Sunday, June 13, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Close Quarters Of The Best Kind -- Housing Tour Shows What Good Things Come From Creative Thinking

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Density doesn't have to be a dirty word.

That's the thinking behind the "Housing the Northwest" tour being held today from noon to 5 p.m. Free and open to the public, this unique tour is meant to recognize and "praise efforts to support increased utilization of urban space," says the tour's chairman, architect Doug Brinley. Such projects, he hopes, "can be useful as models for architects, owners, developers and officials."

Brinley says affordability is an important issue, "but more important is the availability of the housing to people. We want to show what good things can happen by thinking in innovative ways."

This may mean anything from a creative use of codes or design review, to a new interpretation of a housing style, to an outstanding collaborative effort - or even a successful attempt to develop housing for less than the usual cost.

This third annual tour is sponsored by The Seattle Times and the Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Architects. The housing featured was chosen by a panel of three from projects submitted by local architects. The panel was composed of architect Margot Arellano of Arellano/Christofides Architecture and Interior Design; developer John Kucher, executive director of Threshold Housing, and Priscilla Call, manager of affordable housing and homeownership in the City of Seattle's Office of Housing.

615 East Pike Project 13 condominiums 615 E. Pike St., Seattle Robin Abrahams, Nancy Callery, Scott Pettee of Abrahams Architects

In the spirit of its eclectic, artistic, densely urban neighborhood, 615 East Pike is an edgy hybrid - a 90-year-old brick building recycled as the ground floor of a five-story mixed-use building clad with corrugated metal that's left in its natural aluminum color in some places, sparked with red, green or yellow paint in others. The first floor is commercial space that shows off the original old brick walls. Atop are four floors with a total of 13 condos. Although all residential units have 10-foot ceilings, hardwood floors, at least one balcony and extra-large commercial-type windows, no two are the same. As the design team explains: "The variety of unit size makes for a wide range of prices ($165,000 to $655,000) accommodating a diversity of income; more affordable units sit adjacent to the highest priced. And they all share consistent high-quality finishes." Noting the dramatic, minimalist feel of the interiors, Margot Arellano commented that "the interiors are really stripped down, but the windows and volume are what make it work. They have a loft feeling. And the playfulness of the building is appropriate for the neighborhood." The project developer and owner is Sarah Schuyler of Pike Street Corner Development. It was built by Turner Construction's Jackie Costigan and others.

Compass Cascade Women's Center Shelter housing for 34 women 1205 Thomas St., Seattle Lavae Aldrich, Michelle Quesada, Nghi Chi of Aldrich Architects

According to its architects, the design of this facility was very much tailored to suit its clientele: homeless women in varying stages of recovery from trauma including chemical abuse, domestic violence or mental illness. To make sure she understood their viewpoints, lead architect Lavae Aldrich personally interviewed numerous women currently living at another of the program's sites. In the new facility, 20 women in need of close monitoring will live on one floor. Their individual rooms are very small, in part to encourage them into the communal living, dining and kitchen facilities and in part to stretch the facility to serve as many women as possible. "Although small, (the rooms) will provide privacy, safety, autonomy and a place to grow/heal for women who are in transition," the architects say. On another floor are rooms for 12 women who have advanced in the program. The building also contains staff offices and two family apartments for women being reunited with children. According to the architects, the building design - in massing, materials and color - is a response to the Cascade neighborhood's desire for an accessible streetscape and the owner's desire for a welcoming, homelike atmosphere. "Through modulation and color massing, the length of the street facade is reduced. The ground-floor public spaces are marked with a metal awning over the sidewalk and large amounts of glass. The interiors are simple drywall with warm colors and durable finishes." The judges praised this as proof that, as one pointed out, "subsidized housing doesn't have to be ugly and obtrusive." Developed by Common Ground and built by Synergy Construction, the center is owned by Compass Center Cascade Limited Partnership.

Marin Grove 18 single-family homes 20635 12th Ave. S., SeaTac Tom Lenchek, Marcus Schott and Scot Labenz, architects, of Balance Associates

If regular zoning had been in force, perhaps half a dozen homes could have been built on this nearly two-acre site. Instead, what architect Tom Lenchek describes as "rather oddly shaped" lots, platted "way back when," allowed 18 homes to be built. Combine that with a stringent effort to develop low-cost housing and the result is brand-new three-bedroom homes selling for $160,000 to $170,000. Program judges were wowed by this. "A private developer doing a project on their own for this price - it's amazing because very few are willing to work in this price range," said Priscilla Call. Roughly 1,200-square-feet each, the homes are just 15 feet wide on 25-foot-wide lots. Nearly every design decision was scrutinized for cost, from vinyl siding instead of wood to a less-expensive system of roof vents. Still, a real effort was made to give the homes livability and street appeal. Paramount: The developer got an easement to create an alley, thereby allowing garages in the rear. "Otherwise, instead of having this nice streetscape of front porches you'd have garage doors," Lenchek said. "Allowing us to do this was a pretty big deal." And although the footprint is an economical rectangular box, each home has popouts that not only add exterior interest but "allowed us to make the floor plans a lot more workable." For example, popouts made kitchens wider, thus allowing better circulation. And for street appeal, each home has a front porch, and each is detailed a little differently. The developer/builder is Precision Builders.

Stonewater 12 condominiums 3824-3828 Evanston Ave. N., Seattle Mary and Ray Johnston of Johnston Architects

This project, recently featured as The Times/AIA Home of the Month, showcases 12 attached town houses artfully stairstepped around a courtyard on a steep site. The color, scale and materials were all chosen to fit with the Fremont neighborhood, whose residents took an active role in the project's design review. The three-story town houses are two or three bedrooms each and all feature high-end amenities including granite tile counters, maple floors, sandstone entries and gas fireplaces. Nine-foot ceilings and large windows give the units a sense of spaciousness beyond their actual size, which averages 1,500 square feet. Units are priced from $369,000 to $425,000. Judges were unanimous in their praise for the project's high level of quality. That wasn't all. "What I like best is it isn't refined. It's a little bit rough," said Margot Arellano. Predicted John Kucher: "It's going to age well." Crocus Development's William Park is the owner/developer.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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