Community Recap - SAF - From Wheels to Woonerf

The Wheels to Woonerfs event on Tuesday, September 16,2014 was a free event hosted by the Seattle Architecture Foundation for the 2014 Seattle Design Festival: Design in Motion.   It consisted of an exclusive behind the scenes tour of the King Street Station restoration project, an AIA National Award recipient, followed by a panel discussion at the Klondike Musuem presenting various facets of urban design and transportation planning. 

The tour was led by Tim Williams of ZGF, project architect for the King Street Station restoration. Immaculately redone, the station is an exemplary case of a historic architecture preservation project.  The most exciting part of the tour was the behind the scenes access to the two-upper stories which were left unfinished for a future office tenant.  The space is still available for rent if you know of anyone interested

Photo Credit: Letao Tao

Photo Credit: Letao Tao

Photo Credit: Letao Tao

Photo Credit: Letao Tao

Photo Credit: Letao Tao

Photo Credit: Letao Tao

Our panelists were carefully chosen to span a wide array of expertise on transportation design and was energetically moderated by Lyle Bicknell (City of Seattle, DPD). 

Steven Shain (City of Seattle, DPD) presented the upcoming plans for the Link extension, its opportunities and challenges and what to look forward to in the upcoming few years. It was really exciting to hear about projects that we are contributing to in such a public and positive way.  

Steven was followed by Tim Williams (ZGF Architects) who segwayed, pun intended, into a presentation on bicycle infrastructure, a continued interest for our Schemata bikers.  He presented several bike-related projects in Seattle including the protected bike lane on 2nd ave and the bike-share program 'Pronto!' slated for official release this fall.  Tim ended with a reminder that we are nowhere near as bike-savvy as the Dutch and a call-to-action to aspire to their infrastructure capacity.  

Photo Credit: Letao Tao

Photo Credit: Letao Tao

Kris Snyder (Hewitt) then presented three Seattle woonerf (shared street) projects explaining the design concepts behind the urban intervention, the challenges and the outcomes.  He was very optimistic about the direction the Department of Transportation was taking in terms of being more open about new design solutions for transportation planning.

We finished off with Lesley Bain (Framework) who questioned the urban design of downtown streets, presenting a "traveling lounge" pilot project and opening up with the question of what will happen to the buses when the downtown tunnel will be exclusively for the Link. Her proposed solution imagined a system with a connected double-core (at King Street Station and Seattle Center) from which bus routes could array from the hubs. 

From left:  Lyle Bicknell, Lesley Bain, Kris Snyder, Tim William, Steven Shain. Photo Credit: Letao Tao

From left:  Lyle Bicknell, Lesley Bain, Kris Snyder, Tim William, Steven Shain.

Photo Credit: Letao Tao

Photo Credit: Letao Tao

Photo Credit: Letao Tao

Some interesting points that I jotted down that night:

  • The importance of language:  let's not vilify car users, but rather empower car-owners to believe that alternative transportation solutions are better.  
  • There is an incredible amount of growth projected for Seattle in the upcoming years from industry giants moving into the city like Amazon and Weyerhauser.  How will we be able to capture that increase in population both in terms of housing and transportation capacity?  And what happens if Amazon decides to leave the downtown core?
  • Pronto! bike-sharing to be available in Fall 2014 -- just around the corner!  
  • The benefits of seeing the city and to be seen zipping past traffic in above ground transit versus underground subway systems.
  • Factors influencing the success of an outdoor mini-lounge (or parklet?):  agency of adjacent business owners, foot traffic, vehicular traffic, movable furniture vs. fixed furniture.
  • Weaving the street right of way to slow down car traffic in woonerf design.
  • The learning transition time it takes for people to get used to new design features can lead to some very funny situations. 
  • After mulling about it for the past week, my answer to Lyle's question of what I would Iove to see tomorrow in Seattle transporation infrastructure...a more efficient public transit connection between Ballard and Capitol Hill...please!

