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Friday, July 13, 2012

What Can You Do About the Ugly Colors on New Development Projects?

Posted by on Fri, Jul 13, 2012 at 12:25 PM

Miko writes with a question shared by many people with eyeballs: "Is it possible that during a public design review for these large real estate projects in Seattle (Capitol Hill), one could stand up and say, "Please, for the love of God, don't paint your building that horrible yellow/brown/orange scheme?"


Baylis Architects did this.
  • DH
  • Baylis Architects did this.

Okay, okay, this thing on 13th and Madison Street—that Baylis Architects presented as something far more appetizing when it was just a drawing—is one of the ugliest things the human brain could imagine. Did Stevie Wonder design it? With help from Helen Keller? Who's dead. The problem isn't just the colors, which I kinda like, but just the fact that it's a composition failure. And there are lots of new developments now on the way because lenders are investing in urban, mixed use properties again and lots of design review meetings are scheduled this summer. So here's my message to Miko:

Hi, Miko, nice eyeballs.

You can totally go to the design review board meetings and beg developers to refrain from using hideous color palettes. But, I'll warn you...

... the design review boards have zero enforcement authority. They're stacked, overwhelmingly and by design, with the very same industry insiders—architects, developers, and realtors—who have their own projects that go before the boards. The Capitol Hill board is stacked four against two with industry professionals and the downtown board is all industry. So, for whatever reason, they generally avoid asking for big changes, even if they're looking at designs that clash with the neighborhood. And even if they did ask for big changes, they, again, have no way to demand them.

But if you ask me—which you did, kinda sorta—the main concern with these new developments isn't the color. It's how the developers and architects design the ground floor. As I and others (like Fnarf) have lamented, the problem these projects typically share is shallow retail spaces (like that new thing on Belmont and Pine), because much of the ground level is consumed by parking facilities (like the Joule on Broadway). Unlike a paint color, these problems are permanent and they ensure that the buildings' functions, not just their aesthetics, are forever skewed to invite corporate chain stores (that love lots of window space but don't need much storage or production space in the back) instead of affordable local retail spaces (that need lots of storage and workspace but can't afford lots of glass street frontage). Too many of these are death to a neighborhood. And the design review boards seem oblivious to this structural design flaw while dwelling on meaningless bullshit like tiny setbacks that create vacuums of activity or the color of the siding. And they can't even get that trivial bit right.

So if were you, that's what I would complain about—the big designs errors that go by unchecked—and then complain about the shitty colors.


Comments (40) RSS

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deadrose 1
Still, it looks as though the 70s threw up on them. Don't even get me started on the ones that look as if they took potluck from the finish panels pile at the warehouse.

I predict it won't matter how bad the retail space is, because they're so ugly and so badly built that they'll have to be torn down in a decade.
Posted by deadrose on July 13, 2012 at 12:30 PM · Report this
Fifty-Two-Eighty 2
Meh. It's Seattle. Whiny little bitches are going to be whiny little bitches. The good news is that nobody fucking cares. (And there's nothing wrong with the colors on that building, either. Grow the fuck up.)
Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty on July 13, 2012 at 12:37 PM · Report this
Lurleen 3
Let me guess, the foyer is carpeted with avocado green deep pile shag.
Posted by Lurleen on July 13, 2012 at 12:39 PM · Report this
Fnarf 4
Cosmetic design doesn't matter. Within a couple of years, you won't even notice these buildings are there. I could show you dozens, hundreds, of uglier buildings from the 70s, 80s, 90s. They're all around you.
Posted by Fnarf on July 13, 2012 at 12:40 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 5
It's a bank. The ugliness is inside.
Posted by Pope Peabrain on July 13, 2012 at 12:41 PM · Report this
Fnarf 6
Crap, clicked OK too soon. What I meant to add was, the problem with this building is not the color but the way it says "fuck you forever" to the street, at street level. Those "retail spaces" are a bad joke.
Posted by Fnarf on July 13, 2012 at 12:42 PM · Report this
very bad homo 7
That whole thing really is hideous.
Posted by very bad homo on July 13, 2012 at 12:46 PM · Report this
Simply Me 8
I can't imagine any businesses jumping at the opportunity to occupy that space that have any heart or soul.
Posted by Simply Me on July 13, 2012 at 12:48 PM · Report this
ArtBasketSara 9
Fnarf, Fnarf, Fnarf... Everywhere it's all about Fnarf likes this, Fnarf thinks this! ;)

