First off, I’m here to say that the best new high rise buildings in Seattle are at Stadium Place along King Street and Occidental Avenue. In fact, as a whole, Stadium Place is probably the best development in Seattle right now.
It's one of the few recent examples of building an urban neighborhood, not just a single building. On a large enough site to make a significant impact, it's actually several buildings designed to create a place, not merely leasable space.
This complex of buildings, developed by the Daniels Development Company and designed by ZGF Architects, has been carefully divided into parts that are scaled and proportioned to reflect what is adjacent to each element. Buildings that have gone up recently in other parts of downtown could be anywhere. The ZGF buildings seem to actually belong where they are. The design team carefully studied the surroundings and developed different responses depending on the orientation of each structure.
The complex feels like four buildings that were developed independently, but located side by side. Each has a different personality — something that reflects the incremental development of blocks in Pioneer Square. Within the Pioneer Square district, only a few structures sit on parcels larger than a quarter block.
The mid-rise tower on the northwest corner of Stadium Place plays off the McRory’s building across King Street, with its heavy, dark masonry girth. The effect is more than skin deep; the brickwork on Stadium Place is hand-laid. More common in contemporary construction is the use of “panelized” brick, which looks uniform and flat. By contrast, the masonry in the Stadium Place building shows the subtle variations of individual bricks, set in mortar by real masons. On the structure's face, dark brown “clinker” brick, with its rough surface, gives a subtle nod to the big railroad warehouses that used to occupy the area when it was the railhead for the Puget Sound.
The building's south face, which fronts the parking lot and staging area for CenturyLink Field, is more austere. The glass tower on the southwest corner reflects its proximity to the more contemporary football stadium. The tower might have been a severe box with a taught, glass skin. Instead, its vertical mass is segmented into blocks, some of them slightly askew, with projections and recesses. The effect gentles the otherwise massive vertical scale, creating a more playful effect on the skyline. Otherwise sharp corners are translucent, almost diaphanous.
This approach borrows from Europe where cities are often filled with buildings that are hundreds of years old. New structures are deliberately designed to contrast with the surroundings, throwing old and new together and casting both in sharper focus. In our historic districts, we sometimes try to force new buildings to resemble older ones. Structures built today, with current materials and methods, are never going to match the construction craft of the 19th Century. Often the outcome is a “cartoon” version of history — simplistic and awkward. Better to celebrate the differences in time and technology, rather than force a jarring merger.
Occidental Square, a tree-lined promenade, gives Pioneer Square an intimate Euro feel. Credit: LWY/Flickr
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