Olson Kundig’s Downtown Seattle Residential Tower is a Coy Addition to the Cityscape

Under the right conditions, the new West Edge high-rise seems to disappear into the sky.

On certain days, the West Edge residential tower seems to meld with the sky (or, just as likely, fog). Courtesy Mikel Amias/Olson Kundig

Seattle’s Second Avenue has quickly morphed into a luxury corridor, with a cluster of glitzy towers rising around Pike Place Market in what seems like a matter of months. West Edge, a 39-story, 440-foot-tall skyscraper, is the first to open, with 340 apartments geared toward empty nesters as well as tech professionals, whose tastes cannot be ignored in a city like Seattle.

The architects behind West Edge, the feted local firm Olson Kundig, seem unlikely catalysts for this shift. Known for its lakeside getaways and tectonics of burnished steel, Olson Kundig saw an opportunity to set the architectural tone for the downtown boom. “As much as is reasonable in an urban core, we sought to diminish the line between inside and outside in order to engage our Northwest environment and landscape,” says co-owner and design principal Tom Kundig.

The building capitalized on Seattle’s picturesque surroundings with floor-to-ceiling operable windows and small balconies, defying recent trends that have cut off high-rise dwellers from outside air. Its privileged location just a few blocks from Seattle’s waterfront affords expansive vistas of Elliott Bay to the west; in the coming years, it will look out on a green promenade designed by the New York landscape firm James Corner Field Operations. Perhaps the most majestic panorama, that of Mount Rainier, can be taken in from a residents-only terrace. (An eighth-floor public “Sky Bar” offers less encompassing views.)

The one- and two-bedroom units feature stylings by Ankrom Moisan Interiors. Courtesy Cleary O’Farrell

From Second Avenue, the tower’s extensive glazing reflects the Pacific Northwest’s clouds and ever-changing skies. To Kundig’s point, the building envelope often threatens to disappear entirely. This sleight of hand was carefully calibrated: The lower podium floors are clad in a darker, grittier palette to reflect the intensely urban context (early downtown buildings maxed out at seven stories, Kundig says), while the glazing on the upper floors adopts increasingly lighter shades.

Inside, the lobby is anchored by a glass volume open to the sky and encasing a single Tsuma Gaki tree, giving the room something of a terrarium effect. On a recent summer morning, overnight raindrops still glistened on the leaves. The one- and two-bedroom units, which continue from the podium to the tower, are flooded with light, the bright ambience set off by exposed concrete elements and built-in kitchen cabinets.

The lobby’s unique winter garden encases a single Tsuma Gaki tree. Courtesy Cleary O’Farrell

West Edge is just one property in developer Greg Smith’s push for inner-city density, which he says is the only guarantor against sprawl. (Suburban development continues to chip away at the Cascadian forests, the region’s lungs.) He points to Vancouver, whose recent condo boom begat an architectural style of tall, skinny glass towers on podiums, and is bullish that Seattle will follow suit.

“Seattle is going to have its own style,” Smith says. “I always think of Seattle as the creative city—music, arts, businesses, we have a very creative culture—and yet our city has really handcuffed the architectural and design community. It’s very prescriptive about what building shapes and sizes you can build, and that’s when you run the risk of creating something that lacks creativity.”

You may also enjoy “How Olson Kundig Renovated and Expanded Its Seattle Office.”

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Categories: Residential Architecture, Housing