A look ahead to Seattle’s near future.

This is an open thread.

27 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: 440 feet”

  1. I’m all for increased density, but the buildings going up are garbage… Its either try too hard gimmicky or extreme boring, almost always ugly and with cheap materials. Denny Triangle is almost completely new buildings and it is a placeless dead awful environment. SLU is slightly better, saved only by it’s dwindling historic buildings.

      1. Those building are nice, poncho, but where are the rest of them? The pictures only show the bottom 4 or six stories.

        Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh. You’re one of those people.

      2. You asked for examples, I gave some. The link is only for one project, though a Google search will show photos of the others.

        One of those people???

      3. I really like the Cascade neighborhood. I think it stands well above it’s neighbors, which is a shame since it sits so close to the freeway. This is a wonderful corner (https://goo.gl/maps/CyUzz5u21j52), with good stuff around. From that corner, you have that cross hatched building (with the curve) which is a gem; a very nice building with pretty vertical wooden stripes next door to the right (the two complement each other); an old brick building down the street to the left. Even if the new building is boring, it works out really well (I haven’t seen it yet). There is a mix of old and new right down the street (https://goo.gl/maps/ffYnRBmMeMn). The REI building looks pretty boring now in comparison, which is funny since it was pretty bold when it went up. It has an excellent set of trees (of course) as well an interesting climbing wall. Down the street from there you have the pretty Orthodox church and a little further you have a very interesting building I like to call the Airstream building (https://goo.gl/maps/zBRpNTk2jU42). The park remains, as well as a handful of old buildings, As that place fills in, I think it is one of the finest neighborhoods in the city for architecture (at for the new stuff — I still like the old Capitol Hill apartments).

      4. I used to not know what people where talking about when they complained how ugly the new buildings are. Then I traveled to some truly beautiful places. I think it would be awesome if we built like the old buildings in Venice or Amsterdam. It might be easier to get people on board with the whole density thing. But even with these new buildings not being the prettiest, I think they are nicer than much of the buildings from 50s through 70s.

    1. STB least Seattle has a few places where older storefronts where saved as the false front of new buildings. That hasn’t happened here at all. We get row upon row of everything looking exactly the same.

      1. Glenn, there were no cute stores north of Lovejoy where most of the tall towers in The Pearl have been built. It was a rail yard.

        South of that street the buildings are much lower and there are LOTS of original buildings still standing.

        The same is true of SoWa; it, too, was industrial.

        Now that the Inner East Side is being revamped, we’ll see how much preservation occurs. The City can mandate it, if it wants to do so. Call your Council Member.

      2. Portland has a lot more 19th and early 20th century buildings remaining than Seattle does. That’s one thing I noticed about Portland, Tacoma, and Spokane. I saw them when I was there last year; they were visible from MLK and Hawthorne Streets. Maybe it’s just that Portland doesn’t have much development and developers are tearing them down when they build something, but there are a lot of them left, and I wish Seattle hadn’t torn most of them down.

      3. I’m not necessarily talking about downtown. SE Division and SE Hawthorne, as well as a bunch of places in N and NE are also being rebuilt with buildings that look exactly the same as the one just down the street. e.g., the old drug store at N Lombard and Greely used to be three floors with apartments above it, with a lot of personality and a turret on the upper corner of the building. Today it is a single floor Walgreens or Rite-Aid or some such with a parking lot that looks just like all the rest.

        There are around 10 new buildings on Hawthorne now with 1st floor commercial and apartments / condos above, and every single one of them looks exactly the same. Not even any color variations in the trim. The same exact building design is being used for about 12 new buildings along Division. I could almost get lost on Division between 20th and 50th now since there are so few unique landmark buildings. East Burnside is getting stuff like that too, but at least one of the buildings is somewhat unique because they put the balconies over the sidewalk, adding a few more square feet.

        Some parts north of NW Lovejoy was the railroad yard, but there was also an entire industrial section west of approximately 10th. These were older single floor warehouses and other industrial buildings that had a lot of really good architectural details cast into the brickwork that would have made great first floor storefronts for new structures and made them a bit more unique that what was put there.

    2. While I mostly agree about the new construction (Ballard has the worst offenders in my opinion) I think cases like SLU and Denny Triangle will take a few years to grow into. They feel sterile now because everything is so new but nothing is new forever.

      A lot of it also comes down to economics, course. Cheap construction built for a maximum quick return. Most of it is just ugly and even worse IMO is how the only commercial tenants they attract are soulless retail chains and banks.

    3. Yeah, but the new ugly buildings are mostly just replacing old and even uglier buildings. Also, a lot of the newer buildings in the downtown core are genuinely attractive.

      A lot of the city was run down quasi industrial space, or rat invested craftsman houses that were rotting to pieces. People have a false sense of nostalgia for the old buildings because the ones that are still around are the ones that were good enough to be worth preserving.

      I used to live in south lake union before it got rebuilt, and let me tell you this is a massive improvement. Same goes to the U district, which had a lot of construction that probably wasn’t suitable for human habitation.

      Sometimes I’m sad that some of the older brick buildings get torn down, but those things are all going to collapse in the next earthquake anyway.

