Archive for March, 2009

What makes Seattle livable for me

Friday, March 27th, 2009

By SUSAN JONES, atelierjones

Eds. Note: Jones, the founding principal of atelierjones, lives with her husband and two children in a condo near Pike Place Market. She works a few blocks away.

More cool Seattle shots by Michael Nalley at DDB

Seattle’s livability is about the vibrancy of its people: Walk any ten blocks three times over in Seattle’s downtown – stop to say hello to an old friend, walk over to check on your construction site at 1st and Union, stop by a press conference heralding the opening of Seattle’s new Green Lab, run into a client there and set up a meeting for their renovation of their condominium further south on 1st Avenue later in the day, stop at the Creamery at the Pike Place Market to buy fresh milk for breakfast, drop it off at home, then up to the WAC for a swim, walk back to the office for a quick meeting about a new downtown green roof project, then off to meet your client at their home to go over the design of their carbon fiber dining table, stop back home to pick up your daughter for her piano lesson – and you’ve walked 2 miles, half of them straight up hills, swam a  half mile, supported your local market, developed three design projects, seen four friends, and helped this city grow more and more livable with every footstep.

More Seattleites muse about livability here.

MODA a Mo-Don’t

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Just when I thought the MODA building (on Third near Bell Street) couldn’t possibly get worse, it did.

More pics at
This former “hot” condo of miniscule units now turned rental opened recently without being finished. The windows along the sidewalk have no trim or sills, leaving unpainted concrete visible by passersby.

And are these actual storefronts? Nope. They are chopped into small rectangles by multiple criss-crossing mullions that no real shop would ever want to have.

Why is it so hard for some designers to understand simple storefront design? Big panes of glass. Well-detailed kickplates. Store doors. Instead we get something that resembles a bedroom window.  And the concrete forming this “street wall” is only little more refined than the exposed wall of a basement.

But far worse are the 4″ x 4″ wood posts that have been added to support the metal balconies. Did someone look back at tenements built in Chicago in the 1800’s and try to replicate that look?

This is hip, urban housing? Hardly.

When will we be ready to embrace growth?

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

I have accepted a research associate position with the Sightline Institute. This is a wonderful opportunity for me and was made possible, in part, by writing here on SeattleScape and for the DJC’s opinion page for the past year.

It has been an amazing year for anyone watching the economy, and interested in housing, development and future growth in Seattle. I have written a fair amount here about the way we define and measure key aspects of growth in Seattle.

Time for a new dream?
The fundamental battle lines on growth were drawn 20 years ago with the passage of the Growth Management Act and the City of Seattle’s Comprehensive Plan. The decision then was to avoid sprawl by putting growth in cities, and more specifically in urban villages. Some resisted this planning effort as social engineering aimed at foisting a social agenda on single family neighborhoods.

Others argued that in order to limit and prevent further environmental degradation, enhance mass transit options and support a more sustainable approach to infrastructure, concentrating growth in the cities would be essential.

Does this sound familiar? Today we are taking a piecemeal approach to growth, arguing lot by lot, parcel by parcel, and neighborhood by neighborhood. When will we finally get on with what we decided to do 20 years ago?

More than 60 percent of Seattle is still zoned single family. And any project that increases density, even when supported by underlying zoning, faces a gauntlet.

Strolling Seattle by serakatie
Increasingly, the debate has been cast as a class conflict pitting growth management against the sacredness of the single family home, which for decades has been the organizing economic principle in America and the Northwest.

This year’s election provides the city with a huge opportunity to consciously settle this question. Will candidates for city office embrace the practices we know will reduce climate change, improve the health of the Puget Sound and support less use of the automobile? Compact communities that are safe to walk in with public open space and easy access to transit are what we must have.

The most important question for the candidates is “how will you get us there?” The question for Seattlites is “are we willing to go?”

The Crocodile wants a sidewalk cafe

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

The Crocodile filed an application with SDOT to create a side walk cafe outside the club at Second and Blanchard.

Seattle simplified its sidewalk cafe permitting last summer, reducing the costs and turnaround time for applications and housing the process within just one agency– SDOT. The city is accepting comments on Application # 89041 until April 8.

The Crocodile, the center of the music universe during the 1990s (see Singles soundtrack, Kurt Cobain, etc.) just reopened this month after a sudden closure last December.

Architectural billings inch up in Febrary

Friday, March 20th, 2009

The Architecture Billings Index was up two points in February after a slight dip in January. But billings were down slightly in the West, still the country’s strongest region.

Break out the graphite?
The index is compiled by the American Institute of Architects, based on a monthly survey of firms across the country. A score above 50 means billings were up over the previous month; below 50 means they were down.

