Architects on the Leading Edge

Some are trying to give Seattle an exciting, distinctive flavor.

A close-up of one of the three Amazon "biospheres" in downtown Seattle. Image Credit: Alexander Crook. 

Seattle attracts talented architects, even more so as the region continues to enjoy an unprecedented construction boom. Yet it’s rare to come across the distinctive new development that is not only visually stunning but also manages to add something special to its urban environment

Seattle architecture critic Lawrence Cheek writes in The Seattle Times about the recent spate of high-rises: “Many slam arrogantly into the street with alien indifference toward the human life ambling about their bases.”  

There are plenty of reasons why so many buildings disappoint. With construction and land costs high, developers feel compelled to take advantage of every bit of air and ground space they can persuade planning officials to let them to occupy. In spite of those constraints, a few architects and their partners have found ways to develop projects that dazzle, leaving their corners of the city better than they were before.


Allyn Stellmacher, top right, with a close-up of The Wave in Pioneer Square, left. Lower right, clockwise from bottom, interior of the award-winning Federal Center South in Seattle; Finlandia Hall by Alvar Aalto; another view of The Wave.

1. Stellmacher on architecture
It presents the opportunity to create enduring cultural and civic value — to create places and experiences that bring a little joy into the world. 

2. Recent Project: The Wave at Stadium Place
It’s a dance between old and new worlds, a way to have a foot in both with no apologies. It’s of its own time and place. 

We searched for a path that would allow us to create a significant structure that could also thoughtfully rebalance the ragged seam between the Stadium District and the more delicate scale of Pioneer Square, one that exhibits both sensitivity and a steely brawn. The Wave’s reflective skin melts into the horizon — a counterpoint to the aggressiveness of the boxes.

3. Coming soon: The Mark office/hotel tower
It’s the embodiment of a concise integration of a diverse context within a singular project. It brings together the old, in the form of the [preserved church] sanctuary [adjacent], and the new, in terms of the [44-story] tower [at Fifth and Columbia]. It’s at once a steward of all that’s been good in this city and a steward of all that will be good in this city.

4. Most admired architect
[Finnish architect and designer] Alvar Aalto. His architecture transcends the circumstances it set out to solve with a generosity and spirit reflective of culture and place.

5. On Seattle
Seattle is a boomtown and there’s a lot of visual noise out there. I hope we can find a bit of calm and a degree of refinement in architecture that will result in gracious, authentic and commodious places for future generations. 



Mark Reddington, top left, with the Link light rail station at the University of Washington, right. Lower left, top to bottom, proposed addition to the Washington State Convention Center; Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle. 

1. Reddington on architecture
It’s an opportunity to help make the future that requires understanding the big needs of community and culture and society as well as the specific needs of individual building users.

2. The ideal client
The ideal client is smart, ambitious and engages effectively in the creative process. They expect the architect to do great work. Having a sense of humor is also valuable.

3. Recent Project: UW Link light-rail station
The approach to the UW station is making connective systems that link multiple modes of transportation for the campus and the surrounding community in a way that enriches people’s experience of the city and campus. The collaboration with [artist] Leo Saul Berk in the creation of Subterraneum is an exciting feature that makes traveling through the station provocative and memorable.

4. Seattle design
We should not be pursuing a Seattle “architectural look.” We should be pursuing creative architecture that captures the quality of the Seattle experience — the climate, the quality of daylight, the connection to nature, the importance of material and craft and the culture of vibrant urbanism. We’ll make a better city by finding creative and idiosyncratic ways to engage those qualities and make the experience of Seattle unique.

5. Coming soon: Convention Center addition
It is a collage of multiple cool features. Each simultaneously performs as an individual experience, while also contributing to the greater collage to create an urban place. For example, the Pine Street hillclimb is a major set of stairs and adjacent seating platforms linking multiple levels in the building. It is parallel to Pine Street, with west-facing views down to Pike Place Market and Puget Sound.



Dale Alberda, top right, with the Amazon biospheres and office tower, left. Lower right, top to bottom, New Caledonia's Tjibaou Cultural Center by Renzo Piano; Seattle Opera at the Center.

1. Alberda on architecture 
Architecture challenges us with the opportunity to create harmony between art, utility and technology while reflecting on time and place and creating a lasting legacy. That isn’t easy; I love the challenge.

2. Recent Project: The Amazon “biosphere” buildings
We helped Amazon develop a vision for a unique workplace that breaks away from traditional office environments. We wanted to give employees the opportunity to think, work and collaborate while surrounded by unique amenities, including plants flooded with natural light.

3. Most admired architect
[Italian architect and engineer] Renzo Piano and his colleagues for their ability to consistently find bold solutions that are appropriate and well executed. 

4. NBBJ favorites
Several projects have transformed the way health care is delivered by enabling communities to deal with issues such as dignity, cultural sensitivity and healthy lifestyle, including the Palo Alto Medical Foundation campus in San Carlos, California. 

5. Seattle’s design signature
Seattle is growing up faster now than ever. In the past, a design “said Seattle” if it was a Northwest modern house in the woods, but we’ve moved well beyond that perception. Seattle was established with an adventurous and pioneering spirit. I hope that as we move forward, that spirit will be reflected in what we design and build here.

