Archive for April, 2008

A teacher and his development dreams

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

In Seattle, we have a lot of serious development players. We’ve got our own big guys and we’ve got the big guys who come here from all over. We’ve got billions of dollars that trade hands every month and cranes all over town.

Tom Flood on the site

It’s serious business. But we’ve still got our funky side too. We have our shadow development community. It’s small but it’s still here. And sometimes you get a glimpse of it.

Tom Flood is a teacher and sculptor who owns two funky falling-apart structures on the corner of 34th and Pike in the Madrona neighborhood. For years, he taught kids how to sculpt and weld and build Go-Karts at the building that used to say Madrona Auto in front.

He has plans to build seven super-sustainable live-work units on the site. They will all have green roofs with solar cells and natural ventilation. There will be a central courtyard and rainwater will be used in toilets and washing machines.

What Flood wants to build there
A “living fence” in front will let passersby watch graywater being treated as it passes through a transparent planter filled with soil and plants.

The project will cost about $3 million. Flood works as a part-time teacher and his wife, Diane, is a switchman for BNSF Railroad, but they joined forces with small developer Shilshole Development to make it happen.

In the end, the Floods and their kids plan to move into two of the units, gardening on the roof alongside their neighbors.

Flood knows it will be hard for Madrona to accept the loss of his iconic structures. But with a big central courtyard and tenants running small businesses at street level, he hopes to add to the pedestrian landscape. And he plans to salvage the old structures and keep their parts visible on the new.

The project is in design review. Construction will likely start early next year.

Read other bloggers weigh in on other developments planned along 34th in Madrona here and here.

Green design on a dime in Seattle??

Monday, April 28th, 2008

A house designed by two small Seattle firms will serve as a prototype for affordable green living in the Gulf Coast. And it might have a lesson or two for the Puget Sound.

Owen Richards Architects and HyBrid Architects found out Friday that their design was chosen from 182 entries in the 99K house competition sponsored by the Rice Design Alliance and AIA Houston.

Their entry, Core, is compact, adaptable and energy efficient, with geothermal heating and cooling, minimal material waste and a giant solar-powered fan.

All this for $99 K

The 1,200-square-foot house’s estimated total project cost is less than $99,000. The house will be built in June at a site donated by the city. It will then be auctioned off or sold to a lower income family.

Designers had to keep construction costs under $75,000. They designed the house on a four-foot module to reduce waste, with framing of exterior walls designed to link up at 24 inches, using fewer materials and fewer studs in the walls.

Recycled and sustainable materials were also worked in. The house has cement board siding, pine flooring and recycled concrete paving.

There were some things they couldn’t afford, like the green roof they wanted. Rainwater capture will irrigate the site but won’t run through toilets or the laundry.

Plans for geothermal system

The geothermal mechanical system cost a little more, but designers said it will pay for itself in energy saved in less than three years. It uses less than half the energy of a traditional HVAC system. Natural ventilation alone wasn’t an option for those sweltering Houston summers, but designers hope the solar-powered fan will be enough on some days.

The house also takes some green cred from its adaptability, with movable inside walls altering the house from one to four bedrooms or two duplex units instead. That decreases the chances of tear-down or a move when a family’s situation changes.

So why don’t we see many affordable green housing projects, in Seattle or elsewhere? Why is energy efficiency a prestige item? I know of some multi-family affordable projects in the area that are targeting lower energy use, but it sure seems slow to catch on. And it’s hardly cheap.

Of course, it’s impossible to build any house in Seattle for under 99 K. Labor is cheaper in Houston, land values are lower, and zoning and land use regulations are minimal. Wages and prices have a role in there as well. But it still stands to reason that we could be seeing super efficient design for the masses in Seattle.

Does it take a competition to get a house like this built here?

Safeco Field, we hardly knew ye

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

When I heard the news about octogenarian Seattle company Safeco being bought by Boston’s Liberty Mutual Group, I immediately thought of baseball.

Hit it here

I’ve already spent some serious time in Safeco Field biting my nails over pitching changes and yelling my heart out when the M’s are doing well. I also dropped a lot of peanut shells in the Kingdome, so it took me a while to get used to the new space and its new name.

We adapt, of course. I hardly ever expect to see Jay Buhner at a game anymore, and I no longer cheer when I hear an announcer say “A-Rod.”

The Times reported today that Safeco Field will keep its name for the foreseeable future.


Even if Liberty keeps the name Safeco here, I wonder what it will mean to have our relatively new stadium named after a bygone local company. Will it not even matter? Could it sting?

