Details: Why Conner’s Junction megaproject gets another review

Last night, we published a short summary right after the design-review meeting about the Conner Homes megaproject in The Junction; now, here are full details on what was seen and said, and what happens next:

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The crowd reaction was a bit reminiscent of an evangelistic church service when Rene Commons (above) stood before the Southwest Design Review Board last night to show those photos she’s shown holding. Many people in the 50-or-so-member crowd murmured and mumbled “uh-huhs,” maybe just short of an “A-men.”

Her point was that the Conner Homes two-building, 7-story megaproject at California/Alaska/42nd needs architectural flair, given its prominent future position in the heart of the business district that is now branded as Downtown West Seattle.

And the desire to see more detail is part of why SWDRB members asked Conner and his development team, including architects from Weber Thompson, to come back for (at least) one more review.

(east building rendering – all project art courtesy Weber Thompson)
The project already has come before the board three times. Two of its members — chair David Foster and immediate past chair Deb Barker — were supposed to end their tenure after last night’s meeting, though Foster told WSB afterward that he is hopeful the city will let them hang on for the next and likely final review of the Conner development. “A project of this size, this important” merits another meeting to work out the details, he had said minutes earlier before the public session was adjourned.

Though this didn’t really factor into the outcome, the meeting was more rushed than most of this magnitude because of a clear error in booking — it was scheduled for a small room in the High Point Library, which ordered the group out by normal closing time at 8 pm — design-review meetings on major projects, with intense public interest, have been known to go as long as three hours, twice the time possible for this one. (The board has no regular meeting place; in our nearly two years of covering it closely, it’s bounced around from schools to community centers and even to a church meeting room. We followed up today with the project’s planner, Michael Dorcy, who says a DPD staff person makes the bookings but has had “tremendous difficulty” in finding appropriate places for the West Seattle meetings)

The meeting began with remarks from Conner Homes boss Charlie Conner, who made a plea on behalf of the “departure” his project needs approval for — in order to allow parking-garage access from 42nd, near the south end of the east building, instead of the alley entrance that the city would expect otherwise under current policies. He contended that if his project has to have its entrance on the alley, as does Harbor Properties‘ Mural to the south, “It would be very difficult for traffic to get in and out of there.”

He also confirmed that an agreement has been reached with concerned Junction-area parties to keep the alley between his two proposed buildings from closing for long stretches of time during construction – instead, it will be temporarily rerouted during parking-garage construction. (You’ll recall there was a petition drive at one point expressing concern about the alley situation; those involved with that tell us they are pleased with what’s been worked out.)

After Conner’s brief remarks, the project presentation was given by architect Peter Greaves of Weber Thompson.

In the interval since the most recent design-review meeting last year, we have shown many new renderings for the project, while covering Conner presentations to the Seattle Design Commission in order to obtain their signoff (granted last week, as reported here) for the alley vacation. Greaves recapped many of those points in last night’s presentation (most of the graphics shown last night are linked here).

In addition to the main points – 7-story buildings, in an area zoned as NC3-85 — he also discussed how the architects and developers had responded to guidance from the previous two meetings, including the masonry on the 4-story lower half of the westernmost building and the lower facade for its commercial spaces heading southbound on California:

He also discussed the “vertical modulation of the retail podium” along 42nd, and the “hollowed-out” corners for pedestrian use at California/Alaska and Alaska/42nd — those are not retail entryways.

(Though he also talked about the project’s interplay with Junction Plaza Park across the street, Junction Neighborhood Organization president Erica Karlovits noted in public comment that Conner Homes is no longer required to contribute to the park development as part of the “public benefit” in exchange for the alley vacation, and she says that’s a major disappointment.)

Other details recapped here – the “receiving” section of the eastbound building across the alley from the end of the passthrough on California, where you will find a “specimen tree,” and the planned apportionment of the retail spaces — although, Greaves emphasized, these spaces could be further subdivided, or combined, depending on who the tenants turn out to be, right now the west building (facing California and Alaska) includes four retail spaces, 1900 to 3200 square feet each; the east building (facing Alaska and 42nd) includes spaces varying from 750-square-foot live/work to a 1,500-sf corner space to 5,500 square feet where the building meets the alley along Alaska (current site of Rocksport). The retail spaces will have fairly high ceilings, “taller than you’d typically have,” said Greaves.

