About John Feit

John Feit is a Capitol Hill architect and the founder of 3+. He blogs frequently on design and urbanism, with a focus on how they relate to and affect the Capitol Hill community. He can be reached at john@3plus.studio

Street Critic | Kerry Hall, a palace on the Hill

Kerry Hall East Elevation (Image: John Feit)

One of my favorite Capitol Hill buildings is Kerry Hall, home of Cornish College for the Arts’s Dance and Music departments, on the corner of Harvard Ave E and E Roy. The sole extant building of Cornish’s original Capitol Hill campus, Kerry Hall was built in 1921 in the Spanish Colonial Revival style and was designed by Seattle architect A. H. Albertson. Its Mediterranean-inspired design reminds me of the work one of my favorite American architects, Irving Gill, as well as one of my favorite buildings, the Doge’s Palace on the Venetian Lagoon, in Venice, Italy. Kerry Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Continue reading

Street Critic | Report from the Central Hills Triangle Collaborative Collab 1

The Connections team highlighting the extant urban design plans proximate to the CHTC study area


The Central Hills Triangle Collaborative (CHTC) was the recipient of a $48,000 City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods grant in 2017. The CHTC is a joint initiative by Lid I-5 and the Pike Pine Urban Neighborhood Council (PPUNC).

The CHTC is bringing together seven teams of design professionals and community members to reimagine what Interstate 5 would be if it were covered over (a term generally referred to as ‘lidding’) and contained open space, commercial uses, and housing.

Pairs of teams are working on three sites; which, from south to north include:

  • Marion to Pike (open space focus)
  • Pike to Olive (commercial focus)
  • and Olive to Thomas (housing focus)

The seventh team, Connections, is charged with seeing the opportunities to connect the three sites to each other as well as to the surrounding network of transit, bike and pedestrian paths, as well as other urban design initiatives such as the Melrose Promenade and the Pike Pine Renaissance.

A site’s area of focus does not preclude it from having other uses, such as having housing above retail. Lid I-5 has not been advocating for any particular uses on any of the sites; instead, the CHTC’s providing areas of focus within defined limits ensures that a wide range of land uses, topography, and urban typologies are investigated. This range will enable the broader Seattle community to see a variety of options on what is hoped to be the future lid. Continue reading

Street Critic | Tight squeezes

(Images: John M Feit)

(Images: John M Feit)

One of the great joys of urban exploration is the variety of scales one encounters in the built environment. While that range on Capitol Hill is generally restricted to small to medium building types, even such a limited offering provides some startling juxtapositions. As a bit of an architectural taxonomist, I notice several potential causes for these juxtapositions: those resulting from a change in zoning, those built on very small parcels of land, and  those that are simply the result of finding a good deal on rent.

Possible zoning changes are exhibited in two neighboring buildings on 18th Ave E, north of E John. For the uninitiated, zoning prescribes not only how big and what uses a building may have, but also dictates how far it needs to be set back from the street and neighboring properties. In the examples below, there may either have been no zoning when the apartments were built next to the single family homes; or, the zoning may have changed to allow such a proximate mix in uses. The closeness of the buildings to one another certainly would not be allowed under today’s building and zoning codes, at least not without significant changes to their designs. The tight fit between the buildings provides a finer weft of the built history of our neighborhood because they are nearly contemporaneous, and do not contrast in appearance as buildings whose construction is separated by many decades. Continue reading

CHS Community Post | WSCC Expansion: Have a Voice in Seattle’s Most Expensive Project

Greater than the combined cost of Safeco and CenturyLink Fields and nearly twice the recent sale price of the Columbia Center (Seattle’s tallest building and the 2nd tallest on the West Coast), the $1.4 billion expansion of the Washington State Convention Center is quite possibly the most expensive development in Seattle’s 160-year history. And it is directly adjacent to Capitol Hill. Now is your chance to see how well the project is living up to its awesome potential and decide for yourself. Monday night, the design team will present their vision for the project. They will have all manner of drawings, as well as an impressive and very large model to view. After their 20-minute presentation, there will be 40 minutes to ask questions and express your opinion to the team. Continue reading

CHS Street Critic | 19th Avenue: Back to the Future

CHS Street Critic is a new semi-regular column focused on street level architecture and design from a longtime CHS contributor.

