Building community: Six multifamily projects provide creative solutions to urban density

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As the Seattle area grows and land gets ever scarcer, it will become increasingly true that a home is not always a house.

Instead it may be a new apartment in a high-rise, a condominium in a recycled building or subsidized housing. It may be co-housing or a town home in the suburbs.

Architects and planners already know density is the direction new construction increasingly is taking, and many are committed to making it as appealing as possible. So is the American Institute of Architects/Seattle chapter, which invites the public to tour any of the six projects below.

Open from noon to 5 p.m. today (Sunday) only, these half-dozen projects, chosen from 13, make up the fifth annual Housing the Northwest multifamily home tour. Each was selected because it's in some way outstanding, be it in innovation, overcoming obstacles, straightforward good architecture, adding to neighborhood richness - or even in the case of a couple of projects, creating neighborhood. At least one unit will be open at each location.

This year's tour is co-chaired by architects Caroline Kreiser and Lisa Kennan-Meyer. It was judged by Diane Sugimura, deputy director of Seattle's Department of Design, Construction and Land Use; Jack Rafn, chairman of the Rafn Co., and architects Marcia Gamble Hadley and Ross Chapin. The Seattle Times is a Housing the Northwest co-sponsor.

Fremont Lofts
Eight condominiums.
3810-3816 Evanston Ave. N., Seattle
Ray Johnston and Joe Hurley of Johnston Architects.

Just up the hill from the Lenin statue in Seattle's popular Fremont neighborhood, these luxury condos were designed and developed by the same team that did the Stonewater Condominiums next door. Thus they have the same edgy quality, yet they retain their own "industrial materials" style, which includes exposed joists and ducts, fir decking and plate-steel fireplace surrounds.

The eight units are in four buildings, arranged adjacent to a "woonerf." That's a Dutch word for a narrow, winding street used by cars and pedestrians alike. Each town house is 2,000 square feet. They have 17-foot ceilings, huge windows, and four have roof gardens offering views. Sales prices range from $585,000 to $630,000, with most units quickly sold. The density equates to 25 units per acre. "Wonderful in its texture outside and its richness inside," one judge said.

Longfellow Court/Westwood Court Cooperatives
45 apartments and town houses.
9425 27th Ave. S.W., Seattle
Donnie North, Kim Lokan and Jim Rymsza of Tonkin/Hoyne/Lokan Architects.

The judges loved this project because it defies stereotypes of low-income housing, which it is. "It looks like a nice, old 1930s neighborhood that could be market rate," said one.

Located in the Westwood neighborhood, these two resident-managed cooperatives sit on a two-acre site divided by a private street. They can house up to 175 persons in rentals ranging from two to four bedrooms. Thirty units are affordable for families earning up to 50 percent of median income (about $32,000 for a family of four). The remaining 15 are reserved for Seattle Housing Authority applicants.

To promote individuality, the Craftsman-style row houses are painted various shades. Each has its own street-facing entry and most have private, fenced yards. The cooperatives, owned by the Lutheran Alliance to Create Housing (LATCH) in partnership with the Seattle Housing Authority, are currently being leased. (Application information: 206-789-3706.)

Avalon Bellevue
202 apartments.
1017 110th Place N.E., Bellevue
Tom Sheldon and Michael Willis of GGLO Architects.
It wasn't too long ago that downtown Bellevue offered little in the way of high-rise living. But developments such as this one, which sits diagonally across the street from King County's award-winning Bellevue Regional Library, are rapidly giving the city a decidedly urban feel.

Covering a full block, Avalon Bellevue is street friendly; there are retail spaces on the ground floor, market-rate apartments above. Extensive use of brick complements the library's terra cotta tile, and awnings, plus warm colors enliven the street scene.

Density is 115 units per acre. Units range from loft studios through two bedrooms boasting nine-foot ceilings and wood floors. Amenities include underground parking and courtyards with barbecue grills. One judge pronounced the Avalon successful in furthering Bellevue's goal of "promoting a quality pedestrian environment."

Harbor Steps
734 apartments.
1221 First Ave., Seattle
Callison Partnership (Phase 1) and Hewitt Architects (Phases 1, 2, and 3).

What was once a rundown part of First Avenue is now almost a city unto itself. Constructed in phases, Harbor Steps is a 1.3-million-square-foot mixed-use facility offering luxury apartments, a 25-room inn, shops, restaurants, office space and day care, all in high-rise buildings surrounding a large public space, Harbor Steps Park.

True steps, the vertical park connects the waterfront to downtown, while also offering a community gathering place where residents and others can relax.

Another integral part of the project involved transforming a section of Post Alley, formerly a service road, into a pedestrian-only path providing direct access to Pike Place Market. Units range from $900-a-month studios to penthouses commanding terrific views and $5,500 a month.

The density is 303 units per acre. Judges gave the developer, Harbor Properties, and architects high praise for working creatively to develop a steep site into a true downtown neighborhood.

Duwamish Cohousing
23 homes plus common facilities.
6000 17th Ave. S.W., Seattle.
Philip Christofides, Stephanie Spar, Holden Withington, Katy Esser, Corinne Kerr and Margot Arellano of Arellano/Christofides Architects.

Thus, Duwamish Cohousing consists of 23 town homes and freestanding houses, from one to four bedrooms, linked by pedestrian paths. They lead to such amenities as the common kitchen and dining room, parking lot, children's play room, crafts area, laundry room, and their common wetland.

All homes have tall ceilings, skylights and large windows, filling the spaces with light. While a general contractor was employed, the owners have also done a significant portion of the work themselves, allowing the price per unit to be as low as $149,000. Judges lauded this project for fostering neighborliness.

Belltown Lofts
58 condominiums.
66 Bell St., Seattle.
Driscoll Architects and U-Arc Studio. This project is actually two buildings. One, the now remodeled Bell Building, was a four-level brick warehouse built in 1914. The second is a new five-story frame structure atop underground parking.

Their location adjacent a noisy Alaskan Way Viaduct off-ramp was one challenge. It was met by the inclusion of a common central courtyard that ties the buildings together. It includes a soothing water feature and bamboo.

Another hurdle was affordability. Without benefit of public subsidies, the goal was to have 40 percent of the condos qualify as "affordable housing," which in this area just a block from Pike Place Market meant less than $197,000. In fact, costs were as low as $113,500 for a one-bedroom flat and $159,000 for a loft, with underground parking extra. (Top price: $753,000 for a 1,781-square-foot loft with a private rooftop deck.)

Although the flats average just 700 square feet, they seem bigger because ceilings are nine feet, and most spaces open into each other by way of sliding wall partitions.

Judges chose this project because it overcame numerous challenges and creatively recycled an old building into a successful larger project.