About John Feit

John Feit is a Capitol Hill architect and the founder of 3+. He blogs frequently on design and urbanism, with a focus on how they relate to and affect the Capitol Hill community. He can be reached at john@3plus.studio

Street Critic | Capitol Hill-style classic car field report: ‘a fleeting grand era of industrial design’

There are certain ages where the zeitgeist leads to incredibly potent creative output.

Hellenistic Sculpture of the 4th through the 2nd Centuries BCE; Germanic orchestral and chamber music from the mid-18th to the mid-19th centuries; High-Modern Architecture from the early 20th Century through the 1930s; and Jazz from the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s come to mind.

Of far lesser importance, but still a personal favorite, is automotive design from the early 1960s through the early 1970s; where, like the above-stated periods, no wrong could be done (okay, I’m excluding the Ford Pinto and AMC Gremlin, among others). Granted, a BMW 2002 or Alfa Romeo Giulia does not rank with the Winged Victory of Samothrace, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoy, or Sonny Rollins’s Saxophone Colossus in artistic merit, but as exemplars of grand design in their respective field, they hold their own. As luck would have it, the benign (i.e. non-salted) roads of the Pacific Northwest provide a good habitat (as it were) for conserving cars of this vaunted era.

While poking around Capitol Hill photographing architecture and landscape, I occasion upon a few prized specimens; happening frequently enough, as it turns out, to begin to share them. Thus, begins the hoped-for first of several reports memorializing a fleeting grand era of industrial design.

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Capitol Hill Street Critic | St. Joseph’s art deco mastery

(Images: John Feit)

Few building typologies have the history or endurance of the basilica. First appearing about the 2nd Century BCE, the basilica evolved from its initial, secular roots as a building housing courts and other civic functions to the archetypal building form for Christian houses of worship. Capitol Hill’s own St. Joseph’s church, at 19th Avenue and Aloha Street, is both an outstanding example of the basilica typology as well as of art deco architecture. Continue reading

Street Critic | On Capitol Hill, the Pleasure of the Sign(s)

Hopvine Pub Capitol Hill SeattleHopvine Pub Capitol Hill Seattle
15th Avenue East

It would be a bold assertion if any designer stated they could replicate the visually tumultuous, yet spectacularly successful assembly of signs on 15th Avenue East. With no sign resembling its neighbor, it is in fact the signs’ varieties of shapes, colors, and sizes that contribute to 15th Avenue welcoming public realm. The signs add a transparent and varied – even enveloping – secondary scale within which pedestrians and seated patrons can take comfort. That they have accomplished their raison d’être with ease and even a bit of dash doubtlessly has to do with their organic and intuitive arrangement. The patina of age, be it faded paint or a bit rust add to the signs’ many charms, as well as to 15th’s historic narrative. Furthering this narrative are the varied fonts, colors, and artistic flourishes of the signs. Despite this variety of attributes, no single sign draws undo attention – an intriguing show of unity through dissonance. Hopvine Pub, Angel’s Shoe Repair, and Jamjuree are but a few of 15th’s well-loved contributors. Continue reading

Street Critic | Kerry Hall, a palace on the Hill

Kerry Hall East Elevation (Image: John Feit)

One of my favorite Capitol Hill buildings is Kerry Hall, home of Cornish College for the Arts’s Dance and Music departments, on the corner of Harvard Ave E and E Roy. The sole extant building of Cornish’s original Capitol Hill campus, Kerry Hall was built in 1921 in the Spanish Colonial Revival style and was designed by Seattle architect A. H. Albertson. Its Mediterranean-inspired design reminds me of the work one of my favorite American architects, Irving Gill, as well as one of my favorite buildings, the Doge’s Palace on the Venetian Lagoon, in Venice, Italy. Kerry Hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Continue reading

Street Critic | Report from the Central Hills Triangle Collaborative Collab 1

The Connections team highlighting the extant urban design plans proximate to the CHTC study area

The Central Hills Triangle Collaborative (CHTC) was the recipient of a $48,000 City of Seattle Department of Neighborhoods grant in 2017. The CHTC is a joint initiative by Lid I-5 and the Pike Pine Urban Neighborhood Council (PPUNC).

The CHTC is bringing together seven teams of design professionals and community members to reimagine what Interstate 5 would be if it were covered over (a term generally referred to as ‘lidding’) and contained open space, commercial uses, and housing.

Pairs of teams are working on three sites; which, from south to north include:

  • Marion to Pike (open space focus)
  • Pike to Olive (commercial focus)
  • and Olive to Thomas (housing focus)

The seventh team, Connections, is charged with seeing the opportunities to connect the three sites to each other as well as to the surrounding network of transit, bike and pedestrian paths, as well as other urban design initiatives such as the Melrose Promenade and the Pike Pine Renaissance.

