Keller Williams Greater Seattle, Ben Kakimoto, Seattle Condo Agent

Are Seattle Condos Uninspiring?

By on December 3, 2007 in Real Estate with 9 Comments

A reader, Phoenix, sent me the following email about the new projects lacking innovative architectural design. I think I have to agree with him.

I have a question that anyone who has any interest in the Seattle/Bellevue condo boom might find interesting.

I have a huge interest in architecture and what a city’s skyline say’s about a city and what I have noticed about the skyline in Seattle and Bellevue is that all the buildings are all boxed shaped. It looks boring and doesn’t have anything really unique except the Smith building, Escala and a few others. Look at the skyline of Atlanta,Georgia for example, they aren’t afraid to think outside the box. The city has unique buildings i.e. smaller versions of the Empire State building in New York City and it looks great.

I just think Seattle is more than that and I hope a developer or an architect comes across this message and thinks about it. Are we gonna continue to build big boxes or think outside the box. You can still be somewhat conservative if that’s the issue and it doesn’t have to be too dramatic. I am so excited for Seattle and Bellevue. I want to see a highrise go up and say that is so cool!! Make it something beautiful to look at. Make a statement, be different,take a risk.

Look at the construction going on in Dubai, that is incredible. They think way outside the box and that is just an example. Do and are there limits to what a buildings can look like for example building a building that has a spire because we sure don’t have any biuldings that have that look except for the Smith building.

Even meeting somewhere in the middle. Classic and modern with an edge. I am always excited to see what developers are pulling out of their hats in the Real Estate section in the P.I./Seattle Times. The newest is Insignia that I just saw but again, the buildings are boxed shaped.

Anyone who has a positive opinion, let me know. I’m just a fan who is standing on the sidelines and is continuously watching the game but there really hasn’t been any touchdowns lately that has made me a huge fan.

The Heron Tower has the boldest design of those proposed in the downtown area. Given its sister project is called Pagoda Tower I’m hoping it will be more cylindrical and tapered in design.

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About the Author

About the Author: Ben Kakimoto is a Seattle condo and urban real estate marketing & listing specialist. Contact Ben to learn more about the Seattle condo and loft real estate market or about buying or selling a Seattle area condo. Find Ben on Twitter and Facebook. .


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There Are 9 Brilliant Comments

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  1. Jason H. says:

    I would have to say that there is some of this, but it’s done due to the cost factor. Creating curves is so cost prohibitive as it makes the space on EVERY floor somewhat unusable, not to mention increases the cost to build, which in turn raises the prices in which developers have to sell.

    I think there are some really cool buildings out there: Escala, One Pacific Tower, Enso and the Palmeroy. Notice there are no ‘we want to get rich quickly’ developers there?

    It’s true… there are too many boxes or rectangles in Seattle… but I think it’s getting better.

  2. Josh says:

    it might come as a shock to some, but one of the best designed condos i’ve seen is in bremerton called the harborside condos. as you are coming in off the ferry, you can’t miss it along its waterfront right behind the uss turner joy. to really appreciate the design, you need to see it from the street and from the boardwalk.

  3. Jake says:

    I’d agree with Jason regarding cost but cite different reasons — it’s already enormously expensive to build in Seattle, as Virginia Postrel observed in the Nov. 2007 Atlantic (sorry, the article is in a walled garden). A graphic puts the “right to build” cost in Seattle at about $200,000, which is the factor of land use controls. That’s far below New York’s $350,000, but above similar cities like Boston (about $60,000) or Minneapolis (about $100,000). In other words, if you manage to build in Seattle, the enormous cost just to start digging indicates that you’ll probably need to keep out of the stratosphere somehow, and maximizing square footage while minimizing architecture costs is one way to do it. If Seattle wants more interesting buildings, one way to do might be to actually lower the cost of construction.

    To be sure, New York is the obvious exception to this theory, but many of its buildings are meant to be in the world’s gaze. Even then, I’ve read some architectural complaints about recent New York similar to the ones about Seattle, and New York is at least ten times the size of Seattle. Manhattan, where most of the madness is located, isn’t quite so large, but the gravity around it is much more intense.

    I’d like to see more innovative architecture, but if I buy a condo in Seattle it’ll be a stretch. An extra $20,000 to live in an architecturally distinguished building might push me out of the market, and it seems that developers are more worried about potential buyers like me than about how the city looks from Elliott Bay.