    4. You have to distinguish between SLU and Cascade. Cascade is where most of the lovely prewar buildings are and it’s protected from upzones. The new midrises and highrises are replacing ugly, decaying, pedestrian-unfriendly warehouses. SLU stagnated when the Bay Freeway was going to take part of it out, and then when that was canceled the city dithered for thirty years on what kind of zoning vision it wanted for the area.

      The problem of ugly new buildings is a more fundamental issue than zoning or density or age; it pervades society. It’s a combination of modernism and cheapness. Traditional aesthetics are human-scaled and pay attention to detail. The goal is design objects sized for people and the smaller creatures we’ve interacted with for millenia. Moldings, small-scale decorations, curves, and a tall narrow 3×1 orientation softens the design and makes it more interesting and friendly. Modernism threw all of that away for large-scaled plain geometric shapes. It’s supposed to be more scientific and futuristic, but it ends up looking it was designed for robots. It’s part of a more general trend of of not recognizing the humanity in people. That was worse in the mid-century; it’s pulled back somewhat with the recognition that aesthetics, emotion, art, poetry, and nature are as necessary for human health as logic and analytical reasoning, but it longers on tenaciously in architecture and design. Straight lines and perfect circles don’t exist in nature: it’s all curves and fractals and approximations. Yet we build our new buildings in almost complete opposition to this.

      There are inexpensive things developers could do without changing their preferred rectangles and large-scale geometrics. Put a molding around wall edges and windows and doorways. Put a paint stripe along the edges, or a double stripe (two narrow stripes with a larger space in between. And raise the contrast; I especially like light on dark. Use more fake brick. I love that stuff: it’s not real bricks but it gives an inviting aesthetic like brick does. And focus on smaller-scale details. It’s not more expensive if you just decide something and mass-produce it.

      The other factors are the race to the bottom as barman said, and the changed real-estate industry that motivates it. Before the 1980s most buildings were owner-built, locally financed, and the owner intended to keep it for a long time and pass it down to his children. Nowadays many buildings are financed by investors in another city who have never seen the property: they’re going by real-estate type categories. It’s expected to perform like its category. And the investors want their return immediately, in 19 years, and then they’re outta here and couldn’t care less what happens to the building afterward. They insist on lowest expenses, the architects and owners prefer modernism, so the result is flimsy modernist crap. That won’t change until the owners change their minds, their clients demand it, or the laws mandate more traditional aesthetics (if that’s possible to legislate). We need the housing now so we can’t just wait for architecture and design to improve.

  2. Another nice look-ahead … https://waterfrontconstruction.org/ is a nice map-based website previewing all of the various construction projects along Elliot Bay for the next several years … tunnel, viaduct, waterfront, Colman Dock, streetcar, Pike/Pine, new promenade, various connections, new Aquarium building … with a time menu so you can see what projects will be underway season-by-season through 2023. Let’s hope the Seattle Office of the Waterfront can keep up the website up with all of the actual construction dates.

  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Moses


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Jacobs http://www.altimeterfilms.com/citizen-jane-battle-for-the-city/

    Pretty well says it about today’s title video, except Jane Jacobs wasn’t here to save us. What you’re seeing here in Downtown Seattle is what the first two planned to do to New York City right after World War II. Same absence of humans. Connected by freeways only, since transit encouraged humans. If the Luftwaffe could’ve reached New York…still not as bad.

    Only difference is that in Seattle, while the buildings are equally Earthling repellent, they’re also packed together, with no apparent relationship to each other, in either arrangement or shape. Can’t see I single building I can stand- except the one in first frame has a some imagination.

    Buildings I liked? Find the ugliest new one and jackhammer up the basement floor. Though worst of all, no attempt whatsoever to leave open a view or two of King Street Station and the Smith Tower. Would advise that none of today’s comments say “density.” Because all transit’s worst enemies will have to do is stand in front of a camera and point.

    Daylight? Streets feel as crowded as Bombay except less humanity , though denizens much better dressed. From sundown on, ever more people who obviously can’t afford the rent under freeway bridges. Mindful major effect of this construction, and market forces it created, not only displaced a record number of middle class homeowners from their homes of decades. But in three years, ripped to sheds thirty years of land use planning.

    Not kidding this time, anybody who knows jet fighters: Can they still do sonic booms, or will we have to rent something 1955 from Boeing Museum of Flight? And then about a hundred “gun-runs” and a five hundred pounder on whatever City office issued any of the permits. No more legitimate use for the Defense Budget.

    When the Downtown Seattle Transit Project started up in 1983, best thing about the time was feeling that my fellow new-hires and I would be the ones to define what World would Seattle personify the Class of. When your jackhammer breaks through the basement floor noted above, at the highest, you’ll find Seattle ten stories below the Fourth.


    Mark Dublin

  4. You know, I wish somebody would call me on these military references. I was never in war or close. Was born in 1945, so while my Dad’s friends an some relatives had seen some combat…I was five. Viet Nam, my feet were flat. Always thought that was a joke.

