In rapidly changing South Lake Union, architecture tour sets sights on what works in Seattle tech hub

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In rapidly changing South Lake Union, architecture tour sets sights on what works in Seattle tech hub

Facebook’s new buildings in Seattle in the South Lake Union neighborhood have a pedestrian-friendly walkway in the center. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Joseph Kaynor has lived and worked in the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle for years. He gave the ever-changing tech hub a thumbs up while walking around the fast-growing area this week that is home to Amazon and more.

“I think it’s architecturally positive because what was here wasn’t really used,” Kaynor said of the neighborhood, which was a mix of warehouses and low-rise industrial buildings.

Now, with a mix of contemporary design and tall and short buildings crowding the busy streets between the northern edge of downtown and Lake Union, Kaynor sees texture in the landscape.

And while Kaynor was surrounded by a neighborhood full of people who mostly worked for Amazon, he offered his own interesting architectural review.

“You don’t feel right in the middle of Jeff Bezos’ brain,” he said.

An open space between and below the Amazon property in South Lake Union. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Anyone else who knows what is being built at the SLU themselves, or who would like to hear from professionals who might offer that setting, can take their own walk with the Seattle Architecture Foundation on Saturday.

With a mission to connect people to the architecture, design, and history of Seattle, the volunteer organization leverages programs, events, and tours to help people take into account the city’s built environment.

It is constantly changing so the itinerary is completely different every year with new buildings appearing along the way.

The Saturday morning tour is designed to shed more light on “no man’s land,” which has become one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in the country, as SAF calls it. That rapid growth means the SLU has been a focus of touring for several years, according to Stacy Segal, general manager of the nonprofit company.

“It’s constantly changing, so the tour route is completely different every year with new buildings appearing along the way,” Segal told GeekWire in an interview to get a preview of Saturday’s event. “We cover the architecture and the history of the neighborhood – what is currently there, what was there before and in some cases what will go online in the future.”

Part of the new Google campus in South Lake Union and an artwork in the center of Mercer Street. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

What goes online is not just Amazon real estate anymore. Silicon Valley tech giants Facebook and Google will also occupy major properties in the SLU and expand their growing presence in the Seattle area. Facebook began moving into a new 196,000-square-foot building just across from an Amazon building on Wednesday.

In the neighborhood, which previously mainly housed warehouses and industrial buildings, there is now a lot of activity every weekday with thousands of technicians switching between new office buildings and trendy restaurants, apartment buildings and hotels. Seaplanes landing on the nearby lake buzz over cranes and build the next technology tower.

Segal doesn’t just tour the place – she actually took root and has lived in the SLU for about 10 years.

“The first time we bought a spot in the neighborhood it was during the downturn and there was nothing,” she said. “We were a little hesitant. But now that we’ve been living there for a while, we’ve seen a lot of changes, and it’s different. It’s really convenient to a lot of things. I think as transit has improved and the convenience of the neighborhood has improved, it has become even more desirable. “

(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Those taking the SAF tour will learn about the reinvestment and redevelopment of the neighborhood from Denny Triangle to the shores of the lake, and participants are asked to consider which mix is ​​right for a successful neighborhood revitalization.

And while development across Seattle often grinds to a halt for a variety of reasons, including the same nature of modern architecture, Segal is defending some of her experiences at SLU.

She believes developers are doing a lot more than before, especially when it comes to green space and the pedestrian experience, including using anything from artwork to well-designed benches. She said it was important to consider not only the buildings but also the spaces in between.

“In my opinion, the buildings that have moved into the neighborhood are better designed than they used to be,” said Segal.

Segal recognizes the “softening of spaces” and the addition of parklets and passageways that make navigating the urban campus easier and more user-friendly.

The UW Medicine Complex in South Lake Union. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Miranda Lyons-Cohen sat in the sunshine this week on one of those thoughtful benches outside of UW Medicine, the University of Washington’s health care system, where she is a PhD student in the Department of Immunology. Lyons-Cohen moved to school in Seattle two years ago and likes to be in the neighborhood rather than on the main UW campus because “it feels like I’m working.”

To them, the neighborhood also feels very Amazonian and a bit sterile.

“In other parts of the city [the architecture] is more mixed; Everything here has been knocked down and it’s homogeneous, ”said Lyons-Cohen. “Because it was built in a short time, everything looks the same.”

Maslow’s restaurant is in a low brick building surrounded by Amazon glass. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

While Segal agreed that she missed the character of older buildings and warehouses, not all was crushed. She points to the Brave Horse Tavern, owned by Tom Douglas, as a rescued building that turned out to be “a really good development”.

“I think there is still a long way to go,” said Segal. “There’s a lot to do, but when I look at the new Facebook building it’s so different from some of the buildings that came before it, exactly as it is on this block. There has been a lot of deliberation and deliberation about how this road is used by people. “

The Saturday tour, one of 13 tours SAF runs across the city, lasts two hours and generally attracts Seattle residents who live and participate in the neighborhood because they’re curious about what’s going on in their own community .

South Lake Union(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

Segal’s hope in the next 10 years would be that more development would meet the need for affordable housing so that the city is a place where everyone can afford to live and enjoy.

“In any growing city, finding space for everyone is a challenge,” she said. “I think we’re trapped in massive growth right now that we weren’t entirely prepared for on several levels. But I think if you just stop looking there is quite a bit of thought in development. You have to try to appreciate that, and that’s what we try to teach people on our tours. “

The Seattle Architecture Foundation’s May 11 tour of South Lake Union will be from 10am to 12pm. The tour begins in Triangle Park across from Whole Foods and ends at Lake Union Park. Ticket information here.

The new center for wooden boats on the edge of Lake Union. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)
The tour concludes at Lake Union Park, where members of the Pacific Northwest Model Yacht Club sailed small boats this week. (GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)