[All images by BUILD LLC]

The first thing a passerby might notice about the 602 Flats building, recently completed at the corner of 12th Ave East & East Mercer on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, is one of two forty-foot tall green walls or the solar panel rain screen system. These systems are an uncommon feature for an apartment building, especially in Seattle’s booming market of generic apartment mega-blocks.

These wall systems are expressive of the resourcefulness and innovation required to design, permit, develop, and construct a small, multi-family building in Seattle these days. Rising construction costs and a scarcity of tradespeople in the Pacific Northwest required that the architecture team from BUILD LLC implement a laser-focused design strategy that limited the variables. An overwhelmed building department also posed challenges with constantly moving goalposts, necessitating that the owners and design team exercise creative problem solving and a high tolerance for protracted schedule (aka, pain). Last but not least, soaring land values in Seattle coupled with high entry costs for any project, particularly for small projects, require an owner who is committed to their project and their property for the long haul (like their lifetimes). The time and financial investment of an intricate project like the 602 Flats does not lend well to maximizing value in only the short term. Rather, the owners of the 602 Flats are longtime Seattleites committed to fostering neighborhoods and building community.

The owners were so committed to creating lasting value in the neighborhood, in fact, that they took on the green walls and solar panel walls as personal projects; they were conceived, designed, installed and tested by the clients. Each green wall has an innovative drip irrigation system to regulate water requirements for the carefully selected plants throughout the seasons. The solar panel rainscreen reduces the energy needs of the building while helping to achieve the 4-Star Built Green status of the project.

Composite aluminum rain screen panels create a crisp, machined envelope to the building. These panels were specified to match the finish of the windows; the color and texture of the panels offer a neutral backdrop for the green wall and solar panels to visually pop as design highlights. Aluminum windows (another upgrade that requires longer-term commitment) are used for their durability, slender profile, and refined finish.

Inside, the project continues the clean lines within sensible, modern spaces. There’s no sales theme designed in here – just light-filled spaces, sensibly configured for modern living. Common areas are designed around views of the city and neighborhood, while bedrooms are positioned for optimal natural light and fresh air. Gray-stained Abodian cabinets, Pental Quartz countertops, and stainless-steel backsplashes create a timeless material palette.

Building systems are composed of energy-efficient, but user-friendly, Built Green 4-Star compliant selections. In-floor radiant heat, although an upgrade over traditional apartment heating systems, was selected for its long-term effectiveness, and immediate enjoyment of the apartment dwellers. Electrical and lighting systems were intentionally laid out during early design and fine-tuned during install. Durable and proven appliances and fixtures were selected to keep maintenance (and tenant inconvenience) minimal.

602 Flats consists of two-bedroom units, with the exception of the one-bedroom 4th-floor unit that concedes a bedroom to comply with Seattle upper level setback, but gains a generous terrace with views of the city, Sound, and mountains. As with many aspects of the project, this design move transforms a constraint into a . Care and attention to detail set this building apart and, not surprisingly, the flats were rented out before the project was even completed.

The design team at BUILD LLC would contend that small, dynamic, multi-family buildings like the 602 Flats are a vital part of the urban fabric. They may only play a minor role in the livability and affordability of the city on their own, but en masse, they provide thoughtful density within neighborhoods (replacing dilapidated single-family homes) while maintaining granularity and character. They allow property owners to develop small parcels of underutilized land and give renters a greater diversity of apartment options. These buildings fit in with the proportions of surrounding older buildings and lower-scale neighborhoods. In a contentious city going through as much change as Seattle, we noticed there was curiosity, but no strong or negative reactions to this project. We can only infer that the scale and care make a smaller-sized project like the 602 Flats a welcome new neighbor.

Projects like these also play a role in supporting small to medium-sized architecture firms, and give local design teams the opportunity to exercise innovation and creativity in a city overly populated with apartment building templates. For all these reasons, projects like the 602 Flats are unique and necessary puzzle pieces of the urban fabric.

Given the current laws of building economics in the Pacific Northwest, where land value has reached oxygen-depleted levels and construction costs have soared, future small-scale multi-family projects are in serious jeopardy. When you pile on ever-increasing regulatory hurdles, City agencies that resist coordination, and base utility service fees that border on outlandish…. future innovative projects of this kind are very challenging to conceive and implement.

The design team at BUILD LLC applauds the clients for making a long-range commitment, and, in parallel, for creating an example for others to follow. BUILD also encourages and welcomes the brave souls of Seattle who are willing to play a longer game by adding innovative projects to our city. Many well-meaning neighbors are grasping, and outright fighting, to keep Seattle’s soul intact. It’s a worthy battle with many possible solutions. The architects at BUILD offer that small, thoughtfully designed, multi-family projects can preserve some of Seattle’s grit and character while nourishing its future with a new spirit.

Cheers from Team BUILD