(rendering of the SW Alaska retail frontage)
That drew mixed reviews in the public comments, which we will summarize as thoroughly as possible at this point, because that’s where they began — again, they were shorter than they might have been, given the extreme time constraints of the mandatory 8 pm meeting end – after the first wave, chair Foster asked the next group to keep its comments to 30 seconds each (and most people did an admirable job doing exactly that).

“I’ve watched a lot of projects go up – I’ve seen good projects and bad ones. This is a good one. I’m sick of seeing projects get beat up so long that everything’s gone out of it. I don’t want to end up seeing West Seattle look like Lynnwood — I’d like to see small-scale retail like this one,” said John Comick of Vending Solutions, which runs its national business, with 22 employees, from a California SW office. “This is better than a whole lot of the other ones built up and down California Avenue – we like stores, restaurants, other things … as more and more of the core development goes where the Huling lots are, if we don’t get this type of stuff along California, we may lose some of what we like about California Avenue – it’s critical to see that something good goes there. A lot of people may think it’s great if it’s one story and stays that way. That’s not going to happen.”

Next comment: “I like everything about it except that it’s seven stories tall, and I’d like to see it six.”

Warren Jewell, a Junction businessperson: “I’ve seen a lot of businesses come and go on California, but one thing I haven’t seen is any change. The business owners haven’t been doing upgrades. A building like this will spur some much-needed improvement in the (buildings nearby). I think this is a win-win situation for the shoppers … the business owners … will bring in a lot more people.”

At that point, Foster reminded commenters that the board needed most to hear about the project’s design.

Next, Karlovits from JuNO, who in addition to expressing disappointment with the park getting left out of the public-benefit expectation, suggested that the retail spaces along California and Alaska should incorporate features like Talarico’s and Easy Street, with windows and doors that could open up and/or out in summertime. She also suggested the eastern building “doesn’t have enough of a Main Street feel … it seems like a vertical wall,” and she would like to see some “outdoor seating space.”

Nancy Driver from the nearby Fairmount Community Association (the area uphill immediately south of the Triangle): “I feel like some consideration’s been given, some things have changed, but my initial objections to the whole thing still stand … it’s too massive for that corner (California/Alaska). To me, it’s going to destroy the character of The Junction. And this is not going to attract me, I’m not going to want to go shop or do anything else there. If this is what The Junction is becoming, a bunch of behemoths, I’m not going to want to be in The Junction.”

That’s when Renee walked up and showed the board members the photo boards she’d brought – “So that we might have more harmony and continuity in the West Seattle Junction.” The examples included existing Junction buildings. “We have heritage (to celebrate) … trolley cars used to run through there … we’re missing character and continuity.” That drew applause.

Next, Kevin Wright with Hewitt Architects, which worked on two neighboring megaprojects, Mural and Leon Capelouto‘s Capco Plaza/Altamira Apartments to the north. His primary concern: The Conner proposal to bring traffic out onto 42nd could be a major conflict with the pedestrian touches they have created at Mural – which will start renting apartments soon — on the 42nd streetfront. “Our client has created a curb bulb at their part of the midblock connector. The juxtaposition between that parking exit and the midblock connector is a problem.”

Another commenter brought back concern about the mass of the buildings, particularly at California/Oregon, identifying himself as an architect and saying, “It’s not Weber Thompson’s fault, this is the city creating urban villages, potentially destroying the character of a village that already exists, to make it an urban village. But that said, I think these guys did a great job,” though he also suggested it had the traits of a “monolithic slab.”

“The attempt was to make something quiet,” responded Greaves.

“I guess, then, I like noisy!” was the reply.

Rob Coburn from Ama Ama Oyster Bar and Grill (WSB sponsor) said he supports having the Conner project’s entrance/exit on 42nd, because the alley is already insanely busy with delivery trucks for his restaurant/bar and other establishments, and he’s worried enough already about how the traffic for Mural will affect that. “It’s a nightmare waiting to happen already … These places are all set up to be delivered to the rear, not the front. We need those alleys to function.”

