Seattle reveals the winners of competition for revitalizing the downtown area via innovative conversions of excess office space

On June 6, 2023, Seattle, Washington Mayor Bruce Harrell and the city’s Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) announced the winners of the City’s design competition seeking innovative ideas for revitalizing the downtown are via office space conversions.

The winning proposals exemplified imaginative and achievable designs that integrate housing, commercial areas, and community amenities, fostering a thriving and inclusive urban environment.

The Call for Ideas: Office-to-Residential Conversion Visions for Seattle Downtown competition, invited design teams and building owners to submit proposals that explore converting existing office space into new residential and commercial uses.

We are working toward a city that is inclusive, affordable, vibrant, interconnected and innovative. The key for this competition is solutions that foster collaboration and partnership that build on shared vision and commitment to driving positive change together,” said OPCD Acting Director Rico Quirindongo.

All the proposals we received are great ideas on how we can turn surplus downtown office space into needed housing and activated ground floor commercial space for new businesses that will strengthen downtown as a vibrant residential neighborhood bustling with commerce, entertainment, and tourism. We are moving in the right direction,” he concluded.

Part of Mayor Harrell’s Downtown Activation Plan, the design competition aims to spur the creation of innovative, sustainable, and achievable ideas to activate downtown, optimize the use of our urban assets, meet unique neighborhood needs.

Central to our Downtown Activation Plan is a commitment to creating a robust downtown neighborhood with the amenities and housing that ensure this isn’t just a great place to work, but a place for families and residents of all kinds. As we learn and apply the best lessons from the pandemic, we know our downtown will evolve and we as a city are taking steps to be on the forefront of innovation,” said Mayor Harrell.

This design competition sought bold ideas from partners that are best positioned to help us design and build a downtown where we can all live, work, learn, shop, play, and so much more. The proposals submitted represent how we can be bold, go outside the box, and embrace Space Needle thinking to transform our downtown. We will use these ideas to explore and inform next steps to increase housing in our city core and activate our streets with new and diverse businesses and services at the ground level,” he added.

Thirteen ideas from 12 design teams were submitted to the city. Together, the submitted design proposals offer a glimpse into the possibilities of future downtown communities, including co-living, shared work, and collective garden spaces.

The top three submittals were selected for their designs that were both imaginative and achievable.

They include:

First Place

  • Project Team: Hybrid Architecture, LLC with Tom Geeslin, Project Architect; Great Expectations, LLC; and Diamond Parking whose winning entry suggested the conversion of the Mutual Life Building built in 1890 into a co-living space that would provide affordable units, creating environmental, economic, and socially responsible housing.

Second Place

  • Gensler, Seattle Office Project Team: Case Creal, Senior Associate at Gensler; Marissa Brown at Gensler; and Jeroen Teeuw, Senior Associate and Design Director at Gensler who proposed a building with a more modern footprint, a centralized elevator core and a variety of unit mixes with great natural light. The submission highlighted code changes that would make a stronger case for conversion.
  • Project Team: The Miller Hull Partnership (Scott Wolf, Margaret Sprug, Cory Mattheis, Claire Rennhack, Whitney Pearce, Tobias Jimenez, June Zheng, Chris Hellstern, Gabrielle Peterson), and Stanley Real Estate whose proposal focused on adaptive reuse of historic buildings in Pioneer Square, converted into residential units and a shared courtyard.

We are passionate about building the livable city. Our submission looks to leverage existing underutilized building stock, to bring a model of Co-Living and residential density to pioneer square. Historically, Pioneer Square has contributed to Seattle’s affordable housing stock through Single Room Occupancy units. We felt that the introduction of a Co-Living prototype honored the area’s past while reimagining what affordable housing units had to offer in the 21st century,” said HYBRID, first place winner of the competition.

Our design provides opportunities for community interaction and gives renewed meaning to the term neighbor. Thank you for recognizing our work and thank you to our collaborators: Great Expectations, West and Wheeler, and Diamond Parking,” they explained.

OPCD, Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) and other city departments, will study the submitted ideas and key findings to determine what kind of legislation and regulatory modifications – including code and permitting, incentives, budget, and partnerships – are necessary to support and effectively advance future conversion projects and development proposals.

The review panel was impressed with the design quality, response to the urban context, and level of development from the 13 submitted proposals. We were especially excited by designs that leveraged existing buildings to enhance the quality of life for future residents while finding opportunities to reduce costs and improve the building’s contribution to the public realm and pedestrian experience,” said Rick Mohler, FAIA, NCARB, Chair of the University of Washington—Department of Architecture.

This program has more than met its goal of sparking a conversation about the future of downtown office space and its potential use as housing. It has provided a catalogue of more than a dozen diverse office-to-housing conversions that can both inform city policy and inspire more property owners, developers and architects to explore opportunities for the post-pandemic transformation of buildings and our downtown,” he continued.

The showcase also kicks-off a series of exhibitions where the project submissions will be available to the public throughout the summer. On June 14 from 5:30-7:30 p.m., The American Institute of Architects, Seattle Architecture Foundation and the City of Seattle will host an exhibit reception at the Center for Architecture & Design Gallery.

The gallery will also be open to the public from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on June 21, 28, and on July 5. All submissions will be available on the project website after June 14.

Photo of Pioneer Square courtesy of City of Seattle.

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