19th Ave is Capitol Hill’s most eastern shopping street. Its buildings house an eclectic mix of independent businesses ranging from professional services, health care, education, restaurants, to a martial arts studio, intermixed with single and multifamily housing. Part of 19th’s vibrancy and commercial health lies in the daily contribution made by one of the two private school’s that are proximate to it, adding some 1,400 students. A mix of children and teenagers (who either walk, drive, or are dropped off), faculty and staff swell the activity at the intersection of Aloha and 19th, the neighborhood’s busiest. Despite the twice daily ritual of pick-up and drop-off, the intervening hours have a leisurely aspect to them, and are mostly the domain of locals. All of these qualities of 19th Ave serve as a model, I believe, in how a diversity of uses and housing options in a predominately single family neighborhood add richness to the residents’ lives.

The most concentrated mix of uses and housing types are found in the middle of the stretch between Madison and Galer. At 19th and Republican, El Cuento Spanish Immersion School and The Country Doctor Community Clinic face each other in quiet repose. El Cuento is one of several educational establishments along 19th and is tucked into the ground floor of an apartment building of early 20th Century Vintage.

The Country Doctor has been on the Hill since 1971 and provides a full range of primary care medical services for folks of all ages, cultures, and incomes. The clinic occupies several buildings that share some of the architectural elements of El Cuento (bay windows and ground floor  storefront the most obvious). Part of County Doctor is actually two joined buildings —  a single story and two story structure. The taller of the pair is a rare commercial structure whose size as more a response to fulfilling immediate needs rather than investment prerogatives. Its abundant glazing relative to its small stature gives it a proud presence on the street.  Continue reading

CHS Schemata | Meany’s understated elegance

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe parlance of architecture is filled with jargon, especially about Modernism and its consequent ‘isms’; less is more, less is a bore. Being firmly rooted in the former, I have been captivated by Meany Middle School’s understated elegance since I arrived on the Hill some 13 years ago. For me, its simple forms and restrained detailing (less is more) speak volumes to many of modernism’s most successful pursuits: economy of form, subtractive design, and the harnessing of daylight — a great benefit during the Hill’s rather gloomy winter months. As fortune (and a little planning) would have, the day I explored Meany was a sunny winter day whose resulting deep shadows proved well suited to best show off Meany’s qualities.

Meany’s most eye-catching feature is its saw-tooth roof. Such roofs originated in factory or assembly buildings in the latter half of the 19th century and persisted well into the early 20th. One we have lost –- such as on the re-developed Sunset Electric -– was a fine example of this typology. The advent of inexpensive gas or electric light spelled the demise of such welcome features, until they were resurrected by modernists who were not only captivated by their ability to foster better day-lighting but were also doubtlessly a fan of their rigorous, platonic forms. Meany’s roof readily displays those qualities, while adding its own take; for instance, the clear delineation of the concrete frame and infill as well as the continuous sunshade that provide a clean break from the saw-tooth form and the lower mass of the building, emphasizing the saw-tooth mass even more. Although not requisite in achieving elegance, the repeating of the saw-tooth nine times amplifies its desirable traits.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Continue reading

CHS Schemata | Bellevue, Bellevue, and Bellevue — Part 2

(Images: John Feit/Schemata Workshop)

(Images: John Feit/Schemata Workshop)

The first tour of the northwest corner of Capitol Hill focused on the distant and rich landscape views that the area proximate to Bellevue, Bellevue, and Bellevue provides. In Part 2, the focus will be on this area’s more intimate landscapes which are shaped by both its geography and culture.

The Ben Lomond is an appropriate starting point; its oblique position on the street grid is the result of its being on the edge a steep hill. It is not often that buildings on Capitol Hill deviate from the incessant and dominant street grid. Here, there is a relatively slight skew of the Ben Lomond to Belmont, lending greater prominence to the building and landscape than they would otherwise have. The gently angled Lomond provides a mini piazza of sorts, reminding one of pre-industrial cities and their more organic roots. Instead of asphalt and concrete one could imagine a landscape paved in stone and low landscaped walls affording a quiet place within which to enjoy a sunny day. Continue reading

CHS Schemata | Bellevue, Bellevue, and Bellevue — Part 1

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(Images: John Feit)

Buildings are relatively simple to write about.

