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
Anchoring the northeast corner of the Stadium Place complex is a less exuberant structure that seems unusually light in color for Pioneer Square. We tend to think of that neighborhood as uniformly red, the color of its many brick buildings. But Pioneer Square is not really a monotone place. The designers of Stadium Place carefully studied color tones in the district and found many examples of buildings clad in light-colored stone. Think of the pale grey facade of the Maynard building at the corner of First and Washington, for example, or the white spire of Pioneer Square's signature Smith Tower. The pale face of the building anchoring the northeast corner of Stadium Place honors that lighter palette.
The three-story northwest quadrant of the development contains 32 “work force” housing units. Their inclusion partially satisfies the multi-party agreement — between government agencies and developers — that conveyed the property. Additional affordable units are also part of another project by a different developer in the International District. From the outside there is nothing different about the below-market units. Indeed, most people would likely never guess their presence.
As superb as the Stadium Place development is, it is not without its flaws. One is the absence of any recognition that it sits squarely at the end of Occidental Avenue — a four-block long plaza of grandly-scaled London Plane trees and brick “flooring.” The formal, symmetrical nature of this photogenic promenade deserved some gesture at its south end. My hope is that developers will add a large sculpture or light column as a marker of this intersection of King Street and Occidental. There is certainly room within the small plaza at Stadium Place.
The other odd aspect involves signage. Okay. NOLO is a play on North Lot. It’s the name of the brick building on the northwest quadrant; the blue and brown letters seem to be tacked onto the canopy over the entrance. I get it. But the use of O-based acronyms — SoHo, LoDo, SoMa — is getting a bit overdone. And why would someone place a puny, lighted sign saying “Stadium Place” over a nondescript, locked side door for the garage, oddly located in a prominent place along King Street? Using lights in windows of the tower to display the number “12” was cool. These little signs are not. The graphic design approach in the signs doesn’t match the refined character and detail of the architecture.
But signs and sculptures are small things. This project brings a big infusion of new residents into Pioneer Square. New retailers and restaurants will add to the growing numbers that are opening their doors in the neighborhood almost weekly. And Stadium Place anchors the southern edge of Pioneer Square with a quirky and elegant tower that echoes the idiosyncratic Smith Tower — built 100 years ago — on the north end.