Another comment: “Architectural details are lacking … If you do nothing else, consider that the east building is the entrance to West Seattle as you come up Alaska … the park will be landscaped .. consider symmetrical tree plantings.”

Then, from architect Brandon Nicholson, currently on leave from the Design Review Board while working on a city contract: “As much as I was (previously) skeptical about the entry from 42nd, I think they made the right decision. The massing has come a long way since the earlier meetings. But what concerns me is that the building is responding to what’s adjacent now (with the 1- and 2-story facades) but should consider what’s coming in the future … the 1-story (along California) is too low, and should be two stories. Regarding the architectural detail, just brick is not enough … it needs more, and the back of the building needs pattern and interest.”

(“Thank you,” came a murmur from the back row.)

Another man: “if you can’t make it classic … I don’t care if the colors are horrible, as long as it looks beautiful. Please don’t make it a square box. Nothing in nature is a square box.”

Then a Harbor Properties representative, echoing their architect’s concern about the exit onto 42nd: “All you have to do is look across the street and see how brutal Jefferson Square is, especially if (any of these stores) goes big-box … I’m proud to say we leased all our space to local West Seattle retailers. I can tell you, 750 residents don’t produce a lot of traffic – it’s the retail that’s going to produce the traffic.”

Local resident Diane Vincent said she’s worried that the buildings look like a “sterile box” and supported Renee’s call for “more architectural detail.”

With that, the board started its deliberations with barely 20 minutes to go until the librarians – who already had issued warnings – would have to evict the group. Chair Foster opened by saying, “Even if we had an extra half-hour, a lot of the detail aspects, we haven’t seen, materials haven’t been proposed …”

Board member Joe Hurley, an architect, said he was glad the proposal responded to previous concerns voiced by the board “and the community. … (But) I feel they’re within a hair’s breadth of being on the other side, with the envelope packed as densely as I can imagine it and being worthy of approval by this board.”

Next, Christie Coxley, a landscape designer: “I like their thinking and the way they organized the spaces of the building, and I do think they responded fairly well.” She shared Karlovits’ disappointment in the decision not to “interact” with the park across the street: “They’ve blown that, frankly.” She concluded, “The devil is in the details and that’s where this project comes down to it for me – it’s a great foundation but it can go really far south if the details aren’t well thought out.”

Fill-in board member (and past board member) Vlad Oustimovitch noted the project “incorporates some really good elements” and also noted that the walkway alongside Mural was an element of what was supposed to be on the site back when it was going to be a monorail station, “so the pedestrian passthrough is a great thing for the community … I also think the fact the retail can all be relatively small is a positive thing – the Whole Foods (Fauntleroy Place) project suffered because it didn’t allow that to ever happen. Small retail is what The Junction is all about. One of the things the project does not incorporate – a sense of character at retail level. … I think the strength of the building is not there at retail level yet.”

Deb Barker, an urban planner, expressed appreciation for the thoughtful comments from both meeting attendees and fellow board members: “My basic issue is still the feeling of the massing at the corner of California and Alaska .. it still feels like too much,” particularly the 4-plus story height right at the corner. She also was not entirely sold on the hollowed-out corners, which she described as a “void.”

Finally, from Foster: “I generally feel the applicant has made a really great effort to address the earlier guidance. I do think there are some detail aspects of the building that need to be gone over before I would feel comfortable giving approval to move on. But I disagree about the four-story structure … I’m more concerned about what happens behind there.”

At that point, a detail discussion about articulation ensued, and some back and forth with Greaves regarding the building’s appearance, and eventually Foster said he believed another meeting was in order; his fellow board members agreed.

WHAT’S NEXT: DPD’s Dorcy tells us that a decision will likely be made next week, after consulting with Design Review program manager Vince Lyons, regarding whether the next review can be held on April 2nd, which otherwise would be a non-standard meeting date for West Seattle’s board — he says board members all agreed to volunteer their time for an additional night to make it happen if it gets approval. After that, if the design is approved, the project would move through the rest of the process; comments on any aspect of the proposal can be sent to Dorcy at any time — — you can find the rest of his contact information here.

