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Thursday, February 7, 2008

Biotech and Retail on Dexter Ave N

posted by on February 7 at 13:44 PM

A few months back I wrote about 1101 Dexter, a proposed biotech facility on Dexter Avenue North. Considering the vacant retail spaces nearby, I wondered whether the city’s mandate to include 10,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, as per the “Seattle Mixed” zone on Dexter, was an unrealistic requirement. At the time there were no renderings of the design, so I looked forward to seeing how LMN Architects would try to attract shoppers, diners, and retailers.

The problem with Dexter is that the steep topography and parallel arterials (Aurora and Westlake) limit the number of pedestrians who can access it for day-to-day commercial purposes. Compounding the problem, the roar of traffic prevents it from feeling like the sort of place you’d stop the car, pop in somewhere for lunch, and then go for a stroll.


An initial design of 1101 Dexter.

I applaud LMN for departing from the green glass that chills many modern science institutions. However, the design fails to promote sidewalk activity. It comes down to personal taste, of course. But it makes me want to cross the street to get away. The setbacks look cavernous and foreboding; the concrete columns are menacing.


Translucent people aren’t convincing.

If the ground-floor of buildings on Dexter are ever to support shops and restaurants, developers like Capstone Partners must do a better job designing for them—using an approachable, human scale. And if they do that but retail still cannot be supported, the city should just change Dexter’s zoning. Empty storefronts are depressing.

RSS icon Comments


It is so easy to design junk buildings like that. They are not inviting and instantly become light industrial slum.
If buildings do not work on a sidewalk level then they do not work as something capable of human needs. They just become places people go to and hate the jobs hey have. This is not a great building to look at so why would anyone think it would be a great place to spend a work day.

Posted by -B- | February 7, 2008 1:58 PM

the starbucks that will go in there will be fine with the 2-story arcade-ish retail level. stop stressing, its just dexter.

i miss adriatica.

Posted by max solomon | February 7, 2008 2:01 PM

there be ghosties on Dexter Avenue!!!


feets don't fails me now!

Posted by michael strangeways | February 7, 2008 2:07 PM

Oh my god they are cloning transparent white people. Or is that what Sunless Seattlites are destined to evolve into?

Posted by Andy Niable | February 7, 2008 2:23 PM

Have you ever seen yourselves in pics - we're already there.

Posted by Will in Seattle | February 7, 2008 2:40 PM

Here's a tip: force them. Make their permit conditional not just on providing retail space, but filling it. 90% occupancy within three months of opening, or their certificate gets pulled. And they have to be REAL retail, too: shops, with physical objects for sale, or restaurants. If they have to rent the space for $1 a month, so be it. Might get some interesting stuff there.

Posted by Fnarf | February 7, 2008 2:49 PM

The tyranny of the box.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | February 7, 2008 2:58 PM

The "foreboding" columns in the design pix look very much like those that line the block on Madison next to the Swedish Cancer Instituten near Minor Ave. There are many busy shops in there and the overhang is popular with pedestrians when it rains and great when one wants to stay dry waiting for a bus. I have never had a sense of dread when perambulating there, but I will agree that the columns are not the prettiest I have seen.

Posted by inkweary | February 7, 2008 3:15 PM

why can't it just be starbucks and law offices? i mean honestly its just dexter. it should be the kind of retail you go to when you are working. not necessarily the kind of place people from around the city flock to.

as the city ages, the retail requirements will be a godsend as quirky fringe shops and art studios start occupying the storefronts that have cheaper rent since they aren't in the middle of everything and heavily competed for.

Posted by Cale | February 7, 2008 5:19 PM

yawn. i thought there were architects in seattle... i mean that IS why i moved here.

hey, the cars are the same pasty translucent white as well!

Posted by holz | February 7, 2008 6:41 PM

Ummmm... It's cute that you are trying to predict the sidewalk attractiveness of a building from a rendering.

But really now. Architectural visualizations like that are just a cross between a mini-manifesto and an advertisement for the project.

All that your antipathy to this one indicates is that 1. it is a shitty, plastic-looking rendering and 2. you think about architecture on the human scale in a more nuanced, individualized way than the interns at this firm do.

Honestly, given the time and effort and knowing your taste, I could draw up the same scene for you in a way that would make you say, "Wow! This is going to be a perfect little retail paradise!"

It's alllll smoke and mirrors in this phase of designing and promoting a project.

Posted by k | February 8, 2008 2:49 AM

k, the reason this design appears incapable of creating a thriving commercial strip is because it's using a street-level design model that's a proven failure. Yesterday, after I wrote this, I walked past that building on 2nd Ave and Madison (across form the Treasury) with the same style of massive, dark overhang. And despite the wide sidewalk, no people were on it. People generally don't stop there, even though it's on 2nd Ave and all the other nearby blocks have a bunch of folks hanging out.

Posted by Dominic Holden | February 8, 2008 9:08 AM

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