When the Seattle Design Commission gave its qualified approval last year to The Whittaker, West Seattle’s biggest development project ever (4755 Fauntleroy Way SW), they told the project team they’d have to come back when certain aspects of the project finished taking shape.
That return visit happened on Thursday, and revealed more details of the art and landscaping that will surround the building. We’ve since obtained the full slide deck shown at the meeting (see above), which resulted in some suggestions by the commission, whose role in the project is related to the fact it required an alley vacation (subsequently approved by the City Council this past April).
The design was described as being at 100 percent of what was necessary for construction to get under way (demolition followed by site clearing, so far), so commissioners acknowledged their comments were maybe a bit moot – later refuted – but they offered suggestions nonetheless, after the project team presentation, led by Andy Rasmussen from the landscape-architecture firm Weisman Design Group:
*The upgraded crosswalk between The Whittaker’s site and Spruce (the former “Hole,” an almost-complete mixed-use project) across the street, with pedestrian pushbuttons and ramps on both sides, is in the works.
*The project will have art at all four corners – its artist, Troy Pillow, was present to discuss it; he is a West Seattle resident with a studio in the International District; he reiterated the art’s theme, as discussed in previous meetings, “The Water’s Edge,” with materials including weathered steel (corten), beach stones, driftwood, glass – no sharp edges, very “approachable” for the public, “meant to be explored.” The artwork at Fauntleroy/Alaska will be lit by LEDs.
Pillow spoke of “gateway piers meant to be reminiscent of piers coming out of the Duwamish Waterway,” featuring all the elements of which he spoke, 4′ to 8′ high, in the front plaza along with a water feature. “They’ll be part of the pedestrian experience.” The 40th SW side will have “artwork down the entire street,” per Rasmussen along with “lush” streetscape featuring trees. The art here will be inspired by ferry-dock pilings and beach grass, in a 120-foot-long sculpture; the columns will tilt at different angles for a “wave pattern.” A “modular system” green wall running the length of the Masonic Hall will be a feature of the mid-block connector going through the property from Fauntleroy to 40th SW; Rasmussen said the “modular” system is meant to avoid some of the problems that have kept other “green wall” projects from being successful – any plant that isn’t working can be removed/replaced.
Along Fauntleroy, where smaller businesses are envisioned, 4-and-a-half-foot artwork inspired by “stacked stones” at the beach will be featured, “very smooth around the edges, invites kids to play,” Pillow explained.
On the south side along Edmunds, some green wall is planned, with a corner plaza space and sculptures “inspired by the Olympic Mountains, two freestanding sculptures comprised of stacked logs and steel, in the shape of the silhouette of the mountains,” explained Pillow.
*Setting the building back six feet on Fauntleroy is enabling a bike lane and other “complete street” features
*Undergrounding the power for the building is instead becoming “running the power through the buildings” including vaults
*Design evolution on the facade – the “brick mass” across the entrance to Whole Foods has extended westward; the residential levels above it are stepped back a bit
*The plaza space at the Alaska/Fauntleroy corner (below) has features that will make it feel larger
PUBLIC COMMENT: Deb Barker – who has been commenting on this project for years, as she told the board – asked first how many people on the board had seen the project before; a few hands went up. She started with what she considered is “good” about the project – that the project team had done a good job along 40th Avenue SW, as well as the southern building “and its relationship to Fauntleroy.” The vaults inside the building sounded like a good idea to her, as well. What she found disappointing was the size of the gateway plaza “in front of a 7-story building, in front of a ‘tower’ that is essentially an elevator shaft … and the lights to that elevator lobby is what you’ll see at the gateway to West Seattle … essentially a slap in the face to West Seattle.” (A project-team rep said later that you won’t see the elevator doors, and that they are looking at “art options” to enhance the “gateway” view as people approach it.)
She expressed continuing concern about the trucks and pedestrians sharing the midblock connector through the building, and the below-grade entrance to Whole Foods, where it’s “been since Day 1. … Disappointing to see a brand-new building with an entrance to its key tenant below-grade.” (Rasmussen clarified that the east entrance to WF is at grade, while the stepdown entrance is further west.)
COMMISSION QUESTIONS: They were interested in details of the art composition and its placement, how the locations were chosen. “Kind of a natural selection to see where the plazas were and where the setbacks are,” replied Pillow. Rasmussen spoke of wanting to have “wayfinding elements at each corner.” He also spoke of public comments favoring “unique yet connected” spaces. The “planting palette” for the green-wall sections was also a topic of discussion – just developed in the past two weeks, and still undergoing “testing,” according to Rasmussen – as was the raingarden planned on the site. Commissioner Bernie Alonzo thought the green wall on the south side (hiding the Masonic Hall), with its composition, could be considered an art piece all its own.
They also are landscaping along the east side of 40th, past the Masonic Hall (which is not part of the project, but is getting its parking lot regraded and improved as part of the project).
“The art is just there,” commented the commission’s chair Osama Quotah, saying he wished there had been more of a dialogue about the art “informing” its location. He agreed that the gateway plaza seemed a bit small, and could suffer from “crowding” of its elements. Another commissioner said he didn’t feel the plaza would offer enough of a “gathering opportunity,” and wondered if the art elements could be brought closer to the water feature. A bench shown in the middle of the plaza space was singled out – whether it could be removed to add some space.
Summarizing the commission’s comments for the project team, they recommend final approval with:
*”We’ve reviewed the public benefit elements and agree they’re likely to be successful.”
*Regarding the gateway plaza, concerns about too many elements, and that they might consider removing the bench on the Fauntleroy Way side to create better passage through the gateway area or at least revisit its placement
*Regarding the green wall, it’s recommended they continue their plant experiments and make a decision in the fall about final plant choice, being mindful of what’s chosen, but removing the vines that are part of the rendering – “think of the planting of the green wall compositionally rather than just as blocks
*Appreciation was expressed for the design team balancing all the input they received from many sources
A project team member told the commission that they do actually have some room for tweaks, so they will take the commission’s input seriously and see what can be done. The project -for which ground was ceremonially broken last month, after the site was cleared – is expected to be under construction for the next two years.