  4. bendervish says:

    Yes. Unequivocally yes. For the handful of remarkable projects that are praiseworthy, there are dozens and dozens of sad, sad buildings that will be standing for way too long. Juliet balconies are not outdoor space! Aluminum siding does not evoke industrial on it’s own! False brick does not evoke historic! Most of the city is taking a big dump on the doorstep of the sound, olympics, and cascades and most builder-developers and most buyers are simply too uninspired and don’t care. They are not merely cheap. Good design does not have to cost an arm and a leg, just imagination and commitment. Uglies should be laughed off the block, not made excuses for under the guise of cost. It’s apathetic and lazy to give an eyesore a pass because it’s cost effective. The school of build em cheap and ugly should stay in the past with soviet era construction.

  5. Jason says:

    This is primarily a money issue. Most architects aren’t lacking in ideas [full disclosure, I am an architect]. Regarding Dubai, they’re swimming in oil money, so its not a barrier for them. Plus its basically run by one guy that wants the attention of the world, vs the myriad agencies and neighborhood groups in Seattle that all have a say in the design process. I’m speaking from personal experience here in Seattle, I worked on a mid-rise apt. building where the neighborhood design group held up the process for a year [raising costs] and tried to tell us what color and materials to use, etc. While architecture isn’t done by one person, it also can’t be allowed to be driven by anyone walking in off the street or you get…..boxes. Probably in a nice hue of beige.

    Everything Jason H. said is true, too.

  6. Andre says:

    The article correctly reports that architectural design is bland. here in the US everyone is so focused on low cost that anything unusual is quickly cut from the design. On top of this, Architects and designers are very conservative, almost to the point of being dull.
    travel overseas if you want to see truly interesting stuff.
    Buildings, air travel, cutomer service and so many other things are of low quality here because everyone is cheap, cheap cheap! When people buy on the basis of price alone, this is what you get!
    Architectural design is often a reflection of the personailities behind it.
    Most don’t realize that good design just takes imagination, a little extra effort, and a can do attitude.
    Sad really.

  7. Who says:

    What about making a stand for your belief in the importance of architecture by buying into a restored building? I toured two buildings done by Live Historic last week and feel delightfully refreshed. They act like new buildings (plumbing, electrical, and appliances are all new) but are absolutely eye catching and elegant and solid! I feel like a movement could be made. If the Seattle community responds loudly to such architecture, their needs may have a better chance of being met. If we agree to live in these ugly boxes, then they will continue to be built! I toured a few downtown, and just don’t feel at home there. The restored historic is way more appealing.


  8. klt says:

    Way to promote your projects Who. Curves are cost prohibitive. The very review process is what causes everything to be -heh- square. Also most of the stuff in Duabi is gawky which leads to a circus like atmosphere.

    Andre you’re a tool. Way to oversimplify everything to the lowest common denominator. I’m guessing you don’t understand cost of capitol, or waterfall splits and the effect construction delays alters them so significantly. Efficiency is the key to any project as the mezz financing is the most expensive money in the market. Olive 8 is a square and it will hardly be low quality and it is extremely efficient with little to no views. Lastly a sf of window wall runs at about $80. 3 years ago it was $35sf. Now clad a highrise and make a return which will enable you to do another project in 12 months.

  9. seattlearchitect says:

    As an architect working in Seattle, I have to agree that we have MORE than our share of bland, boxy, boring, beige, and butt-ugly buildings…but there is hope! A number of projects break out of the box, either with interesting and sculpted geometry or at least with a more sophisticated aesthetic. Mosler Lofts, Bagley Lofts and Gallery are pretty decent buildings in the mid/low-rise categories. The new Four Seasons project was designed under the old code, but will surprise people with its forward thinking, elegant and very arty facade. Fifteen Twenty-One is the first of the taller and more slender towers permitted under the new code – that tower has some very interesting, bold and sculpted geometry and is definitely not a box. Olive 8 is has some interesting fenestration and even though it is boxy, I think it will bring a fresh look to the city. Like Fifteen Twenty-One, the AVA tower has a lot of curves, angles, corners and interesting modulation – about as far from a box as one can get. Same with ICON Tower by LMA. I disagree with the assertion that curves are prohibitively expensive – the panels in a curtain wall do not care if the wall is a segmented curved, and pouring a curved slab is not that big a deal for a sophisticated contractor. A little extra cost, not a lot. Construction and land costs are up, lending is tighter than ever, but the right developer-architect team knows that there is value in good design and that the market will pay for it. Not to suggest that its easy – it takes more creativity and patience than ever…but good design can be done. Good topic Ben, keep it going!

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