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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Building on Broadway

Posted by on April 11 at 15:32 PM

Early on a Saturday morning last summer I awoke to the skull-breaking sound of a jackhammer. I live on Broadway, so I’m used to loud, what with the speed freaks carrying out their agonizing dramas at three in the morning, and ambulances two or three or nine times in a day, depending on the forces of chance, and, as happened last weekend, occasional major collisions (an SUV flipped a couple times and landed on its side in front of Trendy Wendy), but that Saturday morning jackhammer was unbelievable. They’d just torn down the former U.S. Bank there at Broadway and East Olive and were jackhammering the old vault into a bunch of small pieces so it could be carted away. Do you have any idea how long it takes to jackhammer a vault the size of a studio apartment into small pieces? Holy mother.

Ever since, I’ve been watching the development project in that lot carefully. Daily. It is what I see when I open my blinds in the morning. It is the foreground of a view of the downtime skyline that I’ve been looking at as much as possible, knowing that a good chunk of it will disappear when the new building is finished.

Turns out, my view isn’t going to disappear. At all. Weirdly, this disappoints me. I live on the sixth story of my building, and the new building across the intersection is only going to be four stories. This disappoints me because current height limits on Broadway allow you to build up to six stories. It disappoints me because I want to live in a city. I want a towering building of lit-up windows blocking part of my view. I want to wave at other people in their apartments going about their lives. I want to live on an urban canyon of a street. The urban canyons of New York City are a rare beauty.

And the other thing? The building going up is cheesy/trendy/contemporary. The old U.S. Bank building was a monument to someone’s brutal cement fetish circa 1970, but at least it had character. The new one (its address is 113 Broadway E, and there’s a color sketch of what it will look like at the site) comes complete with a tacky clock that hangs out from the roof in a very this-would-be-cool-if-it-were-still-the-’80s way—it doesn’t exist yet and already looks dated—that sums up everything wrong with this new building, if not all new architecture in Seattle in general.

I just got off the phone with Richard Muhlebach at Kennedy Wilson, the real estate company handling 113 Broadway E (as well as the building that will be right behind it, on Harvard Ave), and he told me that when 113 Broadway E was designed, the height limits on Broadway were still at four stories. “We were so far along in the design and building permit [when they raised the height limits] that for us to add two more floors, it could have delayed us another 6 to 9 months. Plus we could have had to go two levels deeper for a garage.” I.e., building to six stories would have cost Kennedy Wilson more money. (But it would have made a better building! Which is going to be there forever!) Then I aired my gripe about how it looks. “We think they’re very attractive,” he said, referring to 113 Broadway E and the building behind it. (The building behind 113 Broadway E is marginally better looking than the one that’s going to be on Broadway; for one, it doesn’t have that damn clock.) “The building on Broadway is, I’m not an architect, I don’t know what to say, I don’t want to say edgy, but it’s a little more contemporary,” he said.

To which I say: Whatever happened to old-fashioned and good?

CommentsRSS icon

You know, old fashioned and good never goes out of style. "Contemporary" does. Hel-LO SCCC!

I'm pretty sure the building is at 133 Broadway, not 113. And I'm not sure what Web site you speak of. I want to see this 1980s clock, which I'll point to every time I see a Broadway-walker with sunglasses bigger than their asses.

If it's any consolation, the building most likely will not be there "forever", any more than the building it replaced was, or the building before that, or possibly even one before that. It will of course be there for as long as you choose to live across the street, which is more germain to the issue, so perhaps you should be thankful that you will only have to look at its roof (with a skyline view beyond), and not at two more floors of "contemporary" architecture.

"To which I say: Whatever happened to old-fashioned and good?"

Because, you know, if there's one thing I connect with the stranger and their editorializing, it's being 'old-fashioned' and defending tradition. Hah!

Whoops, I guess you meant the physical site, not a Web site. But still ... 133, not 113. Almost positive on that.

Christopher has old-fashioned taste, good taste, but for old-timey things. It's weird to me. I don't think that aesthetic should be applied as a design standard for new buildings. Bring on the shiny new future!

I want a towering building of lit-up windows blocking part of my view. I want to wave at other people in their apartments going about their lives. I want to live on an urban canyon of a street.

So basically, you want Belltown.


your ability to attribute character to the cheaply executed midcentury modern structure that once occupied that corner is admirable.

even though I'm not in love with the design for the new mixed-use condos, the building will be more attractive than almost all of the other structures that currently line broadway (Your building is one of the few that doesn't scream hastily constructed functionalism).

I dunno. I used to live in that building too, right above rado (RIP) on the 3rd floor. I loved the marble floors in the kitchen, but the radiator clanking when you're nursing a hangover is terrible... it has its limits.

christopher, you confuse me with your mixed message. you long for "old fashioned and good" yet profess to wanting to live in an "urban canyon" with "towering building(s) of lit-up windows blocking part of (your) view."

dude. one of these things is not like the other.

most affordable modern construction is an abomination, not to mention poorly executed. walk the "canyons" of belltown on any given day and you'll see plenty of "towering buildings" wrapped in scaffolding, undergoing repair despite the fact that they were built within the last decade.

bigger isn't always better. i think four stories of crappy modern design beats six stories of crappy design any day, and in any city.

"bigger isn't always better. i think four stories of crappy modern design beats six stories of crappy design any day, and in any city."

I'll go you one further--four stories of good, old fashioned design beats six stories of crappy design any day, and in any city. :(

"Old" and "Old-fashioned" are not the same thing. New buildings that pretend to be old-fashioned are usually pretty abominable.

Frankly, I'd just be happy to see stuff not built out of styrofoam and Dryvit.

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