Best Neighborhoods: Rainier Avenue South, Columbia City

From South Edmunds Street to South Dawson Street, a peek at a small town in the Seattle's South End.
FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

PEOPLE WHO LIVE HERE:
Bike-riding, Berkeley-style globalistas

If Mayberry had an urban soul, it might look like Columbia City. The high charm quotient comes from the old-style street clock and painted benches, plus cute flower shop KC’s Flowers, all-day breakfast hangout Geraldine’s Counter, butcher shop Bob’s Quality Meats, multiple-screen movie house Columbia City Cinema and a rail station a couple of blocks away (albeit tarted up with light-rail technology and two giant public-art magnifying glasses). Its urban edge resides in offerings like the Columbia City Gallery, Columbia City Farmers’ Market (late April to October) and ethnic restaurants, from Island Soul Caribbean Cuisine to the Thai spot Spice Room.

Full Tilt Columbia City Seattle

 

EAT/DRINK: Head to La Medusa, meanwhile, for classic Sicilian specialties (salt cod fritters) and event menus that entice. At Columbia City Ale House, lip-smacking sandwiches—steak, tuna melt, blackened salmon—meet thirst-quenching brews, while Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria makes thin-crust pies in a family-friendly setting. There’s much to admire at Columbia City Bakery, where bread baker extraordinaire Evan Andres also creates splendid cakes and pastries. (Especially delectable is the nicely chilled Tres Leche coconut pastry). Empire Espresso Bar has good java and Mighty-O Donuts—and $5 waffles on the weekends. Should you feel guilty about indulging at Full Tilt Ice Cream (pictured), cone-based calories can be worked off at one of the 25-cent pinball machines. You know a local watering hole like Lottie’s Lounge has heart when it hosts a Bloody Mary brunch (including a hangover Monday service) with alcohol-absorbing Mexican chilaquiles and Chardonnay eggs Benedict. Heading to Columbia City Theater for some live music? Stop in for creative concoctions and Southern-style food at The Bourbon Bar, its new in-house restaurant/watering hole. From the owner of Queen Anne’s popular Chinoise Cafe comes prettily executed sushi plus Spam-fried rice and complimentary edamame at Wabi-Sabi Sushi Bar & Restaurant.

SHOP: For affordable bikes, repairs ($25 tune-ups) and free fix-it classes for children, pedal over to Bike Works. At Retroactive Kids, youngsters will be absorbed by the classic toys and parents will love the adorable duds. Visit Andaluz for cool clothes, gifts and accessories, including fetching fedoras, locally designed jewelry and Kitten Camaro wallets. Gather Consignment provides a boutique-style setting for contemporary women’s clothing and home décor.

SERVICES: If you’re inclined to stay in Columbia City for a prolonged visit, The Shirley Marvin Hotel can put you up in a vintage, newly refurbished extended-stay suite.  

La Medusa Columbia CityLa Medusa

FIND 'EM
>>Andaluz (4908 Rainier Ave. S; 206.760.1900; andaluzseattle.com)
>> Bike Works (3709 S Ferdinand St.; 206.725.9408; bikeworks.org)
>> Bob’s Quality Meats (4861 Rainier Ave. S; 206.725.1221)
>> The Bourbon Bar (4916 Rainier Ave. S; 206.420.8285; columbiacitytheater.com)
>> Columbia City Ale House (4914 Rainier Ave. S; 206.723.5123; seattlealehouses.com/ColumbiaCity/)
>> Columbia City Bakery (4865 Rainier Ave. S; 206.723.6023; columbiacitybakery.com)
>> Columbia City Cinema (4816 Rainier Ave. S; 206.721.3156; columbiacitycinema.com)
>> Columbia City Gallery (4864 Rainier Ave. S; 206.760.9843; columbiacitygallery.com)
>> Columbia City Theater (4916 Rainier Ave. S; 206.722.3009; columbiacitytheater.com)
>> Empire Espresso Bar (3829 S Edmunds St.; 206.659.0588; empireespressobar.blogspot.com)
>> Full Tilt Ice Cream (5041 Rainier Ave. S; 206.226.2740; fulltilticecream.com)
>> Gather Consignment (4863 Rainier Ave. S; 206.760.0674; gatherconsignment.com)
>> Geraldine’s Counter (4872 Rainier Ave. S; 206.723.2080; geraldinescounter.com)
>> Island Soul Caribbean Cuisine (4869 Rainier Ave. S; 206.329.1202; islandsoulrestaurant.net)
>> KC’s Flowers (4873 Rainier Ave. S; 206.722.2200; kcsflowers.com)
>> La Medusa (4857 Rainier Ave. S; 206.723.2192; lamedusarestaurant.com)
>> Lottie’s Lounge (4900 Rainier Ave. S; 206.725.0519; lottieslounge.com)
>> Retroactive Kids (4859 Rainier Ave. S; 206.932.3154; retroactivekids.com)
>> The Shirley Marvin Hotel (3815 S Edmunds St.; 206.922.3656; shirleymarvin.com)
>> Spice Room (4909 Rainier Ave. S; 206.725.7090; spiceroomseattle.com)
>> Tutta Bella Neapolitan Pizzeria (4918 Rainier Ave. S; 206.721.3501; tuttabella.com)
>> Wabi-Sabi Sushi Bar & Restaurant (4909 Rainier Ave. S; 206.721.0212; wabisabicolumbiacity.com)

