Rendering from NBBJ, via Seattle Times

Last week, NBBJ, the firm designing Amazon’s new South Lake Union Denny Triangle complex, released updated renderings of the project’s tower designs, which give a glimpse as to how the downtown skyline might change upon completion.  Without a doubt, these buildings will be the tallest in the Denny Triangle, and is a sure sign of the infill development that is to come in the future.

Aesthetically, the towers are of a typical post-modern design heavy on the glazing, which doesn’t really seem to be inciting strong opinions either for or against, given the proximity to downtown.  When looking at street-level renderings, released earlier this year, there’s a fairly strong inclination to emphasize landscaping and open space, which can hopefully be complemented by sufficient activities and uses beyond the typical daytime office worker.

62 Replies to “Changing the Skyline”

  1. Absolute horrors.

    “We want the benefits of being in the city but we turn our backs to it”. The angled orientation destroys the street grid, the open space says “we hate the public space”. Oh, and look at all the happy young white people in the pretty pictures. IN the city but not in any way OF the city.

    These things are DISGUSTING.

    1. What the heck are you talking about? The street grid is already messed up there due to Westlake.

      > Oh, and look at all the happy young white people in the pretty pictures.

      Who gives a crap what race the people are? Face it, most people in Seattle are white. I’m really not sure what your point is.

      As an aside, I really don’t consider this to be SLU, but more Denny Triangle.

      I’m glad these are going up. Why do we need a car lot next to sky scrapers.

    2. Did you even look at the renderings?

      The new renderings barely have any people visible, and the few people that are visible are too far away to identify their race.

      The old renderings have people of all colors. Most of them are white, but not nearly all, and that’s an accurate reflection of the city we’re in.

    3. I’m a little less disgusted than you. True, they’ve certainly turned inward. Their lobbies and a good half of their retail faces inward. But they did keep a street wall for many of the exterior streets, with the other half of retail. What gets me is the number of car enterances. That’s not pedestrian friendly.

      Check out the massive (46MB) PDF from the latest design review.

      P. 12, 13: For Building 14 there’s retail on 3 of the 5 sides. That’s not turning their back, though I don’t love the loading dock on Virginia. Curb cuts on three streets for vehicles.

      P. 36, 37: Mostly turning their back – most retail is on Lenora, which is effectively on their campus. There’s some on Westlake and Blanchard, but it’s pretty weak for a city building. Hate the 4-lane curb cut on 8th and another 2 lanes on Blanchard.

      P. 55, 56: Another 3-side street retail. Lots of lobbies in the interior. Ugh – curb cuts on three sides.

      1. ‘Not Pedestrian Friendly’, compared to what? A car dealership?

        Could these buildings be better, yeah, of course they could, but they are pretty damn good.

      2. Don’t get me wrong – I love that they’re building this. But there are a few features I’m not thrilled with. Like all of the curb cuts. And I haven’t made my mind up about the green space – I don’t think it will work the way they think it will. I’d tend to trust architects to know their business, but I’ve seen too many bad green space projects to give me much faith.

    4. I do think you should give them some credit for locating in a city. Sure, the street level feels a bit office park, but at least they didn’t go the Microsoft route of actually building an office park in the middle of nowhere. Whatever they build will bring a huge amount of street activity to the area.

      1. They can’t locate outside of the city and keep their employees. It’s not something to “give them credit” for, it’s part of their business.

      2. Possibly, but I think you do have to give them credit for being MUCH less suburban than say the Gates Foundation’s new campus.

      3. Actually Microsoft wanted to be in a city too! It’s a little known story, but Microsoft originally wanted to be in downtown Bellevue but Bellevue didn’t allow them to build more than 2 floors! Can you imagine? This was in the early 80s… Redmond allowed them to build up to 3 floors I think so they decided to be there.

        Can you imagine what Bellevue downtown would have been with 40,000 Microsoft employees working in skyscrapers? The skyline would have rivaled Seattle’s! We probably would have had East Link built by now too. Oh, well :(

      4. And speaking of that alternate reality… the 545 AKA the Microsoft Commuter runs every 10 minutes in the morning. Combine that with the 550’s 10-minute rush hour frequency and if you’re running crowded artics every 5 minutes you have a strong case for rail……… until next time I reach 88 mph…

      5. In the meantime Bellevue has embraced height (in limited areas) but Redmond is keeping Overlake capped at the same historic level, and limiting FAR to less than .5, meaning their 3 story office buildings have to sit as islands on acres of lawn.

      6. When Microsoft first moved to Bellevue, they were in a mid-rise building at NE 8th and 108th NE. Later they got space in another 7 story building down the street. It was only when they consolidated in space on Northup that they were in a low-rise. By the time they moved to Redmond, they were also in three and four floor spaces on the other side of SR-520.