27 Replies to "Details: Why Conner's Junction megaproject gets another review"

  • WSMom March 13, 2009 (2:48 pm)

    Thank you WSB for keeping us updated on this major project in our community. I wish we could see more of Renee’s photo board…from what I can make out from your photo, she has hit the nail on the head about what is bothering me about this project; the absence of architectural flair.

  • WSB March 13, 2009 (2:52 pm)

    I wanted to catch up with her afterward, so sorry about that – as everyone rushed to fold up the chairs, I looked around, and couldn’t find her, and the folks I asked didn’t know who she was. If she reads this – – would love to not only finish the name, but maybe even do a sidebar. That was a very thoughtful way to come to a meeting to offer comment. And props again to everybody who was there and/or has e-mailed, phoned, postal-mailed comments … we cajole a lot here about participation and want to honor it when it happens … TR

  • sam March 13, 2009 (3:06 pm)

    “JUNO president Erica Karlovits noted in public comment that Conner Homes is no longer required to contribute to the park development as part of the “public benefit” in exchange for the alley vacation, and she says that’s a major disappointment”

    if their alley vacation was approved by the Seattle Design Comm., what is the public benefit package ?
    I checked the March 5 WSB coverage, and it looks like it’s the plantings & bollards (in the alley), and carved out corners in the alley. that’s not really a public benefits package, that’s just plain part of the design of the development.

    I would be disappointed too.

  • Christopher Boffoli March 13, 2009 (3:31 pm)

    I’m a huge fan of Modernism but I have to admit that the box-on-box nature of the project in question is a bit disappointing. Then again, I’m not sure that I know quite what “architectural flair” really means. I expect it means different things depending on who you ask.
    Obviously elaborate Beaux-Arts ornamentation and Victorian stone gargoyles are not what people mean here. But I fear that people want some kind of Disney-esque recreation of some of the ornament in neighboring early 20th Century buildings just to somehow make something new blend in with old ideas about what West Seattle was. I’d rather see this building articulate the future of what West Seattle could be.
    There definitely is a disconnect in that you have people asking for a greater sense of art in the design at the same time that you have the developer articulating a desire to tread lightly on the design, perhaps because the sheer size of this project in relation to the existing cityscape seems so mismatched at this point.
    As the QFC project inches closer to completion I’m again reminded of how easy it is to, in the name of profit, build something bland that is just good enough but in design terms is totally outdated before it is even completed. In a way it is fitting that it sits across the street from Jefferson Square which is a monument to bad local architecture.
    There seem to be plenty of architects in Seattle who so successfully marry Modernism with rustic elements of the Pacific Northwest. But I have yet to see this scale up into buildings the size of what we are talking about here. Stunning, forward-thinking Modern design in buildings of this type is ubiquitous in places like Stockholm and Copenhagen. But for some reason Seattle can’t pull it off.

  • Melanier March 13, 2009 (4:16 pm)

    This is not a done deal and the overall effect is one of bland stacked boxes.

    When we did our Urban Village Plan…. like it or not “we the people of West Seattle” said we wanted height limits..6 stories and to keep our original flavor. Flat stacked boxes, walls of windows are not good design. Granted they are throwing us a few bones in landscaping etc. but in the end it is massive and out of scale.

    It will be the cornerstone of projects to come. Modern can and should be more creative than what this is. We do have a few skyscrapers downtown that have used older design principals in a modern way.

    I have heard the term soulless used and that is pretty right on. They want max for their money but in the end this is our neighborhood and we need to make sure that those that come to ‘upgrade” get that we care what they do. One has only to go to Freemont or Ballard and know that now is the time to stand up and speak.

    Creativity is lacking here. Demand it!

  • villagegreen March 13, 2009 (4:21 pm)

    CB – You’ve hit the nail on the head. I’d hate to see them incorporate some antiquated flourishes into the current design concept just to appease folks. A minimalist design definitely would be less of an eyesore than that PCC building they put up in Fremont – that place makes me nauseous whenever I see it.

    However, it does seem pathetic that Seattle can’t seem to get Modernist buildings right. Scandinavian countries seem to have no problem with it and you’d think Seattle being so Scandinavian would at least have some natural instincts.