They are objects within the landscape and as such are easy to quantitatively define easing the path to a qualitative assessment. Landscapes, on the other hand, can be more challenging as they are often composed of a seemingly infinite number of parts. The relative position between landscape and viewer can present challenges as well. Buildings typically has a front, back, and sides. The main facade, often where the entry is, usually grabs the most attention and is the view seen in glossy magazines. Landscape lacks such frontal qualities. What tree, hill, river, or plaza has a defined front (or back, for that matter)? While there are certainly advantageous views that elicit feelings of lesser or greater satisfaction, landscape’s ensemble of vegetation, geography, geology, buildings, and other characteristics make it more challenging to succinctly describe; yet, it is these very qualities that also make it more satisfying and emotionally evocative than most buildings.

It is these multifaceted and often elusive qualities that keep me writing about what I enjoy most about Capitol Hill, the amazing variety of landscapes both architectural and otherwise. Landscape is all encompassing, yet hard to distill to key points that are succinctly shared.

With landscapes as diverse as Pike/Pine and Volunteer Park, one would have to put conditions on what constitutes one’s favorite Capitol Hill landscape, such as: which is my favorite commercial street, distant view, or verdant park? Despite this inexorable taxonomical quandary, Bellevue, Bellevue, and Bellevue, on the northwest corner of the Hill, certainly presents opportunities to engage landscapes that are among the Hill’s finest.

Its charms are many — too many for just one post — so I start with with that quality which I think is the most noteworthy: the combination of both close-in and distant vistas as well as the variety of both natural and created landscapes that are all available for enjoyment within a two or three block area. Continue reading

CHS Schemata | The Capitol Hill architectural assembly of Seattle Prep

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor a number of reasons, campuses merit special attention from the fan of architecture, including how — in a concise venue — differing design approaches can be observed. The earliest academic campuses include those of the medieval universities in northern Italy and in England, with Cambridge and Oxford setting the strongest precedents for what has become known as collegiate Gothic. Those of Italian influence (Padua and Bologna for instance) also served as models, but in a Renaissance flavor. These divergent sources from the North Atlantic to the Mediterranean created a menu of architectural styles for institutions that followed; one pick one’s campus style, as it were, to be either pointy (Gothic) or round (Renaissance). A splendid example of the former is found just to the north of Capitol Hill on the University of Washington campus, whose historic core abounds with buildings of the collegiate Gothic flavor.

Like the other primary and secondary school campuses I have written about, Seattle Prep brings an important assembly of building and landscape to Capitol Hill. The school is unique among the three mentioned as it most closely resembles the traditional college campus. It is not associated with one splendid building as is Holy Names nor did it evolve in an organic and engaging manner as did Bertschi School. Seattle Prep is a planned campus of many buildings purposely built over time. Yet, within its planning, each building has it own unique identity and represents the prevailing tastes of its time, making the campus a great microcosm of larger architectural and academic trends. Continue reading

CHS Schemata | Capitol Hill’s grand dome

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(Images: John Feit)

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For more than 2000 years, the dome has held a privileged position in Western architecture. As the three dimensional expression of the circle, whose geometrical perfection is venerated by cultures world-wide, the dome symbolizes importance more than any other single architectural feature. One of the oldest domes — and perhaps the most famous — is the Pantheon in Rome, a temple built during the reign of Caesar Augustus (63 B.C. – 14 A.D.) in honor of twelve of Rome’s most important deities. Since then, the geometrically powerful form has lent its geometrical purity to convey importance to a variety of institutions, be they governmental (the Washington State Capitol, Olympia), academic (the Rotunda, the University of Virginia), or ecclesiastical (Saint Peter’s, Rome). And, why not? You see a dome on a building, and you know it means business.

One institution that was an early adopter of the dome was the nascent Catholic Church; and the dome, as it turned out, was conveniently at hand. Soon after Rome’s decline, the Church adopted the Pantheon as a Christian place of worship, and it became an important early church. The Pantheon (and the cachet of its dome) enabled the Church to associate itself with ancient Rome, Europe’s grandest civilization and greatest engineer-architects. In the following millennia, the dome has found home atop many Catholic institutions in dozens of countries, including Capitol Hill’s own Holy Names Academy, a Catholic girl’s high school and one of our neighborhood’s most splendid buildings. And while its dome may be the first architectural element to catch one’s eye, Holy Names’ classically inspired delights continue throughout its original building. Continue reading