        The first buildings in Redmond were relatively tiny two story buildings.

      7. Bellevue didn’t allow them to build more than 2 floors! Can you imagine? This was in the early 80s…

        I think this is urban legend in the making. Bellevue’s first “skyscraper” was the PacCar Buildling; at 12 stories it was built in 1970. Several taller buildings along 108th gave downtown Bellevue a skyline by the mid-1980s. I think it had more to do with tax breaks Redmond was willing to give this start-up company and large parcels of land could be bought dirt cheap out in Overlake as the world was flat back then and 520 fell off the edge at 148th :=

      8. I was involved in a tech start-up back then and we looked at a location in Bellevue but one of the key decision factors were the taxes in Bellevue versus Redmond. Redmond had only a “head” tax (iircc $50/head/yr) versus a unitary tax in Bellevue that any way we sliced it made it much more expensive to locate in Bellevue. We chose Redmond.

      9. one of the key decision factors were the taxes in Bellevue versus Redmond.

        That sounds more like it and something I’ve heard at Council meetings from Don Davidson who was personally involved back then and has made no secret of the fact that’s one of the things they didn’t get right. OTOH, Bellevue has attracted a much broader base of commercial support than Redmond and while they can’t get bike lanes or neighborhood road projects right they have on whole done a better job with land use policy than Redmond or Kirkland. There’s a point of diminishing returns on tax giveaways. Bellevue caved on the old Kmart property which I think will prove to be a 20+ year mistake.

  2. I was sitting on the corner of Westlake and Denny out front of Whole Foods yesterday and was pretty impressed by the level of pedestrian activity and passive use of the corner.

    The Amazon plans call for a number of retail spaces among the three buildings (see page 10 of link). Hopefully Amazon “curates” these spaces well, to get a mix of tenants.

    You can see detailed design here.

    1. Having observed this area over the past year I must say pedestrian activity in SLU has been increasing very rapidly. I have seen quite a few restaurants pop-up in SLU. I think that area is truly booming.

  3. I happen to like that one tower aligns its facade with Westlake and the the ohers align with 6th Ave. The tower on westlake looks as though it would have sunshine on its open space through 1PM during daylight savings, since Westlake runs more or less north south. A long overdue addition to Belltown.

    As for the question of race, I think Amazon employees may be a bit more diverse than residents of Seattle generally, just from my impression. Maybe the architects need to get some new clip art.

    1. My old census district in NE Seattle (hardly the most diverse in the city) was 72% white. For fun I compared that to my new one in Greenville, SC (similar economic level in relation to the rest of the city), and it was whiter there, despite popular opinion that Seattle is lily-white and the South is not. The biggest difference was in the sheer number of different races/nationalities here, whereas in SC not so much–and the fact that the color line as a physical manifestation is still very evident in much of the South. (Bigger cities such as Atlanta are more “diverse,” of course.)

      1. Yes, my hometown is ‘diverse’ in that it near about majority minority… 50/50 Black and White*. However there is almost no social interaction between the two groups, with there literally being a white side of the tracks and a black side.

        *Actually a decent amount of Creeks, but considering the reason they didn’t get shipped to Oklahoma was b/c they were White Stick Creeks (fought with Andrew Jackson against Red Eagle [William Rutherford; one of my ancestors] and the Red Sticks), they pretty much integrated into the white population. Didn’t get recognized until the 70s and in the black and white dichotomy that is race relations in the Deep South still get counted as ‘white.’

  4. I wish we had allowed taller buildings in this area. Overall this won’t affect the skyline much, which is unfortunate for the headquarters of a large company like Amazon.

    1. I may or may not agree with your opinion, but how would it make the neighborhood better, and not just your photographs from Lake Union?

      1. Allowing taller buildings in theory* would bring more density. The more density in a downtown area, the shorter travel distance to meetings, the easier it is to serve with transit, the more potential jobs in our area, and the greater pedestrian densities to make the city more lively and retail more successful. Considering Amazon is planning on building right up to their 500′ limit on all three building probably indicates they would have built taller, bigger buildings if Seattle would only let them.

        * Depending on Floor Area Ratio rules. Without upping FAR along with height, we’d just have taller buildings, not more floor space.

      2. I’d believe that if the most pedestrian friendly area in town was 5th and Columbia.

      3. Ryan, if the area around 5th and Columbia hadn’t been built during a time when single use was nearly completely codified, it would be VERY pedestrian friendly.

