

    It's the Cascade Children's Corner, and it's filled nearly to capacity after one year at its new location, just two blocks from The Seattle Times, where many of the children's parents work.

    Tucked into the shell of an old warehouse, the new child-care center is a sign that the neighborhood is on its way back from isolation and neglect. It reaches out with bright and friendly optimism to the industrial neighborhood. A model urban infill project, three out of four of the original brick walls remain, turning a dignified face to the street edge. But the fourth wall was removed to give way to a new order, a complete remodel based on a bold diagonal plan and multi-level design. With an explosion of colorful new walls and windows worthy of a child's imagination, the south side of the building steps out in stages onto a small play area.

    The facility is the third one designed for Cascade Children's Corner by a team led by architect Jan Gleason, who is now executive director of Environmental Works.

    The fan-shaped configuration of the inside walls works in dynamic tension against the well-preserved timber beams and planking of the original ceiling and the remaining brick outer walls. Breaking the existing box raised exciting possibilities, and accepting the bold plan was not a problem.

    "It sold itself immediately," said Laura Boyd, human resources director for the Times. "Everybody loved it."

    Project of the Month

    Cascade Children's Corner, 214 Minor Ave. N.

    The Seattle Times Co.

    Project type:
    Remodel, child-care facility

    Environmental Works, Jan Gleason, principal-in-charge, Sally Knodell, project architect

    Completion date:
    May 1999

    Structural engineer:
    Swenson Say Faget

    Mechanical engineer:
    Sider & Byers Associates

    Electrical engineer:
    Atkinson & Associates

    Civil engineer and landscape designer:
    Robert Foley Associates

    General contractor:
    R. Miller Commercial Contractors

    Jury comments: "Great use of an existing structure for a creative yet inexpensive child care facility. Shows good in-city solutions to space needs, despite stringent requirements for child care centers."

    "We wanted to get away from a boxy building," said Lila Owes, who moved Cascade Children's Corner from a nearby location where she was also director. The warehouse was somewhat small, but it was close to parents at the Times and was already owned by the company.

    Since the east wall presented the most obvious opportunity for expanding the footprint of the facility, catching sun from the south meant rotating the direction of the walls. The radiating pattern became a natural for organizing large-to-small areas, explained architect Sally Knodell.

    From the northeast corner of the building, the outer perimeter turns inward toward the southern wall. The interior partitions radiate from the northeast corner to meet the curving south wall. Entry and interior circulation areas were consolidated in the northwest corner of the building, which still bears a resemblance to the historic warehouse. The brick west wall along Minor Avenue has been opened up with one large window. Around the corner, the south wall is more playful, with a few more windows accented with bright paint. The east side of the building is a riot of color and detail, with the roof lifting above the original height at the rear to admit still more light. Accented with seismic cross bracing, the colorful open stair tower leads out from confines of the original structure. A bridge crosses to the second floor, where preschoolers sometimes emerge to come down to the play area.

    The interior views reward exploration and make for every day excitement in the child-care facility. There are many opportunities within the age-segregated spaces and in the circulation areas for children and adults to look up and look down.

    The facility faces the sidewalk with the brick wall of the original building.
    The southeast face of Cascade Children's Corner plays with color and form.
    Throughout the facility, a number of design strategies create visual links between areas reserved for different age groups. Infants learn where there is an open door for them to clearly see into the toddler area. A bridge over the infant and toddler areas allows preschoolers, who occupy the second level, to see their younger friends and siblings below. It also provides a vantage point for parents to unobtrusively observe their young children. Beyond the two classroom areas on the top level of the building, a shared multi-purpose room designed for a variety of group activities captures an extra measure of light and outdoor views. The bridge to the stair tower provides still more vantage points.

    Colors are used to great advantage throughout the facility. Bright yellow around the high, south facing windows extends and reflects the ample natural light, even on gray days. Even the heating, ventilating and air conditioning system plays a part in the scheme. Large red vents snake down from the ceiling, which has been opened in several locations for skylights.

    "There's so much natural light in here," said Owes. "Anyone who is sensitive to design instantly loves the place."

    To complete the project, designers and clients had to wade through a thicket of state regulations for child-care facilities and some restrictive building code provisions.

    Photo by Clair Enlow
    (From left to right) Jan Gleason, executive director of Environmental Works: Lila Owes, director of the Cascades Children's Corner; Sally Knodell, project architect; and Laura Boyd, human resources director for The Seattle Times.

    Platforms and sunken areas add excitement and opportunities for interaction between children and caregivers, but general-access regulations make them nearly impossible to include in the design. Prohibitions against transparency in the walls of child-care facilities constrain views to the outside. But regulations did not dictate the contours of the plan, and state employees charged with evaluating child-per-square-foot ratio compliance requirements faced the difficult task of measuring floor areas in a facility where there were few rectilinear spaces.

    The surrounding streets had already lost their industrial lease on life before Interstate 5 cut off the neighborhood from Capitol Hill. A hodgepodge of mills, small houses, laundries and parking lots, it was a forgotten pocket for many years. The newly developed Cascade neighborhood mixed-use zoning code stipulated that the facility build out to the alley, thereby precluding any play space on the east side. But owners and architect won concessions, and the project took shape. The permanent parking lot to the south guarantees continuing visibility.

    Somewhere between stage and sanctuary, classroom and clubhouse, Cascade Children's Corner has taken its place as part of an awakening urban neighborhood.

    The Project of the Month feature is sponsored by the Daily Journal of Commerce and the Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Architects. Design categories include all types of construction, with the exception of single-family houses. Projects are selected by a panel that includes distinguished architects, other members of the arts and design communities and representatives of client groups.

    The Project of the Month for October, the Cascade Children's Corner, was selected with the assistance of architect Ron van der Veen, architect David Coleman, and developer Dayna Dealy.

    For more information about submitting projects for possible feature articles, contact Peter Sackett at AIA Seattle, (206) 448-4938, or psackett@aiaseattle.org.


    Clair Enlow can be reached by e-mail at clair@clairenlow.com.

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