Posted by ArtBasketSara on July 13, 2012 at 12:48 PM · Report this
We have this issue in Wedgwood too. A new apartment building just completed at 35th Ave NE and NE 86th. So ugly I want to puke every time I drive by it.
Posted by I Got Nuthin' on July 13, 2012 at 12:50 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 11
you're so right, it's the architects.

they pick horrible colors and make shallow retail spaces and over-build parking for the hell of it. the parking ordinance is just a suggestion, anyway.

the developers with their marketing and realty consultants are probably screaming for the architects to stop, for god's sake STOP and THINK. this is Capitol Hill - be fresh! privilege the pedestrian over the car! stop putting in so many parking spaces!

but architects won't listen. they are JUST TOO POWERFUL.
Posted by Max Solomon on July 13, 2012 at 12:51 PM · Report this
@11, not only that, the new style of willing-to-pay-anything-give-me-granite-and-stainless Pike/Pine apartment hunters are begging the developers to PLEASE STOP THE ARCHITECTS from making buildings comfortingly generic like this so they can flock to fill them to capacity within weeks of opening.
Posted by gloomy gus on July 13, 2012 at 1:00 PM · Report this
Hernandez 13
@11 God, thank you.

Y'all realize that 99% of architects are not Frank Gehry or Rem Koolhaas, right? Most are just trying to stay afloat and keep people employed in a world of ever-shrinking fees and ever-expanding constraints. Yeah, Baylis drew that. They drew it in response to whatever programmatic demands were placed on them by their client, the developer. And plenty of developers like to get reeeeeeally involved with design decisions, to an extent that would surprise many of you.

@9 Now you're catching on!
Posted by Hernandez on July 13, 2012 at 1:04 PM · Report this
Fnarf 14
@9, I don't recall authorizing you to make this statement, but you mentioned my name so I'll let it pass. Five times, actually; whoo, I'm a little flushed.
Posted by Fnarf on July 13, 2012 at 1:06 PM · Report this
Matt the Engineer 15
If you want to see a building done right, check out Mt. Baker Lofts (presentation PDF here). Potentially 16 storefronts, most of which are skinny and deep. Ok, sure - it's built by a non-profit for low-income, car-free artists. But it's awesome*.

* Yet still brown-orange. Go figure.
Posted by Matt the Engineer on July 13, 2012 at 1:08 PM · Report this
ArtBasketSara 16
@14 Oh, eh, er...your name keeps repeating in my head over and over again as well. But just for personal use! I swear! I almost sure that no one is listening to my thoughts...
Posted by ArtBasketSara on July 13, 2012 at 1:15 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 17
I've seen worse. At least it has lots of windows.
Posted by keshmeshi on July 13, 2012 at 1:17 PM · Report this
Kinison 18
Really? Complain about the paint color? So it looks like the HQ for the Cleveland Browns, big freaking deal!
Posted by Kinison on July 13, 2012 at 1:27 PM · Report this
Posted by Actionsquid on July 13, 2012 at 1:28 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 20
Just buy all the buildings yourself and paint them the colors you want.

I suggest vibrant rave green and dayglo orange as a nice mix, myself.

Otherwise, just avert your eyes and grow a pair.
Posted by Will in Seattle on July 13, 2012 at 1:31 PM · Report this
NaFun 21
@14 - that flush is probably the gin.

That building looks like they took the design considerations of the average eastside stripmall and put it up against the street instead of a parking lot. How would I ever know what's in any of those retail spaces? They all look the same, and there's no space for any sort of unique signage. Perfect for a Quiznos bu not much good for a funky clothing store. When I drive or walk by I would simply assume there's nothing interesting to do there and not even try to look deeper.
Posted by NaFun on July 13, 2012 at 1:33 PM · Report this
Fnarf 22
@16, "just for my own personal use" -- what kind of sicko are you? This is exactly the kind of thing they warned us about.