    The epitome of bad Seattle design IMO is the old Seattle Art Museum. If you’re designing a building to house artwork and you can’t event get that right you’re in serious trouble. It says something that the only recently built structure downtown that isn’t an embarrasment is the new library – designed by a Dutchman.

  • Diane March 13, 2009 (4:39 pm)

    “I’m not sure that I know quite what “architectural flair” really means”
    this is what I loved about Renee’s visual aid presentation; comments are so subjective; she showed visual examples, and cited great design at Dakota (which I like a lot); excellent presentation done with requisite brevity
    I also wanted to connect with her after
    her photo boards were left in room; librarians were ready to toss; I grabbed them and offered to architects/developers; wish I had kept now
    so Tracy, maybe you can get Renee’s photo boards from them, to post on here and show rest of community
    I would really like to see more visual examples of what people think would enhance this site

  • JAB March 13, 2009 (5:08 pm)

    I would like to see the building stagger somewhat at the second story,set back from the ground level. Maybe a bistro with outdoor seating for the summer, it would be very cool to look out over “Downtown West Seattle” while having lunch. The second floor could be offices or boutiques,or heaven forbid stores where regular foks could shop for affordable clothing (hint hint WS):) we want more people to be able to shop in WS, so condensing the buisness/shopping area makes sense.

  • PSPS March 13, 2009 (5:10 pm)

    Any incorporation of “flair” will be merely lipstick on a pig. This design is so huge and out of scale that nothing will make it attractive short of knocking it down to two or three stories in height. My god! It’s a monstrosity!

  • Modernist Nulu March 13, 2009 (9:22 pm)

    Post-Modernism was an embarrassingly bad blip at the end of the century as SAM exemplifies. The new addition to SAM is beautiful clean Modernism.
    I argue that Seattle is blessed with talented Modernists.
    Just look to the majority of new libraries (other than our flagship), Federal Courthouse, City Hall, Saint Ignatius Chapel, a few condos, and other government & educational designs. Our regional Modernism is strong and healthy.
    But Conner’s project is neither.
    I don’t know who would even call it Modernist.
    The fenestration brings to mind the atrocity that the Rainier Brewery has become.

  • Alcina March 13, 2009 (9:40 pm)

    If you painted this building all gray, it wouldn’t look all that much different than many of the ugly utilitarian buildings one finds in Eastern European cities that were built during the Communist era.

    I totally get what people are saying when they say buildings need flair. All over Europe, architects appear to be able to design very interesting and appealing modern buildings of many different styles.

    I don’t really understand why that cannot happen here. Is it because we don’t have architects who have the skills do that? Is there something in the city’s rules that cause this not to happen? Is it because the developers just want to build whatever they can, per the city’s rules, for the least amount of investment possible? I can understand wanting to maximize profits and there is nothing inherently wrong with that, but it really seems to me that an interesting design would appeal to more people and actually result in bringing greater profits to the developer in the end.

  • 56bricks March 13, 2009 (10:32 pm)

    It’s incredible how Gatewood hill has been removed in the first rendition to show the appearance of water. Show me how to do that to my place!

  • me March 13, 2009 (11:25 pm)

    Utilizing architectural influences of the early to mid 1900’s is a great idea. Bauhaus would laugh this ugly box design away, it’s an awful attempt at design. Having the design fit within the community of thousands of homes built from the early to mid 1900’s makes more sense to blend it into the community than to throw some utilitarian Ford Econovan of a design on the corner.

    “I’d rather see this building articulate the future of what West Seattle could be.”
    Well, then I suggest they do just that and make it fit with the historical aspects of what has made West Seattle such a great place to live in, not what some L.A. transplant wants it to be.

  • Kayleigh March 14, 2009 (7:21 am)

    Some of you guys are hilarious. It’s West Seattle, not downtown Stockholm.
    It’s worth it just to read the pain expressed in the comments. Made my morning. :-)

  • Meghan March 14, 2009 (8:26 am)

    This comment thread so perfectly demonstrates why Seattle SO often ends up with watered-down, mediocre new buildings. A nationally respected, award winning firm (Weber Thompson) designs a thoughtful, site appropriate project for a prominent corner of West Seattle. They have carefully sited and designed the project to incorporate the number of units the project needs, lively retail spaces, a nice pedestrian walkway, and underground parking.

