Seattle's future generation discusses urbanism

This Valentines Day, volunteers from Schemata Workshop teamed with the Seattle Architecture Foundation and other local designers to lead a conversation about architecture and urbanism with a dozen young Seattleites. The workshop was hosted at Jackson Place Cohousing, and the day began with a tour of Jackson Place’s shared common spaces, from a commercial kitchen and large dining hall to outdoor play spaces and neighborhood pea patches. After the tour, Schemata Workshop presented a host of different dwelling types from around the world and challenged participants to articulate the qualities of good urban environments and good homes. 

After the presentation, the students formed three teams and worked with the volunteers to create their own design for three actual sites in Capitol Hill. Each of the projects incorporated housing, various types of retail, and an array of inventive public spaces. Working through sketches and drafted plans, the students debated the best configuration for the different spaces. The volunteers helped them to understand the way factors such as site context, circulation, daylight, and public safety could inform their work. 

As students finalized the basic layouts for the site, they began to construct models to articulate their vision in three dimensions. Because the three sites were adjacent, clustered around Cal Anderson Park, building the models gave the students insight into how the projects would interact. Though they had much in common, the three sites also posed unique challenges, and the students developed a wide range of strategies to meet them. One project’s graphic use of color allowed it to dynamically address different scales—from a busy plaza to a quieter neighborhood. Another used individual buildings on the site to give identity to its different housing and retail spaces. Finally, the third project used a network of organic public spaces to carve into their building and form a relationship to Cal Anderson, across the street. 

When the students finished their work, they presented the models, listened to comments from the volunteers, and answered questions. In doing so, they contributed to Seattle’s ongoing dialogue on what makes a good city—from public spaces to private, from our parks to our homes.

  Photo credits: Schemata Workshop, Brian Blankenship, and SAF


Photo credits: Schemata Workshop, Brian Blankenship, and SAF

Bellevue, Bellevue, and Bellevue Part 2

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.

A neighbor to the Ben Lomond, the Roundcliff, holds the distinguished position of having a facade to all three Bellevues, a dialogue that is perhaps unique in Seattle. Typologically the Roundcliff is what I would call a classic Hill apartment building: three to four stories, golden to light-brown brick, and some vaguely Gothic, terra-cotta details (especially at the entry). A simple, 'corner building' with little fuss, its flanking streets dropping in grade gives a little umph to what is otherwise an appropriately modest structure. Following the dropping grade along the south facade, a taller Roundcliff is revealed than that of the corner. Framed by brick, laurels, and  providing  spectacular views, a pair of benches allows one to rest and take it all in, while being sheltered by a generous tree canopy.

Across from the Roundcliff's benches is a quintessential piece of Capitol Hill hillside landscape. An almost awkward asssemblage of retaining walls, posts, decks, narrow street, and tree canopy, the back of The Lookout is a perfect moment in the merging of landscape and building, and a very cozy spot indeed.

Heading south a bit, and wandering off of Bellevue onto the adjacent Summit Avenue  -- one is rewarded by finding a mid-century interpretation of the pre-war classic apartment as with the Roundcliff. The Summit has always been a favorite; an with an interesting yet simple interplay of different types of brick, elegant facade proportions, and a well-tended landscape make me yearn that there were more of its ilk on the Hill. The Summit's horizontality (a favorite mid-century trope) allows for a rather large building to blend in quite well on a street of older and smaller neighbors (including Capitol Hill's secret cottages, just to the south).

The highlight of B, B, + B's urban landscape is the small retail environments it fosters. While chaos and change seem to reign further south on the Hill -- islands of authenticity persevere here on its north end. Some of these areas of quiet, such as the commercial buildings pictured below, seem to have remained unchanged.

From a bygone era before QFC's Capitol Hill dominance, small grocers like the one below provided for many residents' daily needs; the 'Frozen Meats' sign advertising what was doubtlessy still a bit of a novelty when this store first opened perhaps almost a century ago. One is more apt to find beer and chips inside today rather than a frosty t-bone, a reflection of residents' propenstiy for lighter home-prepared fare, should they dine at home at all. 

Kitty-corner across the street, Cairo was just opening on this fine fall morning. Having been peeking in the windows for some time -- always when the store was closed -- I was captivated by its unique mix of accessories and clothing. At last, the time had come to experience them first hand.

Even after years of build-up, upon entering I was not disappointed. Cairo housed a wide array of selectively chosen bags, clothing, and accessories -- its eclectic mix reflecting that of the neighborhood that calls it home. Tucked away in this corner of the Hill, a corner overlooked by the agents of change happening elsewhere, Cairo represents much of what must be supported by Hill residents should we wish to preserve our funky vibe.

Almost Kitty-corner from Cairo is the original Top Pot, which has quickly rocketed to fame with franchises opening up all over the region and even in Texas. Yet despite this phenomenal success, the Summit Avenue spot still retains its Hill charm of mixing vintage and new, a quality that I hope the owners can continue to nurture as they expand. Even though Pike Pine is increasingly in the regional and national limelight, shops such as Top Pot and the intimate sidewalk atmosphere they steward is what keeps me firmly anchored on Capitol Hill.

Yet change does happen even here, and in the case of the Belroy addition and renovation, it happens with spectacular success. Developed locally and designed by one of the city's finest design firms, the Belroy promises that with care and craft we can manage the change that is a fact of urban dwelling and maintain the high quality environment most of us treasure on Capitol Hill. 

Although of a different era than Top Pot, the new cafe at the Belroy managed to create the same ambiance as it storied precedent, showing that modern design and enlightened development have just as much a place and as important a role in providng us the kind of public realm we cherish.