@21, I just wouldn't feel right drinking gin before 2:00 PM on a thunderstormy day.
Posted by Fnarf on July 13, 2012 at 1:47 PM · Report this
Dougsf 23
You know, this might not be so bad if the entire building were the width of the the concrete/orange trim section. Instead, it's footprint really give a person walking past to hate it, then hate it some more... still going? Still hate it. Now I'm bored. When does this fucking building end?

Posted by Dougsf on July 13, 2012 at 2:02 PM · Report this
WFM 24
#5 FTW.
Posted by WFM on July 13, 2012 at 2:11 PM · Report this
It's the color! I hate the color, it makes me barf! It was much better in the rendering, which was all beige. Wait! It's not the color. I hate the composition, it makes me barf! I hate it because, well, composition! Plus it was designed by architects and architects make me barf! Wait! It's the shallow storefront space. I hate the shallow storefronts. Never mind that to make buildings more marketable developers build above-ground parking that necesitates shallow retail space. I want them to build underground parking and deep, deep retail space with brick walls and heavy timber so it can be rented by funky vintage clothing shops if they could only afford it.
I hate development! It makes me barf! I could design these buildings but nobody ever lets me. I think I'll go barf.
Dominic, why aren't you on a design review board, or do the architects all threaten to pants you if you try to join?
Posted by crone on July 13, 2012 at 2:33 PM · Report this
Stevie Wonder and Helen Keller jokes. Always funny, Dominic. You card.
Posted by M. Wells on July 13, 2012 at 2:52 PM · Report this
Reverse Polarity 27
Well, at least it is a color.

Do any of you remember the 1980s? When every building (and house) was painted battleship-grey? In a city that is grey and cloudy 9 months of the year?

I don't care what color they paint it, so long as it isn't grey. Painting any building in Seattle grey should be a crime.
Posted by Reverse Polarity on July 13, 2012 at 3:06 PM · Report this
Fnarf 28
@27, sometimes with grey railings, sometimes pale blue, sometimes lavender. Yes, I remember. Many of them are still with us.
Posted by Fnarf on July 13, 2012 at 3:19 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 29
@9 I think he runs grep on the output.

@24 for the clueless use of the powerful FTW nom. Just for that you get to paint the sharrows.
Posted by Will in Seattle on July 13, 2012 at 3:28 PM · Report this
ArtBasketSara 30
@16 A girl's gotta satisfy her kinks! Don't make me write a letter to Dan... ;(
Posted by ArtBasketSara on July 13, 2012 at 3:34 PM · Report this
Pope Peabrain 31
@29 You, sir, are incorrect!
Posted by Pope Peabrain on July 13, 2012 at 3:35 PM · Report this
90% of the "mixed use" buildings that are being put up look like the same damned crap over and over. Any character that an area once had is gone. It's great for land owners so they can make skads and skads of money or more money than they ever could with small buildings. Is a six-story building supposed to be a huge improvement over the auto shop that was there before?
Posted by Weekilter on July 13, 2012 at 4:50 PM · Report this
stinky 33
Anybody who finds this building to be the ugliest thing a human brain could imagine has a deeply impoverished imagination.
Posted by stinky on July 13, 2012 at 5:41 PM · Report this
I think the very blue tint to the windows is the issue - it clashes with the orange and avocado, which would be just fine on their own, used sparingly, as they are here.

