Seattle Architects Look For Designs, Materials That Sets Them Apart


From the Amazon Sphere to the F5 Tower, Seattle’s architecture doesn’t disappoint.

But behind all of these dazzling lines and the PNW atmosphere, there are intricate strategies that balance LEED requirements, coworking amenities, millennial preferences and, of course, construction costs.

Courtesy Aaron Leitz

Amazon Spheres in downtown Seattle at dusk, with Willmott’s Ghost on the first floor.

Brad Hinthorne, architect and builder at Perkins and Will, said architects in Seattle try to differentiate themselves by using different products and designs while trying to decipher what the market wants. Perkins and Will will be present at Bisnow’s upcoming architecture and design event in Seattle on February 25th.

“In the office, the trend is towards coworking and flexible office space,” he said. “But it’s also about the health industry. Everyone is trying to find this crystal ball, everyone is concerned about rents, cost control and energy efficiency. “

Seattle’s modern architecture is all about symbiosis, the theme of this year’s Seattle Architecture Foundation model exhibition. New trends show how architecture connects communities, uses renewable resources and helps solve social problems.

It’s also more about placemaking, which provides areas of the outdoor space where communities gather. Both developers and architects need to think about how people move through spaces in order to interact with one another. Paths and connections to the sidewalk are important components that architects consider when designing the space around the buildings.

Projects shown at the exhibition included the 2 + U building, which has a covered area under the cantilevered building and connects downtown to Pioneer Square and overlooks Waterfront Park. Yesler Terrace, a 30-acre redevelopment, includes walking trails, community gardens, and a tram connecting residents with the surrounding communities.

Another popular trend is solid wood, also known as cross laminated timber or CLT, which can now be used as the first choice material after a law supporting its use, SB 5450, went into effect. Washington is the first state to allow the material to be used in buildings without first pursuing alternatives. The building regulations now allow the use of CLT in buildings with a height of up to 18 floors.

In 2018, a team that included the DLR Group, Martha Schwartz Partners, Swinerton, Fast + Epp, Woodworks and Heartland developed the Seattle Mass Timber Tower case study, in which the design of a 12-story, mixed-use wooden tower in Seattle is featured.

Although cross laminated timber itself is not cheap, the work is less expensive. It requires half the construction workers needed on site. It also has a fast learning curve and does not require a highly skilled labor such as iron workers. The cost savings come in the form of repetitions.

Cost savings are important, especially for architects who act as intermediaries between what consumers want, how codes and constraints work, and developers’ willingness to do construction work. It’s not an easy position.

“Construction costs in Seattle continue to rise,” said Hinthorne. “As this cycle matures we all need to think about what we should build and how much we should build.”