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

Design review: Trading a 1929 Capitol Hill apartment building for a 2019 version on Harvard Ave E

Wednesday night could bring the final design step in the process for a Capitol Hill circa late 2018 trade of necessity — a 1929-built, two-story masonry apartment building with eight units making way for a planned 2019 or so-built, four-story apartment building with 25 “small efficiency dwelling units” and 13 standard apartments.

The development from Hybrid Architecture and the family trust that owns the property is slated to come before the East Design Review Board Wednesday night:

Design review: 740 Harvard Ave E

Parking for 17 vehicles is proposed. And, of course, the existing structure is slated to be demolished. 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

Design review: 19 new townhomes on 12th Ave E, 111 units on 10th Ave — UPDATE

Much has been made of the condo revival of 2018 but on Capitol Hill over the past decade, the king of new home ownership has been the townhouse. Wednesday night, a project destined to create 19 more of the homes along 12th Ave E will take what could be its final pass in front of the design review board.

Design review: 506 12th Ave E

The project to turn the land currently home to the six-unit Lance Apartments at 506 12th Ave E has been in motion since developer Isola Homes bought the land in 2016 for $3.5 million. Ownership has passed across a couple Isola-related LLCs over the years including a transaction in the King County records that shows one Isola-related LLC buying the property from another for $5.3 million in July 2018. Seems like a good deal. The project is now set up for development company Mirra Homes to create four, three-story townhomes featuring a total of 19 units and parking for 19 vehicles. 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

Designed on the Hill | Chophouse Row

Designed on the Hill is a new series reflecting on good design, as observed by Greg Janky and Treasure Hinds of Anvil Studios, a product design firm based on Capitol Hill.

Chophouse Row is a great example of inspired architecture designed on the Hill.

The mixed-use office and retail space is an oasis tucked away in the midst of urban commotion. Its modern aesthetic fits naturally on 11th Ave between Pike and Union, yet manages to stands out amongst an eclectic collection of old Seattle brick and new Seattle lofts. 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

Light touch of Capitol Hill school’s chapel recognized for architectural excellence

(Images: Seattle Prep)

(Images: Seattle Prep)

Seattle Prep wasn’t looking to win international recognition for its new chapel, it just sort of happened.

“We just wanted the space to be very simple and modest and open, said Ben Mawhinney, director of communications for the school. The idea, he said was to have something that reflected the simplicity of Jesuit values, but something that also worked within the style of the campus and the Pacific Northwest.

The 11th Ave E school’s recently completed Our Lady of Montserrat Chapel is being praised as one of the best new religious structures in the country.

The 1,600 square-foot chapel is named for a statue of the Virgin Mary which figured in a pivotal moment in the life of Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuit order. It was designed by Hennebery Eddy Architects of Portland. The chapel doesn’t feature a lot of religious symbology and isn’t as ornate as some Catholic places of worship can be.

“It’s very quiet, without a lot of visual stimulation,” Mawhinney said. Continue reading