Too austere? Developers asked to liven up Seattle U’s 10-story 12th and Madison building

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Seattle University’s latest “major institution” design for a new building at 12th and Madison may actually be a little too institutional. That was the message from some members of the Seattle University Standing Advisory Committee during its meeting Monday night.

“It reminds me of a telecommunications building, to put it honestly,” said Capitol Hill architect John Feit, who sits on the committee tasked with reviewing the project’s designs and adherence to its master plan. Committee members primarily took issue with size and ratio of windows compared to the rest of the facade. Some cited the building’s proximity to Capitol Hill and the neighborhood arts districts as reasons for a more colorful palate.

Reps from Capstone Development Partners agreed that the ten-story, Ankrom Moisan designed building could be less buttoned up and said they would come back to the committee with a more lively design. However, the developers said they would still strive for a classic university vibe.

“We’re not looking to create an iconic piece of architecture,” said Capstone principal Bruce McKee. “We’re looking to create a building that will look as good as it does ten years from now as it does today.”

One option for adding more design elements to the 12th Ave facing facade.

One option for adding more design elements to the 12th Ave facing facade.

As a major institution, Seattle U is not subject to the design reviews typical of big development around Seattle.

The school plans for the first two floors to be the new home for the Enrollment Services offices. The top eight floors of the project will serve as a new residence hall with 285 beds for juniors and seniors “in an apartment design and expanding and upgrading our housing inventory.”

Moving Enrollment Services is also part of the process to prepare for the removal of the old University Services building in preparation for planned construction of a new Center for Science and Innovation on the campus. That project, by the way, has been the center of a massive fundraising by the school capped by a $30 million gift from an anonymous donor announced last year.

During Monday’s meeting at Seattle U, developers also walked committee members around the project site — currently a recessed parking and loading area behind a university-owned self storage building. Some committee members expressed concern over the width of the sidewalks along E Madison. Developers are proposing 6.5 feet of pedestrian space, well short of city guidelines.

During public comment, Brie Gyncild of Central Seattle Greenways said the improvements were “horribly sub standard.”

Seattle U’s project will also wrap behind the 1919-built home to Stumptown Coffee and Cafe Presse. Earlier this month, CHS reported on Stumptown’s decision to close its Seattle roasting operation at the 12th Ave cafe, partially because of the university’s plans for the site.

Screen-Shot-2016-06-17-at-11.53.08-AM-600x382Also included in the plan is a change for the storage building at 12th and Madison that will transform the ground floor into a new home for SU’s campus bookstore. The profitable storage business would likely remain part of the building’s upper floors.

The combined new Enrollment Services building and dorms might not be great for studying. The Pike/Pine entertainment and nightlife district will be within view just across E Madison — at least until more six and seven-story developments rise there. But the project will address the needs of one of its most important divisions as the school faces ongoing competition to attract new students.

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14 thoughts on “Too austere? Developers asked to liven up Seattle U’s 10-story 12th and Madison building

  1. I can appreciate both sides here. Many thanks to the architects for trying to design a timeless building, but I do agree there’s something a little off with it. Maybe the windows on the top portion could be larger so it doesn’t appear quite so chunky?

  2. I don’t mind it. Its a bit bland but at least it doesn’t look cheap and trendy. So many look alike buildings going up the area is getting cookie cutter.

    Just like all these cubical townhouses. Some variation would be nice.

  3. The issue with this building (and what makes it look like a high-security prison instead of a college dorm) is absolutely the lack of windows. You can see an earlier rendering here with more windows which looked a lot less oppressive:

    http://www.capitolhillseattle.com/2016/06/have-your-say-on-seattle-u-12th-and-madison-development-plans-including-10-story-dorm/#jp-carousel-2067188168

    Timelessness is a great quality to strive for in architecture, but there’s nothing timeless about a brutalist bunker.

  4. The bulk of the structure faces Seattle U. Maybe students want smaller windows and don’t want to live in a fishbowl. Who are we to force larger windows on them because we think it makes the building look more inviting.

    • What makes you think the students had any input into the design whatsoever? (And for that matter, based on the level of sharing many teens/early-20s employ, it would seem a fair number of them would be fine with floor-to-ceiling windows in every room including the bathroom)

  5. I think it looks fine, and I think the recommendation for how to make it look “better” adds that mid-2010s tackiness. The last thing we need is another fucking building with quasi-randomly-painted metal paneling. Most architectural trends look dated 20 years later – that one looks dated *now*.

    It doesn’t look like a dorm but it doesn’t need to look like a dorm, it needs to look good. And I love that mid-century look.