Stadium names take on a life of their own, and though those names are increasingly corporate, they start to channel the city’s character.

Wrigley Field does not make me think of bubble gum, it brings me to the edge of Lake Michigan and the smell of hot dogs. (Read about Wrigley’s own woes here.)

When I hear the words Safeco Field, I hear a long train whistle. I see Ichiro’s signature stance, the bike taxis lined up outside the stadium and the great view of our great city you can only get walking along Occidental at 10:45 p.m. after a Mariners game.

I feel the odd surge of pride I get when out-of-towners muse aloud about whose mascot that silly moose could be.

I hope those feelings stay the same.

Last day to comment on APA’s climate change guide

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

What role should climate change have in planning policy?

Did I do that?
More importantly, do you have a little time today or tomorrow to answer that question?

The American Planning Association‘s assembly is considering a new policy guide on planning and climate change. The guide makes recommendations for local, state, and federal policy changes required to deal with climate change.

Comments are due by Friday, April 25 by email to Click here for more information and click here to read the draft.

Phinney Ridge 92-year-old reflects on a lifetime of Seattle design

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008
Old downtown
Gray's Seattle
Architecture writer and editor Relta Gray was born in Mount Vernon and moved to Seattle in 1934 to attend UW.

She remembers taking the ferry from Madison Park to Kirkland for her first reporting job, and said the streetcars that criss-crossed the city cost a nickel each. Bellevue was a meadow, she said, while Kirkland was a vibrant little town.

Gray worked for Architecture West for about 20 years and led Relta Gray Associates for nearly 30 years. She also founded Environmental Design West and edited Northwest Architect.

I spoke to Relta about how today’s Seattle compares with that town of old and about her memories of earlier Seattle architects. Here’s a selection from our conversation.

Relta Gray
Relta Gray

Q. How has downtown changed?
A. To me, it seems like when I go downtown I begin to feel like I’m in New York or Chicago. I do like the energy of going downtown and feeling people around, but if feels like we’re taking away the whole character of the Northwest with the way they’re putting all these high-rises up and crowding it all together and taking down some of the little stores and things you always enjoyed.


Peter Steinbreuck, Kevin Daniels among 10 honored for historic preservation efforts

Monday, April 21st, 2008

The Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation just announced 10 winners of this year’s Awards for Outstanding Achievement in Historic Preservation.

Kevin Daniels

The awards, given by State Historic Preservation Officer Allyson Brooks, recognize people, organizations and projects of distinct

ion in Washington historic preservation.

Former City Council member and architect Peter Steinbrueck won a career achievement award, along with National Park Service Arc


Bob Mierendorf of Marblemount. Crosscut contributor and Mossback columnist Knute Berger won a media award for his coverage of historic preservation issues in Seattle.

Developer Kevin Daniels and King County Councilman Dow Constantine won a special achievement award for their work on preserving the First United Methodist Church alongside a planned highrise on the site.

The modernist architecture non-profit Docomomo WEWA (whose name is a shortening of its mission: Documentation and Conservation of the Modern Movement in Western Washington) won an education award for “raising awareness about the historical and design impacts of mid-twentieth century architecture in Washington.”

Learn more about award winners here. All will be honored at a ceremony May 13 at the Legislative building in Olympia.

Initial OK on capping I-5, nixing new Belltown parking and cutting car travel

Monday, April 21st, 2008

A plan to construct lids over Interstate-5 to connect long lost friends First Hill and Downtown. Another that prohibits new surface parking in Belltown. And a third that sets goals for reducing vehicle miles traveled.

These three are among more than a dozen proposed comprehensive plan amendments that made it through an initial vetting at City Hall last week. The Seattle City Council’s Planning Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee picked amendments for further consideration based on their legality and fit with the comp plan.

The comp plan sets future planning and zoning policy for the city. Other plans making it into the second round set the groundwork for rezones in South Lake Union, Ballard and SoDo.

Not making the cut was a plan to prohibit bike trails within 100 feet of a short-line railroad (read Burke-Gilman in Ballard), and a plan to set goals for solar power use within the city.

A plan to name a tree czar and preserve more of the city’s tree canopy was modified to setting future canopy goals and setting goals for no net loss of trees.

The amendments still have several hurdles to clear. The Department of Planning and Development and the Seattle Planning Commission will review them and make recommendations, and then council and the mayor will need to approve them. Many proposals that make it into the comp plan still need additional city approval.

