Seattle’s distinctive skyline is changing. Every few months, there’s a new addition to the range of towers. Architects are sketching out bold designs, testing the limits of what they can build, adding a new level of flair to the city’s silhouette.
“It’s just been a fast track building boom the last ten years,” said Isaac Morgensztern, as he took in the view of downtown from Gasworks Park, recently.
Over the past sixty-one years, he’s watched Seattle rise and expand.
“I’ve always been curious how they sit down and envision what they want it to look like, aside from just a big blob of buildings,” Morgensztern said.
Architects are given quite a bit of room to flex their creative muscles in Seattle, and they’re doing just that.
One of the newest additions to the skyline is the sleek, 43 story, F5 Tower, which is nearly complete.
The team constructing the skyscraper took KING 5 up to the top recently, to explain the thinking behind the design, and how it fits into the city as a whole.
“That’s pretty spectacular,” said Allyn Stellmacher, an architect with ZGF Architects, as he peered over the roofline edge of the building he designed.
“It reflects the neighboring buildings, and so it helps break up the monolithic core of downtown,” he said.
Stellmacher calls F5 Tower a “chameleon,” which can blend in when it wants to, and still make an impression from afar. A photo of Audrey Hepburn inspired the building’s slinking silhouette.
“In the 40 years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen this pace of development, and it’s palpable, you can feel it,” said Mark Hinshaw, an architect and critic who has been writing about Seattle’s skyline for nearly 30 years.
“It's always been a bit restrained, architecturally, it’s not trying to show off like some cities do, they seem to be grasping for some distinctive one-of-a-kind iconic structure,” he said. “We have kind of a collective idea here of creating a whole, not a bunch of individual parts.”
Just look at it from a distance. It’s difficult to pick out a single structure, and that’s by design.
“It's a critical aspect of the downtown review,” said Lisa Rutzick, Seattle’s Design Review Program Manager.
Her office sorts through a blitz of building proposals and makes sure they fall within the city’s design guidelines, which state that a downtown project should enhance the skyline. Architects should consider how a structure looks from all angles, as people are driving into downtown, or sailing in on a ferry.
“I think we are often very excited to see those bold, creative designs, but we still want to make sure that they are responsive to the context and work well with the street level,” Rutzick said.
Planners want to see a tower that tapers as it gets higher. They’re looking for unique patterns, textures, and colors. Rutzick says her office is seeing more of that these days, in part because Seattle is attracting attention from out-of-town architecture firms, eager to make an impression in one of the country’s fastest-growing big cities.
“We’ve been incredibly busy, we’re at volume records of permits,” Rutzick said.
“There are some duds, and there are some disappointments, but I think as a whole we have a pretty fine kind of collection of buildings that are being assembled here,” Hinshaw said.
And there are plenty more on the way. The city’s Shaping Seattle interactive online map shows dozens of projects preparing to rise in the downtown area.
“I just have mixed feelings about the quick changes, it seems a little bit too fast for me,” said Morgensztern, at Gasworks Park, though he pointed out he did appreciate the spectacular view.