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Photographic Center Northwest focuses on accessibility and new tech in the the arts-driven mixed-use project that will create its new 12th Ave home

By Sophia Callan, UW News Lab/Special to CHS

Members of the public want the Photographic Center Northwest to consider accessibility and technological advancements in its new building, according to discussions at a public forum on the project that will make a new home for the nonprofit in a new mixed-use development on its 12th Ave property.

The forum was held earlier this month to share goals for construction of the upcoming seven-story commercial and residential Photographic Center Northwest facility on Capitol Hill as well as to address concerns from the community. The forum focused on future plans of PCNW as it begins its transition into building a new space.

Designing and building a new space at the current PCNW location will allow for more growth with advances in technology, education, and photography, the organization says.

“The project will also address a growing demand for programs, services, and education,” Terry Novak, the executive director of PCNW, said.

Novak led the forum, which was mostly attended by PCNW volunteers and faculty. The forum lasted about an hour and a half with most of the time being used for questions from the audience. Novak began the forum by explaining PCNW’s reasons for changing facilities as well as providing a brief timeline and plans for future construction and programs.

“Right now we’re finalizing designs for the new space and outlining educational programs for the period during construction,” Novak said.

Photographic Center Northwest was formed in the 1980s as a photography gallery and educational institution; it has occupied its building in Capitol Hill since 1997. The updated facilities will solve many of the problems they face in their current facility.

“The current building was built in the 1920s,” Novak said. “Maintenance is burdensome and there’s not a lot of resources.”

For the new space, the forum addressed concerns over size, layout, and accessibility. During the discussion, attendees expressed concern about the need for additional storage and larger class sizes. Novak shared that the new center will be slightly larger than the original space. The space will also be one story instead of the current two. Working with Graham Baba architects, features such as a library, multiple community gathering spaces, and an immersive gallery are planned.

Community members discussed concerns over technology compatibility.

“We’re trying to have rooms set up for more technology,” said Brian M. Jonas at Graham Baba Architects. “We want the space to be more flexible.”

The forum also addressed lighting and studio placement, as PCNW plans to have a generous number of glass windows on the building, including a daylit gallery and studio near the front of the building.

Ensuring accessibility in the new building was heavily emphasized during the forum. Although the building layout is in the process of being finalized, Novak shared that PCNW wants to include wider hall and entryways, lower sinks, and to consider how sound and lighting may play a role in limiting accessibility.

Construction is set to start in March 2024 and is planned to last for about two years. During that time, PCNW will temporarily relocate to Seattle University’s campus, occupying and utilizing a chemistry lab as a darkroom to develop film photography and host classes.

The space should allow for 12 stations with sinks and trays for students to use.

“Public access to this facility is to be determined,” Eirik Johnson, the PCNW programs chair said, but the space will be available to PCNW students taking a class at the time. PCNW will use two other rooms on campus.

PCNW also plans on introducing new partnerships and programs throughout Seattle during construction.

“This is a way to see what programs may work and what doesn’t,” Novak said, “and having an interim space during construction allows us to do that”.

PCNW is raising funds for its transition. The cost of the project is projected to be about $14.5 million dollars, a portion of which is being covered by the sale of the building. A remaining $4 million is still being raised through fundraising.

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