A site’s area of focus does not preclude it from having other uses, such as having housing above retail. Lid I-5 has not been advocating for any particular uses on any of the sites; instead, the CHTC’s providing areas of focus within defined limits ensures that a wide range of land uses, topography, and urban typologies are investigated. This range will enable the broader Seattle community to see a variety of options on what is hoped to be the future lid. 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

CHS Community Post | WSCC Expansion: Have a Voice in Seattle’s Most Expensive Project

Greater than the combined cost of Safeco and CenturyLink Fields and nearly twice the recent sale price of the Columbia Center (Seattle’s tallest building and the 2nd tallest on the West Coast), the $1.4 billion expansion of the Washington State Convention Center is quite possibly the most expensive development in Seattle’s 160-year history. And it is directly adjacent to Capitol Hill. Now is your chance to see how well the project is living up to its awesome potential and decide for yourself. Monday night, the design team will present their vision for the project. They will have all manner of drawings, as well as an impressive and very large model to view. After their 20-minute presentation, there will be 40 minutes to ask questions and express your opinion to the team. Continue reading

CHS Street Critic | 19th Avenue: Back to the Future

CHS Street Critic is a new semi-regular column focused on street level architecture and design from a longtime CHS contributor.

19th Ave is Capitol Hill’s most eastern shopping street. Its buildings house an eclectic mix of independent businesses ranging from professional services, health care, education, restaurants, to a martial arts studio, intermixed with single and multifamily housing. Part of 19th’s vibrancy and commercial health lies in the daily contribution made by one of the two private school’s that are proximate to it, adding some 1,400 students. A mix of children and teenagers (who either walk, drive, or are dropped off), faculty and staff swell the activity at the intersection of Aloha and 19th, the neighborhood’s busiest. Despite the twice daily ritual of pick-up and drop-off, the intervening hours have a leisurely aspect to them, and are mostly the domain of locals. All of these qualities of 19th Ave serve as a model, I believe, in how a diversity of uses and housing options in a predominately single family neighborhood add richness to the residents’ lives.

The most concentrated mix of uses and housing types are found in the middle of the stretch between Madison and Galer. At 19th and Republican, El Cuento Spanish Immersion School and The Country Doctor Community Clinic face each other in quiet repose. El Cuento is one of several educational establishments along 19th and is tucked into the ground floor of an apartment building of early 20th Century Vintage.

The Country Doctor has been on the Hill since 1971 and provides a full range of primary care medical services for folks of all ages, cultures, and incomes. The clinic occupies several buildings that share some of the architectural elements of El Cuento (bay windows and ground floor  storefront the most obvious). Part of County Doctor is actually two joined buildings —  a single story and two story structure. The taller of the pair is a rare commercial structure whose size as more a response to fulfilling immediate needs rather than investment prerogatives. Its abundant glazing relative to its small stature gives it a proud presence on the street.  Continue reading

CHS Schemata | Meany’s understated elegance

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe parlance of architecture is filled with jargon, especially about Modernism and its consequent ‘isms’; less is more, less is a bore. Being firmly rooted in the former, I have been captivated by Meany Middle School’s understated elegance since I arrived on the Hill some 13 years ago. For me, its simple forms and restrained detailing (less is more) speak volumes to many of modernism’s most successful pursuits: economy of form, subtractive design, and the harnessing of daylight — a great benefit during the Hill’s rather gloomy winter months. As fortune (and a little planning) would have, the day I explored Meany was a sunny winter day whose resulting deep shadows proved well suited to best show off Meany’s qualities.

Meany’s most eye-catching feature is its saw-tooth roof. Such roofs originated in factory or assembly buildings in the latter half of the 19th century and persisted well into the early 20th. One we have lost –- such as on the re-developed Sunset Electric -– was a fine example of this typology. The advent of inexpensive gas or electric light spelled the demise of such welcome features, until they were resurrected by modernists who were not only captivated by their ability to foster better day-lighting but were also doubtlessly a fan of their rigorous, platonic forms. Meany’s roof readily displays those qualities, while adding its own take; for instance, the clear delineation of the concrete frame and infill as well as the continuous sunshade that provide a clean break from the saw-tooth form and the lower mass of the building, emphasizing the saw-tooth mass even more. Although not requisite in achieving elegance, the repeating of the saw-tooth nine times amplifies its desirable traits.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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CHS Schemata | Bellevue, Bellevue, and Bellevue — Part 2

(Images: John Feit/Schemata Workshop)

(Images: John Feit/Schemata Workshop)

The first tour of the northwest corner of Capitol Hill focused on the distant and rich landscape views that the area proximate to Bellevue, Bellevue, and Bellevue provides. In Part 2, the focus will be on this area’s more intimate landscapes which are shaped by both its geography and culture.

The Ben Lomond is an appropriate starting point; its oblique position on the street grid is the result of its being on the edge a steep hill. It is not often that buildings on Capitol Hill deviate from the incessant and dominant street grid. Here, there is a relatively slight skew of the Ben Lomond to Belmont, lending greater prominence to the building and landscape than they would otherwise have. The gently angled Lomond provides a mini piazza of sorts, reminding one of pre-industrial cities and their more organic roots. Instead of asphalt and concrete one could imagine a landscape paved in stone and low landscaped walls affording a quiet place within which to enjoy a sunny day. Continue reading