      4. That’s FAR you’re talking about. It’s created terrible windswept plazas is Seattle, as architects try to create as much “green space” as possible so they could build taller and still meet FAR. If we’re going to insist on a restrictive FAR I’d at least like to see podiums to create street walls with retail – something to keep activity on the sidewalks. Columbia Tower hides their retail in their basement, and nobody lingers outside for longer than they have to, since there’s nothing to do there.

    2. Not sure if this is going to “nest” properly, but responding to Matt’s comment below – FAR standards do not create terrible windswept plazas, unless that’s what your code is rewarding.

      Increases in FAR for street walls at the sidewalk level, appropriate retail, other urban amenities and that’s what you’ll get.

      Greed is a predicable and powerful force. Reward it for the creation of public goods and then just stand back out of the way.

      1. “Increases in FAR for street walls at the sidewalk level, appropriate retail, other urban amenities and that’s what you’ll get.”

        Yes. Why don’t we have this? Of course, because people love the idea of “green space”. Just not the reality of it (see: the dead area around many/most tall buildings in Seattle).

      2. The columbia tower exists in its current form because of the retail bonus in the code. The planners said give us retail (didn’t specify where) and we’ll give you more FAR – thus a three-story food court was born and FAR was accessed to get to 30, which I believe was the max at the time.

  5. One way to reduce the number of curb cuts is to explore tunneling between the buildings. If these were traditional blocks with alleys there would be no less than two curb cuts per block – maybe that’s what their should be rather than what’s being proposed.

    1. You could probably also reduce the number of curb cuts by not requiring a nine-stall loading dock in each tower. Seems a bit excessive.

      1. Loading docks are defined by a combination of what’s required by code, and what’s necessary by use. Since the cuts for loading docks are basically an “in/out”, two lanes wide, serving one stall or nine doesn’t change that width if the idea is to go completely into the building to create the dock.

        The alternative, if there are few stalls, is something like the Macy’s building on Third Avenue…not so positive.

      2. There are similar docks under most downtown buildings. I’ve delivered to most of them. They are an absolute necessity, with the sheer amount of deliveries an office building takes. The buildings garbage collection usually comes out of the loading dock, a half dozen different courier services are coming and going, caterers are coming and going, vending machines are being refilled, office supply deliveries are being made, there’s cleaners, maintenance companies, all manner of stuff. The loading dock of a building is a very busy place, and very important to the function of an urban office – a large dock ready to accept deliveries keeps the people working in the building from having to drive all over town making gofer runs.

        2 curb cuts are sufficient usually – one for general purpose parking, and one for the loading dock. I think there’s one building downtown that shares a curb cut for both purposes, and then the ramp forks off under, but having an internal intersection eats up a lot of space.

        If you put access off of the alley it’s better. But these buildings won’t have alleys.

        I hope delivery access is better than the Union Station buildings Amazon’s been occupying – those things are a nightmare to (legally) deliver to. You have to go through the parking garage entrance, take a ticket as if you were parking long-term, go into the dock, then go up to the walk-in lobby to get a passcard for the freight elevators, go back down to the dock, make your delivery, go back up to the main lobby, hand in your keycard, and get your parking validated (1 hour only! Hope you’re not moving too much!).

        Compare to the Seafirst tower – drive in, tell the dockmaster where you’re going, get namebadge, make delivery, leave. Also they have a human attendant for the freight elevator, who checks badges and sets it to express once it’s got a full load. But the dock there is a bit small for a building of that size.

      3. We general contractors need the loading docks too. Any major tower will have frequent renovations, whether it’s 5,000 sf tenants moving, or a big company with a lot of departments that shuffle occasionally.

  6. “which can hopefully be complemented by sufficient activities and uses beyond the typical daytime office worker.”

    Looking at Amazon’s other buildings, am I wrong in thinking that this seems entirely unlikely? At least in the Cascade there is a fair amount of residential on both sides of the complex, but this won’t be the case here. What will drive the non-badged employee use?

    1. Amazon’s other buildings aren’t bad. They’re not *great*, but they’re slowly filling in with publicly accessible restaurants. Sure, they’re mostly catering to Amazon employees, but that will change over time. The space itself is fine, it’s just new and incomplete.

      1. Westlake, Fairview, Denny and the pedestrian horror that is Mercer slice up the area something fierce, creating disconnected FHCRC, wooden boat space, the Somewhat United Tribes of Amazon, and other zones that are difficult to walk between (I’m assuming the area out past Glazer’s is still a wasteland, haven’t wandered around there recently). Better than in the just-the-Rosen-building days, but still. Turning over some of the ample pavement on the other excessively wide roads in the neighborhood would also help (more real estate, less speeding, maybe add some trees, less dilapidated pavement to pretend we’re paying to maintain, etc).