This event was my first event as co-chair of the Design in Depth committee and I was extremely pleased it was such a smooth-running success!  Special thanks goes out to two new but extremely resourceful volunteers, Sandy Chalk and Dan Fernandez for putting together such a terrific group of panelists; Stacy Segal for her dedicated work as SAF executive director and to all the other SAF volunteers who helped out at the event, including our engaging panelists!  

Please click here for more photos from the event by volunteer photographer Letao Tao.

Seattle Prep Looks to the Northwest

For a number of reasons campuses merit special attention from the fan of architecture , including how -- in a concise venue -- differing design approaches can be observed. The earliest academic campuses include those of the medieval universities in northern Italy and in England, with Cambridge and Oxford setting the strongest precedents for what has become known as collegiate Gothic. Those of Italian influence (Padua and Bologna for instance) also served as models, but in a Renaissance flavor. These divergent sources from the North Atlantic to the Mediterranean created a menu of architectural styles for institutions that followed; one pick one's campus style, as it were, to be either pointy (Gothic) or round (Renaissance). A splendid example of the former is found just to the north of Capitol Hill on the University of Washington campus, whose historic core abounds with buildings of the collegiate Gothic flavor. 

Like the other primary and secondary school campuses I have written about (Holy Names Academy and Bertschi School), Seattle Prep brings an important assembly of building and landscape to Capitol Hill. Seattle Prep is unique among the three mentioned as it most closely resembles the traditional college campus. It is not associated with one splendid building as is Holy Names nor did it evolve in an organic and engaging manner as did Bertschi School. Seattle Prep is a planned campus of many buildings purposely built overtime. Yet within its planning, each building has it own unique identity and represents the prevailing tastes of its time, making the campus a great microcosm of larger architectural and academic trends.

Loosely fitting into the Renaissance precedent, what I assume to be the first, still extant building on campus has a defiantly Italian-inspired flair. The dominant, central arch of the central bay was at one time probably the main entry to the campus, and faces west. It is a stately and dignified building, as fine as any of its type. Speculating further, it was likely to have been designed by at least some graduates of the University of Washington, which at that time taught a decidedly classical approach to architecture (despite its Gothic campus). Unfortunately now hidden to all but the curious non-student (more on its stifling neighbor, later), this edifice no doubt had a commanding presence. The best view one can get today of its former dignity is that of its posterior on the eastern edge of the campus, as seen below.

Seattle Prep is in a geographically constrained corner of an urban neighborhood, and space is at a premium. Yet the need to grow beyond it's first major building presented itself, and, ironically enough, a brutalist building (brutalism being an aptly coined phrase describing much architectural design of the 1950's and 1960's) was placed virtually on the campus's first building. Despite its smothering embrace of the campus's early heritage, the mid-century addition has some redeeming qualities. Many will know of my love for steel-sashed windows, as seen pictured below on the building's southern facade. Here the character of the windows adds lightness and flair that its other parts lack. Just north of the lovely windows and along the the building's western wall, its past, brutalist transgressions have been remediated  with ivy.

In part due to the excesses of this first foray into modernism, there was a desire among the architect's of the campuses next major building to recapture, as it were, the softer more humanist side of architecture (that had clearly gone astray). Post-modernism was the answer for these architects, and during its fashionable years the building picture below payed homage to the campus's collegiate aspirations. But this was Gothic-light; like all of its postmodern brethren, this building awkwardly merged the symbolism of the past (pointy and gabled) with the modern building systems of the present (aluminum and glazed) in what its designer's must have thought a clever way of cherishing the past while looking to the future (or some such rationale).

Doubtlessly very functional, well crafted, and extremely well maintained, the building stands as an example of an architectural style whose time has thankfully passed and one that is unlikely to be emulated in the future.

The newest buildings (just opening for the this academic year) are the campus's most welcome additions since its earliest. Built on the location of a former building, the pair looks not to England or Italy for inspiration, but squarely to the Pacific Northwest. The shed roof forms, abundant glazing, and exposed wood framing clearly ground this pair as being of Seattle. Skillfully detailed and wonderfully landscaped, the newbies continue the architectural diversity of the Seattle Prep campus, adding to its architectural diversity and visual interest to all who enjoy strolling its grounds.