Read all of the proposed amendments here, read initial recommendations from the planning commission here and read DPD’s initial recommendations here. What do you think? Let committee chairwoman Sally Clark know.

Should the Puget Sound secede?

Thursday, April 17th, 2008
Greg Nickels
Nickels wants a revolution
Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels kicked off a City Club forum today with what he said would be a “provocative” idea.

The Puget Sound region should “declare its independence” and form a more powerful regional government with more authority on decision-making and spending, he said.

“I would look to the Puget Sound Regional Council and I would put it on steroids,” Nickels said at the forum, which also featured Mayor Grant Degginger of Bellevue and Mayor John Marchione of Redmond. “It ought to have a real ability to make real decisions with the money we have.”

The regional government should have fewer members than the current regional council, Nickels said, and more authority over the region’s dollars.

Marchione said he would support having a regional body that functions that way. Degginger said after the forum that while he would support improvement in regional government, he isn’t sure what form it should take.

Nickels mentioned differences of opinion on gun control and transportation. He mentioned the Legislature’s “shot-gun marriage” of roads and transit on November’s failed Prop. 1.

If the region’s economy were extracted, Nickels said, it would be the 25th largest state, or would be a country larger than Venezuela or Equador. But he said the region is held back because the rest of the state doesn’t understand its needs.

“King County, Pierce County, Snohomish County; we have a lot in common,” Nickels said. “I’m serious when I say we ought to look at declaring independence.”

Work without air conditioning?

Thursday, April 17th, 2008
Weber + Thompson
Let the sun shine in (Photo by Weber Thompson)
Seattleites love our summertime connection to the outdoors. Many of us switch to a Schwinn commute, walk to stores and restaurants and leave our windows wide open to let the breeze in.

Yet many people go to work, sometimes in flip-flops and shorts, only to sit in a climate-controlled comfort zone.

Local designers have tried to convince clients to work otherwise. It seems like an uphill battle.

Some–but not many– have had better luck with their own offices. Many of them live in historic buildings designed before air conditioning became a necessity in our temperate city (like Mithun’s office at Pier 56). Fewer strive to recreate those principles in new buildings.

Most recent of the latter group is Weber Thompson’s new office building at Terry and Thomas in South Lake Union, shown in the two images here. (Yep, it’s Weber Thompson now, they got rid of the + between the names.)

Principals there said employees wanted natural ventilation and copious amounts of daylighting above all else.

Turn the lights off

The building has operable windows and louvers that draw heat out. A courtyard in the center is designed as a thermal chimney. A highly reflective roof and sunshades help repel heat.

The passive cooling elements plus the hot water heating system cost about $300,000 more than it would have cost to build a traditional HVAC system. That’s less than 3 percent of the project’s $10.3 million construction costs, and total energy savings are estimated at 30 percent.

When mechanical engineer Stantec ran thermal analysis of the building, it found the building’s inhabitants would likely need to brave only about 20 hours a year above 85 degrees.

That is uncomfortably hot, for sure. And as we all know, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Weber Thompson moved in just a week ago and time will tell how the building–and its inhabitants–will fare in late July and August.

But hopefully others will be watching. And not just A/E/C firms. Maybe the era of Seattleites bringing a sweater to work in August is drawing to a close.

The Arctic Hotel is getting close

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

Renovation of the historic Arctic Building is nearing completion.

Arctic Building
The Artic's signature Walruses

(Quick, before you click the link above, name the architect. Hint: He also designed the old King County Courthouse.)

The Arctic Club Hotel will celebrate its grand opening in May, according to the Web site for Summit Hotels & Resorts. Summit bought the walrus-adorned historic building from the city in 2005 for $5.1 million. Check out a slide show of rooms and more here.

The city purchased the Arctic and the Alaska Building in 1988 for more than twice their 2005 selling price.

Summit has been busy converting the 1916 social club turned office building into an upscale hotel. The landmark building at Third and Cherry needed a full seismic upgrade in addition to repairs and refurbishments.

It’s been fun to see the building getting spruced up for its new purpose. Check out the room design here, and get a glimpse on the left of the refurbished ceiling and chandelier.

The building is no longer limited to those who made it big in the Alaskan Gold Rush, but rooms start at about $250 a night.

(Fun fact, from Jeffrey Ochsner‘s “Shaping Seattle Architecture:” The Arctic Building’s Architect, Augustus Warren Gould, had no academic training and transferred from the contracting business to architecture in the late 1890s.)