Executive Q+A: Seattle Mayor Ed Murray

Executive Q+A: Seattle Mayor Ed Murray

He wants the city's strong-mayor system to have a more robust organizational structure.
Under Ed Murray, Seattle has become recognized nationally for promoting progressive policies like the $15 minimum wage, but he also sees the need for more centralization in the mayor’s office to implement better controls over the city’s large bureaucracy.
EARLY YEARS: My father was a logger. Two of my uncles died in logging accidents. Later, Dad worked for Bethlehem Steel. He went to business school and ended up on the business side of the Port Blakely Companies and finally worked at the state Department of Natural Resources. As a large Catholic family, we sometimes struggled financially. I had paper routes, washed dishes and even picked blueberries — a job I hated — for clothes and to pay for dental work. In college, I worked full time so I could get insurance.
POLITICS: I’ve wanted to be in politics since I was 5, when John F. Kennedy was running for president. There was so much excitement. We stayed up later [on election night] and in the morning, we ran into my parents’ room and jumped on the bed to find out who was elected. There is this natural interest in politics among the Irish in America. I have cousins who’ve been elected mayor in the New Jersey and New York areas.
DRIVE: When you grow up where food doesn’t come easy, it’s almost a double fear that you will end up destitute. When you have opportunities like I’ve had in life, you absolutely want to spend every moment making it work. I’m driven and I look for people who are driven. At times, I’ve had to dial back the way I drive others. 
MAYOR’S OFFICE: This city has a strong-mayor system. Unlike in Boston or New York, I don’t have to [get city council approval] to raise the minimum wage or do a [child care] program. But we have a fairly small mayor’s office compared to other large cities. I’m responsible for 14,000 city employees in 28 different departments, including Seattle City Light and Seattle Public Utilities, but I have little ability to do independent oversight. We don’t have the controls that the governor’s office has with the Office of Financial Management. For the day-to-day administration, we need another level of centralization so, for example, we can build projects on time and on budget. We’re looking at ways to use statistics to measure performance. How do we monitor construction in real time to catch problems early?
BIG CITY: In my first two years in office, Seattle went from the 20th to the 18th largest city [in the United States]. That [growth] creates challenges. I’ve brought in some of the most innovative people in the country to work in the mayor’s office, to be directors of departments to take us to that next level. I focused on folks who’ve come from big cities because we don’t have a lot of depth when it comes to big cities.
PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT: The fact that we have been able to pass five ballot measures in two years to really catch this city up on transportation, parks and bus service. Maybe our pre-K [early learning] program will be, in the end, the most significant. If we get this right, we will radically change the outcome for those young people.
BUSINESS REGULATION: I worry about the impacts on the smallest businesses in the city. In a city that is rapidly changing, their situation is the most precarious. We need to do a better job on how we engage and assist them. That’s why I brought in Brian Surratt as director of the Office of Economic Development. But many of the things we have done, we have done with with business. Business was there on pre-K and transportation. If we don’t have a transit system that works, business doesn’t work. Even on minimum wage, business is not happy, but we created a model of phasing it in that has become a model around the country. With the housing levy, developers for the first time agreed with low-income-housing advocates to accept a requirement to build or pay for affordable housing in exchange for increased density in our urban villages. This has been a collaborative process. I do worry at times that some on the council don’t understand that most businesses operate on the margin. I do worry that there could be a piling-on effect without understanding the full implications of that. But business needs to do a better job of articulating what they want and not simply what they are against.
BUDGET: We have to be really sensitive to levy fatigue because we have a really regressive tax system that leaves us few choices other than property taxes. Having said that, the housing levy did pass by 70 percent. That was the fifth levy I had sent out in two years. I do need to add that Seattle’s tax burden is less than some of our suburban cities. Still, there are real risks here. On every budget speech I give, I remind the council that a lot of increased revenue we have received is off of construction that will ultimately slow down. We are keeping a high reserve to prepare for worse times.  
HOMELESSNESS: The first year I was in office was the last year of the 10-year plan to end homelessness. The city identified and built every unit it said it needed to end homelessness and yet the problem is worse. We need to be innovative about finding new ways to deal with homelessness. But the myth that Seattle can solve this problem hurts the homeless. Seattleites are pointing at each other for a problem that only the nation and state can help us solve. We’ve stepped up big time, but there is this issue of income inequality, and the massive heroin epidemic in this country while the government is retreating from its responsibilities. We are number 47 in what we spend on mental illness in this state. What disappoints me is the folks in Seattle don’t realize that towns up and down the West Coast all have homeless crises. That’s an area I have to own a failure — not being able to create a dialogue to create a bigger movement.
HERO: “When I was 13 or 14 and Wes Uhlman was elected mayor at 34, I read an article in the Seattle P-I that showed a picture of him on the balcony of the old City Hall. That’s when I wanted to be mayor.
FAVORITE VACATION: Visiting the Washington coast with his husband, Michael Shiosaki.
A LIFE IN POLITICS: Murray once confided to reporter Joel Connelly: “In 18 years, I have never been on a vacation where we haven’t been interrupted by some legislative crisis or some controversy in the media.”
TRUTH TELLER. “The biggest myth is that we have a large tax burden. We are the 18th-largest city [in the country], but in terms of tax burden, we are something like the 50th.”
GO, PILOTS. Murray was born in Aberdeen in 1955 and grew up in West Seattle and Lacey. He has a sociology degree from the University of Portland.