About John M Feit

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Street Critic | The Diabolical Diagonal — the architecture of the angled streets that climb Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill streets and building parcels are almost uniformly delineated by an orthogonal grid; however, when confronted with the second part of our neighborhood’s name the ubiquitous grid revealed its limitation as an all-inclusive planning tool and left city planners little choice but to utilize diagonal streets to ascend and descend our heights. Diagonal streets present a foil to the well-ordered grid, yet most buildings conform to the grid even when the site is an unconventional shape. There are reasons to stay square when designing a building, but design opportunities are sacrificed when the only nod given to an atypical, non-orthogonal site is to design an orthogonal building and treat its diagonally bounded site simply as a remainder to be ‘planted-up’.

The Hill’s longest and steepest diagonal street, Belmont Avenue, exhibits a variety of design solutions to the grid’s disruptive diagonal. The first approach, illustrated in two variants below, plays to both diagonal and grid in a manner that preserves the conflicting geometries. The third solution is a rarely seen hybrid approach where the geometries of grid and diagonal are blended and create unexpectedly complex forms. which gave us a pair of delightful mid-century apartments. Continue reading

Capitol Hill Community Post | Lid I-5 Open House: Wednesday July 17 5:30 – 7:30 the Summit on Pike 420 E Pike St

What would you do with 15 acres of new public land in Seattle? You’re invited to share your vision and hear project updates at the Lid I-5 Community Open House on Wednesday, July 17. Doors open at 5:30 PM and there will be a brief program starting at 6:00, which will include Seattle City Councilmembers Bagshaw and Pacheco. Light refreshments will be available.

Click here for more event info and free registration. The event is also on Facebook. The address is: 420 E Pike St, Seattle, WA 98122

30 percent of Seattle’s growth has been confined to three percent of its land in the Center City, without similar growth in resources like parks, affordable housing, and community centers. The airspace about Interstate 5 is likely the last place we can expand public land, and at the same time, we can reduce the environmental impacts of freeway traffic. Seattle has lidded freeways before with Freeway Park and the Convention Center, and so have dozens of other cities like Dallas, Washington, D.C., New York, San Diego, and Boston.

The Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) is now studying the engineering and economics of lidding I-5 between Madison Street and Denny Way, prompted by the multiyear advocacy efforts of the Lid I-5 Steering Committee. Click here to visit OPCD’s project webpage. The July 17 open house will have an update from Lid I-5, OPCD and its consultant team, and remarks by two Seattle councilmembers.

If you can’t attend the event, the best way to stay updated is by joining the Lid I-5 mailing list and our social media. Learn more at www.lidi5.org.

Street Critic | Navigating E Olive Way’s terrain

Olive Way’s Flatiron

A charm of living in a hilly city like Seattle is witnessing how the street grid and the buildings they define adapt to challenging topography. A typical adaptation is to have streets break from the prevailing orthogonal grid by introducing a diagonal street that makes a hill easier to ascend. In the early 20th Century, Manhattan’s Fuller Building became – and most likely remains – the most celebrated example of a building’s form adapted to an adjacent diagonal street (albeit in dead-flat Manhattan). Today it is known as the Flatiron Building, a reference to its resembling an early type of clothes iron. Capitol Hill has its share of buildings which have adapted to challenging street grinds and terrain. An inspiring pair are found on Olive Way as it cuts a diagonal between Denny and Howell. Continue reading

Street Critic | Capitol Hill’s concrete sentinels

The Shannon View from Southeast (Images: John Feit)

Cast-in-place concrete was the touchstone modernist material. When combined with steel reinforcing it allowed for the long-span and tall buildings that late 19th and early 20th Century architects dreamt of. Furthermore, and unlike the steel buried in its slurry, concrete did not corrode or lose strength in fires allowing for it to have a forthright expression without the need for any protective paint, coating, or enclosure. It was able to be left bare and pure as both structure and enclosure. It achieved, in other words, all that could be hoped for in a modern material. Its apogee in the United States was from the late 1950’s until the mid-1970’s and Belmont Avenue East has three consecutive mid-rise condominium buildings – the Shannon, the Highlander, and the Lamplighter – that pay homage to that era. Their mid-century designs have a surprising upside, too. Continue reading

Street Critic | Brutally lovely on Capitol Hill

The Dome and (back of) the Bema on 16th Avenue at Temple De Hirsch Sinai

I have always been uncomfortable with the architectural term brutalitist. Part of the rub is, I suppose, that the name is a perversion of Le Corbusier’s most treasured design element, béton brut; or, rough or raw concrete. The story goes that Corb was dissatisfied with the stewardship of some of his early, pristine, white buildings. Owners did not provide the level of upkeep required and the buildings showed their age more than Le Corbuiser (Corb) found acceptable. In a seeming about-face, he decided no longer to incorporate smooth and precise materials in his work but rather use them in a less finished, natural state. Concrete was an obvious choice. It required little upkeep -not even painting. His decision to raise what had hitherto been primarily a structural element to an architectural has been tremendously influential on generations of architects, particularity from the mid-1950’s through the early 1980’s. But alas, brut became brutal – and as one may suspect, brutalist. Continue reading

Street Critic | What’s your Capitol Hill sign’s story?

An acute lack of imagination is displayed when a building owner arrives at no more interesting a building name than its street address. When there are so many possibilities for story telling – including a neighborhood’s history, its geography, or its cultural landscape – why should a building settle for “The 1620 12th Avenue Building” when it can proclaim itself as “12 Ave Arts” and add a rich narrative to a neighborhood? Business do have names and frequently a good story to share, but it often remains untold because its branding – its sign – fails to weave a narrative into its design. Both buildings and businesses, through their signs, have the ability to inform their neighbors by providing signs with a story or message that entertains, educates, and enriches. Continue reading

Street Critic | The Audacity of Volunteers — an I-5 lid update

Riisa Conklin and Alex Zeilier of the Freeway Park Association presenting design principles (Image: Scott Bonjukian)

Tuesday, June 5th saw the second gathering of the faithful for the Central Hills Triangle Collaborative (CHTC), a partnership between PPUNC (the Pike|Pine Urban Neighborhood Council) and Lid I-5. An all-volunteer effort, the goal of the CHTC is to provide visionary urban designs to inspire Seattleites to advocate for covering Interstate 5 with parks, housing, and neighborhood centers. While no public agency has committed to our vision, Lid I-5 was recently successful in securing a $1.5M grant for the City of Seattle to begin a year-long feasibility study. In addition, Lid I-5 continues to have promising discussions with civic leaders and WSDOT and we have been invited by the DOT to a work group that is studying I-5’s future in the Puget Sound Region. With the CHTC’s results in hand we are confident we can capture the public’s imagination and convince leaders to transform Seattle by re-imagining its largest publicly-owned asset.

Spirits were high and the results of the seven teams’ efforts were remarkable. Beginning with the Connections Team (infrastructure, mobility, and branding) and progressing through the South (recreation), Central (commerce), and North (housing) Teams, it was apparent that each team was excited in presenting their work and in the work of their fellow designers. Scott B, Sony P, and I were excited too, not only by the goodwill and cheer exuded by the teams but also by our recent success in the $1.5M grant. The work of the CHTC will help the city visualize and define the scope of work for their RFQ scheduled for later this year. Continue reading