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

Harvard Belmont District Tour: The Rich Life on Capitol Hill

Have your cake and gossip too as we visit Seattle’s only residential Landmark District featuring a wealth of upscale, early 20th century architecture. Harvard/Belmont is a veritable portfolio of the finest designers of the day: Charles Platt of New York and Hornblower and Marshall of Washington, D.C., as well as prominent area architects, including John Graham, Sr., Charles Bebb and Carl Gould, Kirtland Cutter, Andrew Willatsen, Arthur Loveless, Freed Anhalt, and A. H. Albertson. They provided innovative plans, a high level of craftsmanship and beautifully landscaped courtyards, which gives this neighborhood its distinctive character.

Tickets are free, but will sell out, so please register to confirm your spot!  The tour will be offered at 10 and 11 am on May 4.

Other free tours are also offered this day, as part of Sights of Seattle. Get to know your city through the lens of architecture on this weekend of free walking tours. Whether you’re new to Seattle or have lived here all of your life, we invite you to discover new things about the city you call home. Put on your walking shoes, grab a camera and embark on your own architecture adventure by joining one or more of our many tour options including several downtown tours or tours of our treasured neighborhoods.

More Info on Free Tours:  https://seattlearchitecture.strangertickets.com/events/94201798/sights-of-seattle

Harvard Belmont/J. McKean

 

Federal Avenue Tour: Understated Elegance on the Park

The Olmsted Brothers’ visionary park plan led Seattle’s prominent leaders and their renowned architects to design homes nestled against blossoming Volunteer Park on Seattle’s Capitol Hill. The homes reflect the changing tastes, lifestyles, and times just before and after World War I. Stroll Federal Avenue and learn about these stately monuments to early 20th Century prosperity. On this tour you’ll see a variety of classic architectural styles from notable architects of the day, including Carl F. Gould, Bebb & Mendel, & Joseph S. Cote’ and Andrew Willatsen.

Tickets:  $12

SAF Members, $18 General Public, $25 Cash Walk ups/day of, if available.

SAF Fed Ave Tour/Photo: Evan Chakroff

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