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September 27, 2018
In modern-day cities, streets and alleys, which are generally the purview of automobiles, make up the largest portion of public property, comprising a quarter to a third of the total land area. As our cities continue to densify and green space disappears, many planners are asking if it isn’t time to start applying the right size and right values to our roads.
Whether referred to as woonerfs, festival streets, home zones or some other name, shared streets are quickly becoming a popular strategy for reclaiming the street right of way by signaling that cars are the guests, and that the street is truly designed for people. In Seattle, it’s rare to see a woonerf built into private development because it requires the developer to own both sides of the street.
However, the Arbor Blocks, soon to house Facebook, provided Vulcan Real Estate with just such an opportunity. Made up of two city half-blocks that face each other on Eighth Avenue North, the project gave Vulcan the unique ability to create an outdoor living room right in the middle of the booming South Lake Union neighborhood and in doing so, prioritize the street for people first.
Targeting LEED gold, the two buildings at Arbor Blocks will each contain approximately 200,000 square feet with six stories of commercial office space, four stories of underground parking and a combined total of 4,100 square feet of retail space at the ground floor.
Vulcan worked with Graphite Design Group and Hewitt, as well as general contractor Lease Crutcher Lewis, to incorporate sustainability features throughout the project. As the team initially began planning the site, it discovered that the property was framed by a mature canopy of sweet gum trees that created the perfect opportunity to not only provide the site with additional greenery, but to also emphasize the naturally formed public space between the Arbor Blocks buildings.
Through a public-private partnership with the city of Seattle, the section of Eighth Avenue North between the two Arbor Blocks buildings is being developed into a pedestrian-friendly one-block woonerf, which will connect to Thomas and Harrison streets. Bikes and vehicles will still be able to access the road between the two buildings, but the design of the meandering pathway for the narrowed street, the absence of curbs, the specialty paving pattern and the incorporation of numerous vegetated, seating and walking surfaces will discourage its use as a through street for automobiles.
In addition to minimizing the roadway width to prioritize pedestrian and bike use, a primary hardscape plaza takes advantage of southwest sunny exposure to create an open area filled with sculptural seating beneath the preserved sweet gum trees where employees and passers-by can bask in the sun. A secondary plaza, in the form of a deck surrounded by lush vegetation, sits farther north in shady contrast.
The Eighth Avenue woonerf will also feature approximately a dozen planting areas ranging from 100 to 2,000 square feet. Coupled with the buildings’ green roofs, these planting areas represent a sizable increase in urban habitat and natural public space. In addition, porous pavement is used to filter stormwater.
The western building has cascading bioretention cells along its north and south frontages, while the eastern building opens pocket seating areas. Both buildings have lower level and roof level terraces designed to balance lush plantings with a highly functional outdoor workspace, so Facebook employees will be able to work from virtually anywhere in their new South Lake Union buildings.
Tenant amenities will include a cafeteria, fitness center and showers, and bike lockers to accommodate various commuter needs.
Arbor Blocks is yet another Vulcan project to qualify for Salmon Safe certification. To be certified, Salmon Safe projects must adhere to strict development principles such as protecting habitat and water quality during construction, incorporating strategies that treat and disperse stormwater on-site, providing ecologically functioning habitat, and a commitment to water conservation methods.
Through its incorporation of green roofs, bioretention planters and water-efficient irrigation, the design of Arbor Blocks effectively encourages low-impact practices that go beyond environmental regulations. In fact, Facebook’s new campus will be home to the world’s first Salmon Safe-certified woonerf.
Construction of both buildings is slated for completion in early 2019.
The benefits of sustainably designed projects extend beyond reduced material use or energy consumption. Employee retention and recruitment are boosted by green practices as well. Not only do highly recruited employees expect employers to be environmentally conscious, they want work spaces that foster a strong culture of purpose and amenities that enable flexibility and creativity.
Investments into the city’s public space and preservation of the environment will benefit Seattle for generations to come. When developers, and their clients, see the benefits of incorporating environmentally sound practices and features into their projects, the results leave lasting impressions on employees and the communities in which they live, work and thrive.
Lori Mason Curran, LEED AP, is real estate investment strategy director at Vulcan Real Estate.