    Then people (many of whom don’t even know the correct architectural or historic terms for things and almost none of whom understand the economics of projects like this) start putting their “two cents worth” in with suggestions like “it needs more ‘architectural flair'” (God help us! What does that mean??) or “it needs better examples of modernism like in Europe”. And then of course, you have the oldsters who wish W. Seattle still looked like it did in 1950, so no new development is acceptable to them. And they disparagingly compare W. Seattle to Ballard, Redmond, or Bellevue (ironcially 3 communities that have been building mostly very smart, successful developments for many years now — but that’s in the 21st century, so these people wouldn’t know about that).

    Meanwhile, we have design review committees all over the city filled with genuinely good, well-intentioned, civic-minded volunteers. The only problem is that these merchants, accountants, bankers, teachers, housewives (e.g.) usually don’t have the credentials to be commenting on architecture. Because this “Seattle process” drags on for months (or even years), these projects get ‘watered down’ to the “lowest common denominator” (i.e. something everyone can finally agree on) rather than the architect’s vision. And then you end up with projects that nobody likes. I’ve seen this happen over and over. And it appears it will happen here again.

    Finally, you cannot fairly compare condo or apartment projects to libraries, courthouses, or other public buildings. The economics and requirements are completely different. It is much easier to bring dramatic architecture to public buildings than it is for large housing projects.

  • Andre March 14, 2009 (8:32 am)

    I think the main reason that we don’t see great design in new developments like this one is that the for the majority of the people in Seattle design is not a top priority. In places like Copenhagen and other major European cities great design is a top priority. It is a core part of their culture and something people deeply care about. If developers build something that his is not up to these high standards then people will not move in and the development will fail. In Seattle people will move in as long as the price is fine and the location is good; regardless of the design.

  • WSB March 14, 2009 (8:47 am)

    Meghan, are there really any Design Review Boards in Seattle filled with people from unrelated professions? I’ve been closely covering this one for almost two years and its members have consisted of architects, planners, landscape designers, to the point where almost every meeting, someone has to disclose they’ve worked with the applicant/s before. Have also covered the Seattle Design Commission and it’s full of folks in the related trades. Just took a quick look at the Design Review Boards’ home page
    and scanned the membership list of the very first non-WS one, Cap Hill
    also nothing but folks in the trades.
    Just a data point.

  • sam March 14, 2009 (11:08 am)

    WSB- I think you’re right..the board typically has members of the design community- then they also have an at-large member. Just because someone isn’t from a design profession, doesn’t mean they can’t comment on their environment for goodness sakes. Art museums don’t limit visitors to artists..

    also, award-winning Weber Thompson also has a share of bad reviews too- I mean, didn’t they sue/almost sue a reporter for the review of the building on Broadway/ Roy? which is a little crazy, since many of the points in that article were spot on.

    I agree with JAB’s point, they need to break down the scale of the big box above the first floor, and not just with a change in the material palette or sticking on a juliette balcony.

    BECAUSE it is such an important corner, they need to get this right.

  • Modernist Nulu March 14, 2009 (11:21 am)

    Maybe Meghan is affiliated with Weber Thompson.
    How else could she describe this as “a thoughtful, site appropriate project,” when it is already a “watered-down, mediocre new building?” And it is difficult to see any remnant of the “architect’s vision” in this project. Indeed Weber Thompson with 75 architects already appears to have designed this by committee.
    The “vision” is a rehashing of their “award winning” Eden Hill project, “Eden Hill received a commendation award in the Commercial category from the Masonry Institute of WA!” I hope they are not going for another brick layers’ award!
    Just go to Weber Thompson’s website to see how they are capable of much better mixed use work. Are their hands tied by the developer in this project?
    I agree, “you cannot fairly compare condo or apartment projects to libraries, courthouses, or other public buildings,” which I did not. But to claim that Seattle is lacking and inferior in Modernist design is not true, as my examples suggest.
    For those Europhiles, I liken it to foreign film vs Hollywood. The foreign films that get American distribution are the tip of the iceberg, the very best, while here we see everything including the good, the bad and the ugly. We go to Europe with guidebooks leading us to choice examples, while we judge our own in their totality, the ugly mass below the tip of the iceberg.