    But really express exact kind of hate the comics (often done by people who had “been there”) I feel for what’s happened to Seattle. I’ve lived in very large cities. Chicago. Detroit. But there was something human about them: Call it “Human Scale.”

    Does anybody reading this work in one of those buildings shown here? What are they like to be inside? All that glassed in space…how many people will work there? And more important, exactly what will they be doing? Let alone where they’ll all live- a lot less problem for them than for those of us who had to leave those places with a few weeks notice, often in buildings soon to be torn down.

    Seattle used to be a manufacturing town. What, if anything, of a world of that reality, is at all connected to anything that makes actual machinery? The economy in 2008 made bets. The cost of whose lost was levied on those the least to blame. Is this Round Two? Because I’m sensing the same kind of greed-blinded indifference in the building assemblage it’s creating.

    Somebody please tell somebody from Chicago and Detroit: What does Amazon actually produce? And how much would really happen to he world without it? These last years, I’ve had more medical things than one collapse out from under me with no warning.
    Seems to be something in the air.

    If the people using or owning those new buildings (how many ordinary people have ever heard of any of them) suddenly don’t need and can’t afford them…what will happen to them? The buildings and the people who will work in them…what evidence have we got that anybody ever will?

    Every time I’ve been into Seattle since this process started, in addition to the look of the buildings, I’m getting same sense of disorganization and lack of direction behind all the loose energy. Anybody else noticing that? Who’s really in charge? City government? Business association? Because it looks to me like not only is their nobody in charge, but nobody wants that job description to exist.

    Problem of “the homeless” now includes both mental patients and people who go to work from their cars, not houses. Should just not be happening in this turbine-powering stream of money. But most horribly significant of all is that neither Government nor Business can do a thing about it but angrily bemoan.

    But there’s one thing I think will do just fine through this all, whatever happens, is the transit system. Because people and forces with a lot of money will not be able to move a city block without it. And increasingly, the workers they need will be moving every farther from Downtown Seattle.

    For me, dispersal isn’t itself a bad thing. First of all, because it relieves the pressure to live in Seattle. And also because of its potential to live a freer life over a much wider area. Not talking about “sprawl.” But, like I’ve been saying lately, and orderly arrangement of life and work along fast transit corridors.

    Seattle? Wouldn’t be first time an unlivable neighborhood will, for awhile, be a few transit stops in a healthy region. Which in turn will bring it back to normal life. Not doom here by any means. And also huge money to either prevent or cure disaster.

    Just that anybody who cares about Seattle or its surroundings needs to get versed in the politics and administration necessary to handle what’s developing, and what to do about it Only question is whether the job will be open for you later or sooner.


  5. Oregon Public Broadcasting rides from Portland’s St. John’s community to Gresham on TriMet bus route #4. At approximately 2 hours in length, this is currently TriMet’s longest bus route. Complaints about transit and personalities involved will be familiar to some here.

  6. Thoughts about Cleveland? I may be going there this spring. I heard about the HealthLine BRT but I didn’t know it had rail until I looked at the agency’s website and saw it has a heavy rail line and two light rails, both of which seem to go to Shaker Heights. Is that the Shaker Heights that’s supposed to be a good example of a streetcar suburb? And it looks like the rail is pretty grade separated. I’ve heard conflicting things about the HealthLine, one that it’s a disappointment, the other that it has transit lanes from downtown going some five miles out. It seems that the trains and HealthLine all meet at a mixed-use hotel building downtown, and one line goes to the airport. That all sounds quite advanced and unusual for an American city. Is Cleveland a hidden jewel?

    1. I’ve heard it’s getting there in terms of gem status. Its bad reputation started when the river caught fire some years ago, but a lot has changed since then.

      The heavy rail line goes to the airport and is one of the few with overhead power.

      Yes, it is THE Shaker Heights. More here:

    2. Cleveland is a gem! I’d strongly recommend checking out both Ohio City and Little Italy, both of which are on the Red Line.

      I believe the Healthline has struggled with low ridership, but it’s a textbook BRT line.

    3. Yes. Cleveland looks pretty cool. Its on my bucket list. Go to Shaker Heights, its one of the best examples of a streetcar suburb. Go to Ohio City as has been mentioned especially to the West Side Market. The rail lines all converge in Downtown Cleveland at Terminal City (currently called Tower City), one of the best, earliest and tallest value-capture TOD transit hubs atop a station. The Cleveland Arcade is almost across the street. Looks like you can actually see and do almost all of the things you’d want to see as a tourist in Cleveland by rail transit and BRT… University Circle and Little Italy too.

  7. Quaint video but a couple of inaccuracies. The aerial of 2&U is wrong http://2andu.com/the-tower/. The aerial in the video appears to be somewhere in the Denny Triangle, based on the background. And the waterfront shots exclude the aquarium expansion. https://seattle.curbed.com/2017/7/12/15959930/seattle-aquarium-expansion-ocean-pavillion. Honestly, I haven’t seen any waterfront renderings yet that include the new aquarium. Although it won’t be complete by 2020, it’s an integral part of the redevelopment plan and likely to be the new waterfront’s crown gem.

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