Interview with Seattle Architect Michael Willis, Project Manager on 'The Line'.
Demand is surging for multifamily design on the outskirts of Seattle. Shoreline, which sits 10 miles to the north of downtown Seattle, will be the home of The Line, a 241-unit mixed-use residential building at 132 NE 145th St from developer Evergreen Point Group. The project recently passed design review and broke ground August 18.
The Line is one of the first mixed-use apartment projects to be built within Shoreline’s newly up zoned link light rail district and will set the tone for future development in the neighborhood.
The units will likely cost less than comparable apartments downtown, while providing easy access to the 145th Street exit of the I-5 as well as the light rail line. Riders from the 145th station will arrive downtown in less than 20 minutes.
Home to the highly regarded Lakeside School, the area is currently dominated by single-family homes with little retail. This striking building will attract young professionals and shopkeepers eager to tap into a new market.
With the project underway, Seattle architect and project manager Michael Willis shared his thoughts on what this building brings to Shoreline.
Q. What was the most exciting opportunity presented by this project?
A. I would say the opportunity to recreate the neighborhood. The 145th light rail station subarea has recently been up zoned to MUR 70 (which means base zoning allows buildings to be 70 feet tall or six to seven stories), so the change is like night and day. Although there were a few townhouse projects under construction in the area, most of the building stock remains older single-family homes. This new higher density zoning brings with it the opportunity to set the tone for a new, more active urban character.
Q. What were the project goals from the outset?
A. Besides the usual unit yield and net rentable space requirements, there were two general goals.
The building street fronts had to be pedestrian-oriented and be activated with amenity spaces off them. It was important to define the space with inviting landscape so you would draw in the pedestrian into the property. We wanted to create a building that has a distinctive presence on 145th Street as well as the view from I-5 and the light rail station. The 145th Street exit is a major arterial off I-5.
Next, we needed to design a building that embraces the through-block connector or woonerf. Well, what the heck’s a woonerf? It’s a Dutch concept that means creating a special kind of street that functions as a shared public space for pedestrians, bikes, kids playing outdoors and for slowly moving cars. This is also going to serve as a fire lane -- needed for a property this size -- and will be used for deliveries and trash pickup and access to parking.
Q. What influenced the planning and layout of the building massing?
The need to break down the large suburban block influenced the building planning the most. In accordance with the City of Shoreline’s Shared Use Path requirement (SMC 20.70.320.E). Blocks in excess of 250’ deep are required to have a shared use path. Again, as I mentioned earlier, the woonerf also fulfills this shared use path requirement. To make this path more attractive, we placed the elevated courtyard off the woonerf.
Q. What is the greatest challenge presented by this project?
Working with the adjacent infrastructure projects was and remains the greatest challenge. Along with the establishment of the new station, the Washington State Department of Transportation and the City of Shoreline are upgrading 145th Street with road widening and other infrastructure improvements.
The design of the main frontage of the building was a moving target. Not only did the first 24.5 feet of the property need to be given over to the City of Shoreline to accommodate a road widening, the new grades at the front of the building as proposed were going to be substantially lower. This meant meeting often with WSDOT and City of Shoreline and staying flexible. As we move into construction, staging and access for the contractor will have to be constantly coordinated with these improvements as well.
Q. When you were working with the client, what was the process like for this multi-family project?
Our client was very collaborative, thoughtful and decisive in their decision making. The team presented a variety of directions the project could take. We started the process with inspirational images of other projects where we identified what the client liked and disliked.
We asked them, which images are
inspiring to you? Architecture is a process. It allows us to have a conversation about where the client would like us to go and not go. Working from the general to the specific, we learned the direction the client wanted to head. This helps us avoid going down a road that the client is not interested in.
Over a few meetings, the team worked together and, relatively quickly, agreed on an approach and ultimately a concept. The concept has guided the project ever since. Through this process, it spurred further conversation for the design concept. We developed eight to ten sketches and were able to hone in on a preferred design. We landed on the concept of The Line which shows up at the façade’s corner expressions, the woonerf path through the site, and ultimately, our proximity to the light rail line.
Q. What aspect of the project are you most pleased with?
A. I’m pleased from a process perspective and what we ended up with. There was potentially a lot of complexity on how a user would enter the building. There were different points of access off the woonerf into the retail/public and tenant parking areas.
I enjoyed sketching out the project by hand. We gave Revit a rest. Once we figured out the site movements of how the project addresses access, we moved into the massing and the elevations of the project.
This looser approach with technical issues early on reduced complexity and made it easier to execute the construction documents.
Q. How was your experience with the city?
A. Our experience with the City of Shoreline has been great. The planning and building departments have been helpful and responsive. We have found the Administrative Design Review (ADR) process to be very streamlined and straightforward. The estimated ADR and building permit review times provided by the officials have met schedule – which is very unusual when compared to other jurisdictions in the metro area.
Q. When will the project be completed?
A. The project is expected to be completed in Q4 2024.
About the Architect
With over 25 years of industry experience focused on multifamily and mixed-use developments, Michael provides knowledge and expertise from schematic design to construction administration. Recently, Michael has served as project manager for Solera, a large mixed-use development in Renton. He also served as project manager for The Line, the first mixed-use apartment project to be built within Shoreline’s newly up zoned Link Light Rail district.