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Thursday, February 14, 2008

Designs So Nice, They’re Building Them Twice

posted by on February 14 at 15:22 PM

You know what would look perfect across the street from the two matching Westin towers on 5th and Virginia? Two more matching towers. And up on 2nd and Virginia? More twin towers. And over on 6th and Bell… twin towers, and just down the block on Sixth and Lenora, still more. And over on Denny and Stewart, yup, you guessed it. Twin towers are the new black monoliths. They are all nice, tall buildings—we need the density—but considering that new zoning regulations are conducive to parallel high rises, they could get monotonous.

The Heron and Pagoda Towers


At 550 feet, these boys are the tallest twins expected in the maternity ward. Hummingbird Advisors is proposing 45 stories of condos, hotel rooms, and retail on 5th and Virginia. But, similar as the buildings by Ismael Leyva Architects may appear, they’re not exactly identical.

“They are not twins—we call them brothers,” says Steven Gestetner of Hummingbird Advisors. “When you look at them from any point you will not see them as being the same. They are from the same parents, so to speak. But you’ll never see them as being twins. They are the opposite of being twins.”

Uh… twins or not, they’re replacing an icon: the Icon Grill. Located on 5th and Virginia and conspicuously surrounded by fluorescent green land-use-action signs, when I went in last week, none of the employees knew the building is fated for demolition. Today when I called, the receptionist said she hadn’t heard anything about a development. (Yes, but haven’t you seen all the signs?) A manger got on the horn. “We have lease that expands for quite while,” said Icon manger Nick Musser, who noted that the city takes a long time to approve development proposals. “Until we have a timeline, it’s business as usual for us.” Which, for the Icon, is the equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic as it continues an unbroken track record of serving up its underwhelming menu.

Why so many twin towers proposed recently?

Recent zoning changes promote them. “In our case,” says Gestetner, “the twinness is sort of encouraged in a certain way by the combination of zoning and economics.” A couple years ago the city changed zoning regulations, allowing developers to construct taller buildings downtown, but also limiting the floor area in high-rises to 12,700 square feet. “The city wants to preserve view corridors,” he says.

70 percent of the base floors must be designated for retail and other commercial uses, according to zoning rules, but Gestetner says buildings must accommodate parking ramps and other logistical needs, too. “If you’re going to have lobby, it will eat up the entire ground level,” he says. “You end up having to purchase additional property to build a lobby… and when you’re done, you have room for two towers.”

The Insignia Towers

The block that used to home to Teatro ZinZanni, on 6th Avenue between Battery and Bell, is currently fenced and bleak. Any day now, Vancouver B.C. based Embassy Development expects to receive a permit to break ground for a project designed by Perkins and Company Architects. Embassy will construct two 40-story buildings—with an eight-story podium for mixed use, topped by 32 floors, containing 640 condos. “They are going to be relative mirror image of one another,” says Embassy’s Mark Oord, who seemed genuinely bubbly about the residential transformation of Seattle’s downtown. “From what I’ve always heard, the unofficial mandate from city hall is that it is trying to emulate [Vancouver].”


Second and Virginia Towers


Located across the street from one another on the west side of 2nd, these 400-foot twins will have their umbilical cord cut by Virginia. To the north will be a 40-story, 240 unit residential tower with 7,500 sq. ft. of retail at ground level and parking for 360 vehicles below grade. The building on the south will be 39 stories and contain 186 residential units, 139 hotel rooms, and 294 underground parking spaces.

More after the jump.

1200 Stewart


Here’s an image from an early design proposal for Denny and Stewart. More on these over here and here.

6th Ave and Lenora St

These two gals are going in on the site of the old UA 150. God, I loved that theater. So many memories. So many Red Vines.



The proposal is for a six-story podium with 18-story towers on top, containing 644 residential units in all. No renderings, sorry.

These buildings are all nice… on their own. But the great thing about twin towers is that they stand out as peaceful symmetry in the chaotic bio-pool of the skyline. But six sets of twin towers (including the Westin) suggests, not a break from the norm, but a dearth of creativity, as if to say the designs were so banal on their own that to magnify their presence we simply built identical ones right next to each one. Don’t get me wrong, density is good and sprawl is bad and meow, meow, meow. I getcha. It’s just that considering our zoning promotes building more of these single developments with two high rises, the downtown design-review board should place a moratorium on approving buildings that are so matchy-matchy. Six is enough. The board should instead work with developers to encourage future developments that are complimentary, like Bert and Ernie, rather than identical, like the Olsen girls. “Can the design review board make those sort of requirement?” I asked DPD planner Bruce Ripps.

“Certainly they could say that,” he says.

RSS icon Comments


twins are hot, man...everyone has a twins fantasy...

Posted by michael strangeways | February 14, 2008 3:38 PM

too thick. need to be thinner.

and why does everything in seattle have to be so furiously modulated? smooth surfaces can be nice.

Posted by max solomon | February 14, 2008 3:55 PM

more excellent work, mr. holden!

Posted by dpa | February 14, 2008 3:56 PM

@1, not those of us with siblings.

Posted by Giffy | February 14, 2008 4:02 PM

Doesn't the Seattle skyline have enough of this BS?