  • Modernist Nulu March 14, 2009 (11:28 am)

    I believe Weber Thompson’s power resulted in the loss of the P.I. critic’s job. It was criticism not reporting. Just go to Broadway and Roy and see for yourself how good that project is.

  • Sage March 14, 2009 (11:45 am)

    The at-large members of the Design Review Boards — supposedly representing the “community” — are exclusively members of design professions as well. (WSB’s links to bios show this.) And this is a big problem — every voice on every board in every community in the city is taken up by architects, developers, and the like. (What is the selection process? I’m sure some interested regular people must apply, but are apparently never chosen.)
    This leads to real conflicts of interest, and also perceptual blinders — standard architect/developer thinking about use of space and limitations and profitability becomes the only language and frame of reference. There’s a lot of great feedback offered at these Design Review meetings, but the system is broken and incestuous. Here’s to actual amateur *community* representation on these Boards!

  • WSB March 14, 2009 (11:51 am)

    Anyone interested in reviewing the evolution of this project over the 11 months it’s been in Design Review might be interested in the previous two reports:

    April 2008 (second half of the article)

    May 2008

    We also have reported on three Seattle Design Commission appearances for the project, though these were specifically about the “alley vacation,” which goes to SDC review as part of the process for topline city approval – these provided the first glimpses of some interim images, since the three meetings happened between the second DRB meeting and the one the other nite:

    November 2008

    January 2009

    March 2009

  • christopherboffoli March 14, 2009 (1:22 pm)

    Andre: One could hardly make a convincing case that design is not a top priority in the USA, a country that is arguably the most innovative in the world. North Americans are responsible for inventions like the airplane, telephone, personal computer (and the iPod), lightbulb, stealth fighter, artificial heart and polio vaccine, just to name a few among thousands. We also have some of the top architects and design schools in the world. In the realm of the arts, American designers and artists have defined the language of entire fields including publishing, advertising, motion pictures and television, modern dance, jazz, etc. In reality we’re a design powerhouse. I suppose that makes it all the more confusing that we have so much difficulty infusing beauty into our built environment. My guess is that it has more to do with economics and with tuning the cacophony of opinions of a nation founded by staunch individualists than with any inherent European superiority.

  • Diane March 14, 2009 (1:43 pm)