The American Institute of Architects February index was 35.3, up from the 33.3 mark in January. Reported billings were again worst in the Northeast, with 32.3, and best in the West, with 36.4. But those western billings were down from the 38.3 reported last month. The new projects inquiry score was 49.5.

AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker said in a statement that there will likely be light demand for construction projects through much of 2009. He said the small uptick provides hope that some stalled projects will move forward in the near future.

Backyard cottages for all

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

During these tough economic times, Mayor Greg Nickels says more Seattle homeowners should have the option to build cottages in their backyards to supplement incomes or provide a loved one with housing.

Welcome to the dollhouse
Backyard cottages, smaller dwelling units unattached to single family houses but sharing their lots, are now allowed in southeast Seattle only. Seattle allows smaller attached units citywide.

Nickels said in a release Thursday he would soon be sending legislation to council to allow up to 50 more backyard cottages to be built per year across Seattle neighborhoods. The homeowner would have to live on site, lots would have to be at least 4,000-square-feet and the cottages could not exceed 800 square feet. Height and lot coverage limits would also apply.

“In these difficult times, now more than ever, people are asking for a range of good housing choices,” said Nickels in the release.

“Whether it’s for a family member, an option to downsize, or simply a financial decision that allows you to stay in your home, the backyard cottage can be a real-life solution.”

So far, 14 backyard cottages have been built in southeast Seattle. The cottages are also allowed in Portland,  Issaquah, Kirkland, Mercer Island, Shoreline, Newcastle, Redmond, Woodinville and Vancouver, B.C.

At least the mayor’s street was clear…

Thursday, March 19th, 2009
Deran Ludd sent this image of the 1916 blizzard to Vintage Seattle. Check out more.
In case you missed it, the Seattle Times had an excellent piece this morning on what really happened during the winter storms.

It’s not pretty. Public records reveal that SDOT gave priority  to clearing the streets public officials lived on so they could get to work, while the overall effort was chaos. Some streets in Laurelhurst and the Lakeside school also got special treatment while SDOT snow control managers veered off the list of top priority streets.

After initially praising the city’s snow response efforts, officials have spent the ensuing months pointing fingers. Council member Tom  Rasmussen eventually called for an investigation, but that effort fizzled. I wonder if this story might revive it…

Update. Council is now calling for an investigation, the Times reports.

Local firms get work in Tajikistan, Jordan and Iowa

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

I thought I might fill you in on a few projects and tidbits I’ve heard about recently . . .

Pic by Lara Swimmer
SRG Partnership‘s Museum of Flight bridge was featured in this month’s Architectural Record.  The piece, “Not so pedestrian footbridges,” features projects that go beyond their role as connectors and elevate a project. Other featured footbridges are in Zaragoza, Spain and across Ireland’s River Shannon. Read a story I wrote on the SRG Bridge to find out more about the designers inspiration: aircraft contrails.

Rendering by ZGF
Zimmer Gunsul Frasca found out it would be designing the second phase of a massive biorenewables complex in Iowa. The firm already designed Phase I, which is now under construction at the University of Iowa. The $54 million Phase II will complete the four-building complex, aimed at showcasing the state’s commitment to cutting-edge energy research in the heart of farming country.

Rendering by Callison
Callison also got big news recently: It will be master planning the biggest mixed-use project in Jordan’s history. The $10 billion, 60-million-square-foot waterfront project in Aqaba, Jordan includes high-rise residential towers, business and financial districts, retail and entertainment spaces and several hotels and resorts. Look for more on that project in an upcoming DJC.

Meanwhile, an NBBJ-designed hotel has opened in Tajikistan. The Hyatt Regency Dushanbe has 221 rooms, a beauty salon, a juicebar and 14 meeting rooms. It has views of a lake and the presidential palace , and in-room iPod docking stations. The hotel was designed by NBBJ’s Columbus, Ohio office.  Check out the press release.

Weigh in on light rail neighborhood plans

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

DPD is in the midst of a series of public meetings on neighborhood plan updates in the works for neighborhoods that will soon have link light rail stations.

A meeting will be held on North Rainier Valley ( the Mt. Baker station area) from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday at Franklin High School at 3013 S. Mount Baker Blvd.

Another will be held on North Beacon Hill  (the Beacon Hill station area) from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, March 28 at El Centro de la Raza at 2524-16th Avenue S.

Paris, reimagined

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009
Christian de Portzamparc's elevated train
A green belt circling the city.

A metro hub beneath the Louvre’s Pyramid.

A new ringed metro line around city outskirts.

These are among the proposals stemming from master planning now underway for the City of Light. The New York Times has the story.