Downtown Seattle is quite literally marked by growth. Cranes clutter the skyline and diggers burrow into the ground, laying the foundation for a dramatically different cityscape on the rise. A June 2016 report by the Downtown Seattle Association counted 65 major buildings under construction in the area—the most since the organization began keeping a tally in 2005. Already the tenth densest city in U.S., Seattle is on pace to move up the ranks.
As the Silicon Valley tech boom balloons further into the Pacific Northwest, an even greater demand for office space is adding to the vertical upsurge. Companies such as Facebook, Google, and Tableau are expanding their footprints, and other businesses, including Expedia and non-techie Weyerhaeuser, one of the largest owners of timberland, are moving in.
Original resident Amazon is among the largest contributors to the tech hub’s growth spurt. In the burgeoning Denny Triangle neighborhood, the online retail behemoth is building three 37-story high-rise office towers (the first of the three towers, known as Doppler, opened in December 2015; the second is set to open late this year) and two mid-rise office buildings. The Seattle-based architecture firm NBBJ designed the complex, which encompasses approximately 3.3 million square feet on three city blocks.
At the center of Amazon’s sprawl are the city’s most interesting and eagerly anticipated new structures—three transparent biospheres. Scheduled to open in early 2018, the conjoined glass-and-steel domes will house more than 3,000 plant species, including 40 to 50 trees. Amazon employees from the surrounding buildings will be able to walk through the four-story-high forest canopy on suspension bridges, hold meetings in rooms lined with vines, and work alongside an indoor stream.
In the Financial District, the bold geometry of The Mark, a ZGF high-rise project, aims to elevate the city’s architecture and reflect its current identity as a creative and intellectual capital. Rather than using corner columns that obstruct views or interior columns that eat up square footage, Arup engineers developed a “megabrace” system to bolster the 43-story tower. Three diagonals zigzag up each side of the building’s blue-tinted glass curtain wall, emphasizing the skyscraper’s unique shape. Primarily an office building, The Mark will also include ground-floor retail, residential spaces, and a 184-room SLS Hotel with interiors by French designer Philippe Starck. The adjacent Daniels Recital Hall, formerly the First United Methodist Church sanctuary, is being renovated into an event space for the hotel.
More businesses mean more employees and, increasingly, those employees want to live downtown, too. Residential towers are climbing to the rescue, with more than 700 units completed this year, and some 8,660 more scheduled for completion by the end of 2017, according to the Downtown Seattle Association’s report.
This fall, construction will begin on 2014 Fairview, a 41-story tower in Denny Triangle by ZGF Architects. Curving up from a triangular base, the building’s fluid form suggests the subtle, shoreline waves of nearby Lake Union and Elliott Bay. Despite the Emerald City’s reputation for rain, outdoor decks are currently de rigueur. This high-rise is no exception—a rooftop terrace offers views of the city and the Cascades.
On the northern edge of downtown Seattle, another residential tower will take a twisty shape. Weber Thompson based the design of the upcoming 40-story Nexus tower on stacked boxes, each of which turns away from its counterparts by 4 degrees. As the architecture firm describes, “the deep reveals between these...boxes serve as wrap-around garden terraces, bringing a bit of green to the tower and breaking down the…overall bulk and scale.” Construction is expected to break ground by late fall and, if all goes according to plan, the first occupants will move in by early 2019.
Looking further ahead and up, Gensler has plans for a pair of 40-story residential towers in the Denny Triangle; NBBJ’s proposal for a 60-story high-rise at 888 Second Avenue incorporates a 40-story atrium at its core; and Perkins+Will’s Westbank Frye Residential Towers will be linked by a dramatic sky bridge. The tallest of all the high-rises in the proposal pipeline is the 1,029-foot 4/C Tower from developer Crescent Heights. LMN’s plan for the 100-story “vertical neighborhood” would make it one of the tallest buildings west of the Mississippi.
Hotel development is also beginning to pick up. With 1,264 rooms, LMN Architect’s monolithic Eighth & Howell Convention Center Hotel (aka 808 Howell St.) will be the Pacific Northwest’s largest hotel when it opens in 2018. Rising out of a polished white concrete podium, the supremely sleek 45-story tower stands in sharp contrast to its articulated Denny Triangle neighbors.
Although not nearly as massive, Olson Kundig’s 100 Stewart Hotel and Apartments is a standout as well. Like Nexus, the 12-story building resembles glass boxes stacked slightly askew. Flagship tenant, Thompson Seattle, opened its 158-room boutique hotel in June. Seattle design firm Studio Munge, in collaboration with Jensen Fey, softened the interior’s exposed steel and concrete surfaces with mohair and leather textiles and, of course, reclaimed wood fixtures. The Nest, Thompson’s rooftop bar, offers unobstructed views of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier.
Located just steps from Pike Place Market, the Thompson is a harbinger of more development to come. An underground tunnel will eventually replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, an elevated highway that runs along downtown’s western edge. In preparation for the removal of the double-decked highway, Seattle is reenvisioning the 2-mile bayside area as a 20-acre park. James Corner Field Operations is leading the planning, which includes the rebuilt Elliott Bay Seawall, a landscaped promenade and parallel bike path, flexible open space for recreation and concerts at Pier 62/63, and the Overlook Walk, a pedestrian connection to Pike Place Market. The new waterfront will provide the city with a welcoming front door for the latest wave of pioneers to the Pacific Northwest.