    Okay Meghan, you got me going; wow, could your comments possibly be any more patronizing, invalidating of other’s opinions?
    Fortunately our citizen comments are highly valued by the Design Review Board; several board members said during their deliberations that they really appreciate all the great comments, positive and negative, from the public; we are the people who live in the neighborhood and will be living, shopping, walking around and through, seeing every day for many years, the results of these designs; so why shouldn’t all community comments be valued, no matter how seemingly ridiculous, archaic, mundane, pedestrian, whatever non-architecturally trained criticism you want to attach, all voices are welcomed and important to be heard
    I would like to think the architect & developer would be thrilled at large attendance and listen to all comments, make adaptations that are not just economically feasible, but also appeal to the community; rather than having everyone hate it and receive horrible critiques after it’s built, when it’s too late to make changes; isn’t the architect’s reputation at stake based on the collaborative process and results? and the developer as well? if they cut corners now to make it work financially, and eliminate efforts to make this a truly beautiful project, will people want to live/shop there? how does that impact their reputation in the long run; most of us look at 60’s, 70’s designs with disgust; this design will be here and be appreciated or scoffed at for generations; I think it’s critical to make this the best it can possibly be
    If you read all prior comments, at least one (mine) raved about the visual aid provided by Renee, which many of us applaud, as examples of architectural flair; and I would love to see more visual examples of what people desire
    Also wondering if you attended this review; several public comments at the meeting described what they would like to see in more architectural details, even within severe time constraints of the library that limited time for discussion
    I’ve participated in all design reviews for this project, and their presentations at other venues; mostly with high attendance, which is great; this is the core of our neighborhood, perhaps most important project, so as DRB said, it’s critical they get this right
    Community involvement is to be encouraged; I welcome everyone’s “two cents worth”; those of us who show up at most community meetings have a hard enough time getting other folks to join in, without disparaging their worthy opinions
    I’ve also followed this project closely via all written reports; read every detail and comments of the many wsblog reports, which Tracy has done extensively; there has been a lot of great progress on this project; I have gotten over my initial shock at the massing; this is allowed by zoning, so of course the developer wants to make the most of it; please just make it adaptive to our neighborhood and beautiful
    Just because Weber Thompson is award winning and respected does not make their vision for this project more important that the visions of folks who live here; I’ve toured and attended events at their new office building several times; state of the art green building; but visually, it’s interesting, ok fit for SLU hood; it seems to me their usual extreme modernism will require significant revision to fit mixed used retail/housing and relating well with our gorgeous 100 yr old 1 story architecture in the junction
    There are many award winning/respected architectural firms in Seattle, many different potential visions; if only part of the process could be for the public to see renderings from various architects; it’s a dream
    re: “It is much easier to bring dramatic architecture to public buildings than it is for large housing projects.”; this comment just makes no sense to me at all, and I say, why not? whether it’s a pint sized house or HUGE public project, creativity is always possible
    the “Seattle process that drags on forever” drives me crazy too, but with our current economy and most projects stalled, right now it’s sort of a non-issue, and perfect timing to get it right
    btw, there is opportunity for non-architects on DRB; since attending most design review meetings in West Seattle this year, I’ve been asked by several board members if I want to be on the board; and yeh, it is a dream of mine; I started going as a learning tool, to understand more of how urban design happens, and I love it
    I will admit to being a bit intimidated by all the professional verbiage, and sometimes humored (i.e., “playful elements” referring a something as simple as adding a bright color)
    and there’s a learning curve; at my first DR meeting, I didn’t understand many of the terms used, so I was mostly lost; I asked the presenting architect afterward what “departure” means; I keep showing up, learning, understanding it better now
    Anyway, until we get more non-architects on the boards, public comment is even more crucial, and welcomed
    and must say, really enjoying all the comments on this post, including Meghan’s; community participation; yay!!!

  • Andre March 14, 2009 (5:53 pm)

    Christopher: I fully agree with what you said, but don’t see how it is relevant to the point I was making (“I think the main reason that we don’t see great design in new developments like this one is that the for the majority of the people in SEATTLE DESIGN is not a top priority”). I think the disconnect comes for 2 reasons . First, you applied my statement to the US where I specifically limited it to Seattle. Second, I feel that form and function are 2 distinct entities. For me design falls more under form where for you it seems to fall more under function. I think one sample where we both overlap is Apple (iPod+) — great industrial design. Though I might add that their chief designer is a Brit that went to a British school (ducking now…).

  • cy10 March 15, 2009 (7:15 am)

    Quote from Meghan: “they disparagingly compare W. Seattle to Ballard, Redmond and Bellevue”…places that “have been building mostly very smart, successful developments for years now.” WOW! Meghan, you’ve shown your true colors. Ballard and Bellevue are two of the worst examples you could have used!
    Just drive north into Ballard from 15th. That huge, faceless condo, at least 6 stories high, on the corner of Market and 15th.. THAT’S what Meghan thinks looks great! When I saw it, I couldn’t believe it.. it completely overwhelms the corner. It’s a huge, square box that completely changes the character of that corner for the worse.
    Also, take note of these phrases sprinkled in by Meghan: “thoughtful”… “carefully sited”…”lively retail spaces”…”a nice, pedestrian walkway.” Can you say PR FLAK anyone?? I think I read those phrases in a press release somewhere! It’s clear Meghan has an axe to grind. Meghan, I’d bet money you are both connected to Weber in some way AND that you don’t live in West Seattle. If you read the comments from people, this isn’t a knee jerk reaction that’s totally against change and progress. People love the character of our little neighborhood and we’re trying to preserve it, that’s all.

  • Susan March 21, 2009 (7:47 pm)

    Is there any retail/restaurant commitment to this project? Given the current economic climate, it gets harder every day to think that there are folks who want to invest in retail/housing/restaurants in new construction, when there are so many projects sprinkled about that are idle, or not selling.

Sorry, comment time is over.