Many years ago I worked at the agency the became SoundTransit. They had a meeting one day to present new logos and color schemes for the unveiling of the official Sound Transit. SO MANY beautiful options were presented to the 100 or so people (employees) in the room, including one amazing pink/orange/white wave or curl-type combo that would have looked spectacular on the trains flying through the city. It was so unique I can remember it vividly to this day.
What happened was that the management and board was terrified that the colors the employees chose would be offensive/seem too "fancy" and citizens would complain about perceived over-spending with money, though all of the ideas presented were within the same price range. These managers then went around and made sure everyone new of their concerns and knew that THEY would be voting for the most inoffensive designs. And that is how we came to have the boring blue and green train and light rail colors!
Posted by PetiteXL on July 13, 2012 at 10:54 PM · Report this
OK, somebody has to step in here. You may think the building in the picture is ugly, but it's all about context. This building is positively beautiful in context. Don't believe me? Stand where the picture was taken. Go ahead, stand at 13th and Madison. Now, turn 90 degrees to the west. See what I mean? You're now looking at Pony, one of the ugliest structures on this planet.
Posted by OverSight on July 13, 2012 at 11:41 PM · Report this
The combination that is killing me are these town homes that have what I can only describe as PNW primary colors: muted reds, greens, yellows, and other colors of ick. Throw in some corrugated metal and you've got cliched, been there, done that, PNW blah.
Posted by happy time on July 13, 2012 at 11:51 PM · Report this
traditional and classic homes and row houses look best. a;lso the grander type apt. and condo buildings. first you need more of a setback, so there's some kind of SPACE for the defined entrance. the lego block crap built today has no defined entrance. second, you need the building to occupy the parcel and announce "I am a building" and not be all cut up by view corridors or differential facades because the idiots at design review think it's cool if we try to "make that big building not look like one big biulding." third, you need some symmetry, some ornamentatoin and some style. we can all gasp in pleasure at anhalt buildings, then wonder how come no architect today just builds the same thing. we have thousands of examples not just from seattle but from other cities, yes, including the feared east coast and south, for exemplars and still we build shit. total shit. ultimately, it's us who're at fault because these crap condos actually sell and until they don't there's no incentive to not build crap right? also, can SDOT please stop taking pedestrian bulbs and trying to fill them up with river rocks and trees as if the thing we're dying for to really make this a city is to imitate a bit of national park on our sidewalks? we'd rather just have cafe tables sprawling out over the sidewalk without regulated regulation approved fencing, you know, like la coupole. it's as if conscious of the fact that other cities are beautiful, we deliberately avoid copying their forms and pattern languages as this would prove in fact, we're neither unique nor special and like everyone else we, too, like a plaza with a fountain, rounded paths with benches, a portico, an arch, and traditional colors and forms. but no, that would be too painful, therefore we build lego style buildings that are a Homage to the Rectangle with odd panels of orange and brown and sometimes mauve color to pretent it's 4 separate buildings not one great big one here on broadway.
Posted by not building dakotas here on July 15, 2012 at 7:18 PM · Report this
I agree that it probably is not the ugliest building and certainly not in large development areas There are a few desirable design details as you drive by. I am not sure that they extend to walking or biking. We are in the PNW, and there is no reason to hide that. I don't want to be in Phoenix or LA or Manhattan. This is where I am. What is sad is the lack of thinking what could have been very nice for the same $s. Part of the problem is that much of Madison in this area has not in anyway reflected the design of the surrounding areas. Nor, have recent additions reflected great design, making it difficult to maintain a standard of architectural design. If the standard becomes what currently exists on Madison, this may be appropriate. This is not the worst of what happens when developers are set free from standards and no one is paying attention to the details. However, it certainly falls short of any pretense to reflect the potential that could have heartened any modern architect. Remember the mural of grazing cows.

Color is temporary, and design is permanent. However, at times both often need each other to be look great. Materials are also important.
Posted by joannac on July 15, 2012 at 8:56 PM · Report this
What's hideous is that pastelish peachy color so many houses are painted here- ugh. But who cares. It's only my opinion. What concerns me more are the ways eyesores like Adobe in Fremont (aka THE BURKE-en WALL) manage to completely cut off what was a beautiful somewhat quaint COMMUNITY view of Lake Union from the darling bridge, leaving the rest of the neighborhood to stare at it's bricks (and frequently empty store fronts-how's tenancy at the old Burke Building, Suz?). Tell me a thoughtful architect could not have found a way to reframe the view which should have remained public. By comparison (though I know it has it's critics, too) South Lake Union Park is a lovely and considerate development in that rapidly changing area. I'm excited by all the changes happening around the stadiums, but disappointed that our water front will become invisible to those of us who live, work, and move through the city each day. We will have to take the day off and join the tourists when we want to remember where we are-which is too bad. I'm surprised that cities like Chicago could have better sense than we do here, believing that a city belongs to it's people and not just the very rich.
Posted by VEAVOTE on July 16, 2012 at 5:07 PM · Report this
Great Comments Veavote, I will make a special trip to see the building Dom is writing about. I am familiar with this architecture firm.
Posted by paint colors and such on August 5, 2012 at 11:16 PM · Report this

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