  7. I think thje forthcoming 41 story Insignia Living towers on 5th and Blancherd that they have begun construction on will be taller than the proposed complex.

    I am in favor of replacing hideous chain link fences and sprawling car lots in South Lake Union and the Denny Triangel area so I welcome what will be doing. I was thinking they could have had sone fun with making the desigbn look like an ‘A’ from above but is that too fanciful? I would also like to see us building some more interesting buildings that are not just up-turned rectangles but have interesting shapes – think the new ‘Shard’ in London or the Empire State of old in New York. Appreciate no one is doing art-deco any more but so long as they don’t look like the ‘box the Space Needle came in’ or any of the other concrete monstrosities that went up in the 1950s and 1960s in Seattle, I will be OK with it.

    1. No, that’s a 400′ zone. They’ll be limited to 400′ for usable floors, and a 10% bonus that residential buildings seem to have for mechanical and architectural, so 440′.

      It’s also unusual for housing to go over 10′ or so floor-to-floor, in Seattle where height limits are pretty strict. Offices are often in the 13′ range.

    2. For what it’s worth, I think that the Insignia Towers are located between Battery and Bell and Sixth and Fifth, right where the Cadillac dealership used to be. And where Teatro ZinZanni hung out for a while back in the day. That space has been a sad monument to the last real estate crash for quite a while now, so it’s probably good that they’re actually getting some work done there now, before anyone’s confidence starts to waver.

      Fifth and Blanchard is near where Top Pot Belltown is. Mmmmm, doughnuts.

  8. Actually I can sort of see an ‘A’ in the opening artistic impression. Maybe it will be more obvious as they proceed…..

  9. I admit that I haven’t been following the details on this project as closely as I should have, but could somebody tell me why this was originally described as being built at a “South Lake Union” location?

    I always sort of assumed that these buildings were going to be built closer to the lake. The Denny Triangle/Downtown area seems like a sensible location, but it’s closer to the waterfront and the Bell Street Pier as it is to the south edge of Lake Union. Closer to the Pike Street Market, even. Was there was a different project that I’m confusing this with, or was the location name just a bit of development branding/promotion from the start? (At least they’re not calling it “The Amazon Headquarters at West Edge”.)

    1. I think that was just a mistake that Sherwin made. And it’s an easy one to make – the rest of Amazon is in SLU. I don’t think Amazon or the architects have ever been unclear about this being the Denny Triangle area. These properties, along with many others in the triangle, are/were owned by the Clise family which has been consistant with their vision for transforming that area.

    2. As Matt says, this was a slip-up. What I really meant to say originally was that these will be the tallest towers Denny Triangle and north. That’s why I put a strike-through through “South Lake Union.”

  10. It would be nice to have a super tall building (900+ feet) here, not that’ll ever happen.

      1. This concernabout height is sophmoric. Density doesn’t have to come in 90 story bldgs. Frankly, I am more concerned with the projects architecture which is mediocre at best and the way the buildings meet the street……..again mediocre at best. I expect better from Amazon.

  11. Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, “Lincoln Square expansion on again after four-year break:

    “…tech companies are in a “recruiting battle” on the Eastside, he said. “They’re trying to create the best environment they can for their employees, and we’re trying to help.”

    This plus Amazon plus the tower at Second & Stewart and we could start to see the rebirth of the forest of construction cranes. First in and first out is the way to make money from a boom as opposed to being the one left in a crater.

  12. For a company built on the ability to warehouse an distribute goods anywhere on earth…and now, with its own Cloud…having the ability to do the same with data…it seems ironic (and somewhat hypocritical) to use a brute force method and cram everyone, 20th century style, into an obsolete vertically dense skyscraper.

    But often these objects of status reflect the values of the last generation…not the current one. A company which barely makes a profit and which lost money last quarter needs to grow a bigger tail, a longer horn, to “prove itself”.

    1. Remember that right now, this year, this month, Amazon is also a grocery delivery service. By the time these new buildings are completed, no one knows what sort of balance Amazon’s work force will have (even in the city of their Headquarters Campus). These towers could hold operations for media sales, or travel scheduling, or real estate investment, or health care avisors, or customization salons for the Segway9000 Happy Jet Pack Pal(tm).

      Then again, I suppose that part or all of these buildings could get leased out to someone else, or sold, or traded. It’s a business operation, after all. Stuff happens.

      1. When the number of loading docks was discussed above, I wondered if the buildings could be vertical warehouses.

      2. I’d hope that these days, future re-configuration would be assumed to be a distinct possibility at some point during a building’s life span. Apartment to office, office to hotel, etc. Personally, I can imagine that either “vertical warehouse spaces” or “artisan work lofts” might be appropriate uses for some buildings like these at some point.

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