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February 9, 2023

A vertical convention center stacks up in Seattle

Special to the Journal

Photo copyright Cory Parris Photography [enlarge]
Radiant floors extend into the wooden hillclimb seating stairs.

Located at the crossroads between several of the city’s most iconic neighborhoods, the Seattle Convention Center Summit building represents a transformative opportunity for revitalizing and reconnecting Seattle’s vibrant downtown core. Acting as a catalyst for improvements to the local community, the new convention center building aims to provide a rich urban experience, unique to Seattle, for both visitors and residents.


The project represents a significant shift in the events industry model. The vertical organization of the building’s program — the first high-rise convention center in North America — combined with a variety of highly flexible event spaces provides maximum efficiency and flexibility for an array of different uses, from single large shows to a variety of concurrent visitor and community events.

This unique vertical stack design presents several advantages. Its compact footprint integrates into the heart of the urban core, allowing easy pedestrian connections to nearby hotels, restaurants, shopping areas, and cultural attractions. The optimization of the limited site footprint provides a more compact and efficient plan layout, substantially reducing the distances between different parts of the building and allowing the new building to offer distinct ways to organize and perform events, large and small. The location and arrangement also reduces the need for parking due to the existing and future transit connections to the surrounding community.

Photo by Adam Hunter/LMN [enlarge]
Every event space incorporates natural daylight through expansive windows.

The convention center’s program is distributed across six levels of event spaces, including two exhibit halls stacked one above and one below-grade. Multiple at-grade entries connect to a registration level between the two exhibit halls. Above are two meeting room levels and an industry leading 58,000-square-foot ballroom. Every event space incorporates natural daylight and the six levels are connected vertically through two large atria. Visual connectivity between event floors and individual areas of the building helps orient attendees as they navigate the various levels through dramatic vertical spaces.

Large expanses of glazed walls around the building’s perimeter contribute to an abundance of natural light inside. This increased transparency promotes a synergistic connection between the building and the city. The action inside the venue gets showcased to the city, while the energy and activities happening on the city streets and nearby buildings become part of how visitors experience the events inside. A garden terrace brings visitors outdoors to further this connection. When viewed together, all of these elements improve comfort and provide a sense of well-being for conference-goers.


The vertical stack configuration also created some challenges for the design team. There was a three-dimensional puzzle to solve as the egress stairs zig-zag back and forth as they transition down from one horizontal slice of the building into the next. Routing all the air conditioning, power and water from a central location would have been inefficient and impractical, so building systems and equipment needed to be distributed throughout the building — in mezzanines, corners and niches at all levels. On top of these normal building systems, massive bespoke smoke control systems serve much of the building spaces, to ensure safe occupant egress in case of a fire.

All of these have been integrated behind the scenes, ensuring a visitor might never guess the complexity of the spaces, structure, and systems that allow these large volumes to stack and connect so seamlessly.

The atria also presented unique design challenges. Large glass facades can create thermal comfort issues in both sunny and cold conditions, so the design team applied advanced analysis tools to model airflow in the atria, eliminating stagnant air and hot zones or cold downdrafts. Air supply is carefully integrated and hidden at the edges of the mezzanine levels and above the unique hanging wood ceilings at the top of the hillclimb. The radiant floors that provide a first stage of heating and cooling to all the prefunction and lobby areas even extend into the wooden hillclimb seating stairs.

The demand for increased density and tall, more efficient buildings is making a mark on urban centers around the world. With its striking architecture and multiple levels, the Seattle Convention Center Summit building offers a sense of excitement and innovation that enlivens Seattle’s skyline. The venue is designed to be a contemporary emblem for the future of urban meetings and events, contemplating how people interact in today’s world and creating a space where people can experience the culture of Seattle’s distinctive urban core.

Anne Marie Moellenberndt, an associate principal and mechanical group leader of Arup’s Seattle office, has over 20 years of experience as a mechanical engineer and project leader. LMN principal architect Leonardo Da Costa has 21 years of design experience, with over 15 years of focus on convention center projects.

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