Posted by nbc | February 14, 2008 4:03 PM
Posted by nbc | February 14, 2008 4:06 PM

are there really enough people moving to seattle (either from the suburbs or from outside wa) who can afford the prices of these snazzy new towers? i have a feeling that in about 5 years, there's going to be a crap ton of overpriced empty glass-condo inventory.

Posted by Judith | February 14, 2008 4:17 PM

Great post, thanks for continuing to feed my inner skyscraper geek.

Posted by geekboy | February 14, 2008 4:23 PM

The Westin towers aren't twins. One tower is shorter, and ten years older. The older one used to have a Trader Vics, but they closed it for an "upscale" sushi restaurant that is now closed. I still haven't gotten over it.

I just thought you should know that.

Posted by catalina vel-duray | February 14, 2008 4:35 PM

Giffy, I'd have to agree with you...In theory, doing it with sexy twins SOUNDS hot; in reality, it's kind of oooky.

Posted by michael strangeways | February 14, 2008 4:35 PM

More condos, no inexpensive residential rental apartments ...

Sad, very sad.

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 14, 2008 5:02 PM

I remember when the Westin (was it called the Olympic then?) was a single tower, and I'm still not used to seeing two there.

I agree with Max @2. The problem with these has nothing to do with trivialities like design and style; it has to do with how they relate to the street; and the number one problem with how they relate to the street is that they TAKE UP TOO MUCH BLOCK. The city should stop futzing around with stupid design rules that do nothing and RESTRICT THE FOOTPRINTS. Go as high as you want, but don't take up the whole block -- forbid it. Our blocks are too big as it is -- bigger than most other cities -- and the masses should change as you move along the block.

The Heron and Pagoda towers are freaking hideous. They should have forced them to develop them as three separate parcels, or better yet five or six, with different architects and different developers. The towers' identical ugliness doesn't bother me half as much as that gigantic mass at the base that craps on Fifth Avenue and all the people who might ever walk there.

Posted by Fnarf | February 14, 2008 5:11 PM

density, yes.
affordable apartments, YES.
overpriced CONDOS to generate more treacly bullshit in the saturday real estate section ("mere steps from the theatre! host a wine-and-cheese party in the entertainment lounge!")? turning downtown into a sunless clausterphobic wind tunnel? pushing the last shards of working-class reality into the periphery?
it makes me feel nostalgic, bitter,
pissed off, and really fucking poor.
and it makes these projects look incredibly ugly.
seattle in 10 years: a retirement community of affluent caucasians, wondering where their fabulous city went.

Posted by pretentious | February 14, 2008 5:30 PM

1200 Stewart looks like a two-fer on Sharper Image room air de-ionizers. All the others, save one, are "meh."

The only standout-- Heron & Pagoda's central court is amazing. That's a fantastic looking space.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | February 14, 2008 6:31 PM

#12 FNARF -

The original tower of the Seattle Westin was The Washington Plaza Hotel. It was built in the 1960s after the parcel owner made room by demolishing the gorgeous old Orpheum Theater:

Posted by Slip Mahoney | February 14, 2008 7:05 PM

Washington Plaza, of course. That was it.

Posted by Fnarf | February 14, 2008 7:08 PM

Jubilation @14 -- what are you seeing? It doesn't look fantastic to me, unless the Convention Center or Pacific Place counts as fantastic. Which they don't. It looks hideous to me.

Posted by Fnarf | February 14, 2008 7:11 PM

@12: fnarf nails the issue regarding block size. Most of the blocks in the regrade are 360 feet long, compared to the 200 foot blocks in Portland's Pearl District that urban designers nationwide drool over.

When one of these superblocks is redeveloped, we get a once in lifetime -- literally -- chance to break these blocks up, ideally with new ROW's across the middle. Of course, it ain't gonna happen in a culture where property rights rule.

The scale of development on the street matters more than how many towers above. Full-block projects destroy the diversity of architectural style, building age, affordability, use, and occupants. And this is why people tend to like development like this, but loathe development like what's happening on the 500 block of East Pine.

Posted by Henry Miller Lite | February 14, 2008 9:23 PM

Oh Poo! Slip beat me to answering your question. But just to add to the triviality, Fnarf, The Olympic Hotel (now the Fairmont Olympic) was a Western International Hotel in those days, as was the Washington Plaza, so perhaps that's why you're confused.

(Western International was the former name of Westin, which used to be a Seattle-based company, based out of the Westin Building, which now has absolutely no relation to the hotel)

Prior to the construction of the Westin Building, they were headquartered out of a grim building where the W hotel now stands, with executive offices on the top floor of the Olympic.

Never underestimate my ability to bore you.

Posted by catalina vel-duray | February 14, 2008 9:26 PM

@17: Haha, I got to write "at 17"...I'm a lesbian.

Um, Fnarf, all I can say is vive la différence.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | February 14, 2008 9:33 PM

Catalina, you never bore, and if you do, I can bore right back. Don't MAKE me get out my city directories and post block-by-block narratives again.

The history of Seattle hotels is a lot more interesting than most of what goes on around here.

Posted by Fnarf | February 14, 2008 11:34 PM

Why do so many white folk want to live downtown?

Y'all is crazy.

Posted by Shaniqua | February 15, 2008 8:10 AM

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