Are High-Rise Wood Buildings in Seattle's Future?

Are High-Rise Wood Buildings in Seattle's Future?

Is Seattle ready for high-rises built of wood after 80 years of concrete-and-steel buildings?
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

When architect Joe Mayo walks into his office, he’s steeped in Seattle history. Mahlum Architects is located in Pioneer Square’s 1910 Polson Building, which served as a warehouse for gold mining equipment during the Klondike Gold Rush. Over the past 100 years, the building has also housed offices and artists’ lofts, and survived two arson fires. So it’s remarkable to see the original old-growth Douglas fir columns still rising from the floor and spanning the ceilings. “It creates a pretty amazing environment,” says Mayo.

Large buildings framed with wood from big trees were commonplace in Seattle and in other parts of the country in the early 1900s. But changing building codes and diminishing availability of large timber put an end to this style. Today, wood buildings are usually one- or two-story houses, while our apartments, hotels and office buildings are nearly all built from concrete and steel. The six-story Bullitt Center on Capitol Hill, which opened in 2013, is the first mid-rise building in Seattle constructed of wood in the past 80 years.

With the advent of a new wood building material called cross-laminated timber (CLT), it might one day become one of many such structures. Proponents say the benefits of building with CLT could be significant. CLT can be used to create buildings that are as tall as 30 stories (and beyond, some architects say) that are better for the environment and aesthetically pleasing, and can be quickly built, help create jobs in economically depressed regional timber towns and are as long-lasting as other buildings. Some research even suggests that wooden buildings offer health benefits for occupants.

Mayo says the material makes sense for our region. “Architecture should feel like it’s a part of a place,” he says. “We’re in the great Northwest, with some of the tallest trees in the world and the best timber in the country, and we have a long history of building with wood.”

But while building codes in Europe and in some other countries have changed to embrace the new material, and CLT buildings as tall as 10 stories are in use in Australia and London, U.S. building codes lag behind. Seattle recently became the first city to allow the use of CLT in construction, but that use is currently limited to five stories for residential buildings and six stories for office buildings.

“The City is open to proposals on larger buildings, but we do have to verify that fire safety and seismic issues have been addressed in the designs,” says Bryan Stevens, spokesperson for the City of Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections. That’s because, while these issues have been resolved for buildings in other parts of the world, the U.S. requires domestic testing if building codes are to change.

Washington State University is one participant in a multi-institutional program with the National Science Foundation and the Network of Earthquake Engineering Simulation that is testing how mass timber systems like CLT fare in earthquakes. Hans-Erik Blomgren, a structural engineer in the Seattle offices of the international engineering firm Arup who is a participant in the research program, believes engineers can solve this puzzle. “There’s no technical reason we shouldn’t be designing a building with this material,” he says.

U.S. fire codes have also long prevented the use of combustible materials such as wood in mid- and high-rise buildings, but engineers say code changes to allow for the use of CLT are also achievable. To understand how resistant to fire large pieces of wood can be, proponents suggest thinking of how hard it is to start a bonfire with really big pieces of wood. Not only are such pieces hard to light, but they burn slowly.

In theory, developers could propose larger CLT buildings before codes are changed, but they would have to invest time, money and coordination to get this new building type through Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections, with no guarantee that their designs would be approved. “It takes a very special project and specific client and certainly a very ambitious design team to take it on,” says Mayo.

Unless that client steps forward, builders will be waiting for the International Code Council (ICC) to work through the fire and earthquake issues and develop the necessary code changes before mid-rise and higher CLT buildings spring up in the city. 

“We know there’s been a lot of interest in this construction type,” says Stevens, “so we’re trying to be responsive to the demand without giving up safety.”

As with so many innovations, another problem for developers is that material costs for CLT can be high because there are so few North American CLT manufacturers. Developers wait for the price to go down, but manufacturers need more demand for a product. To alleviate this problem, some businesses and legislators are working to help bring CLT mills to Washington state. An Oregon lumber company, D.R. Johnson Lumber, in Riddle, Oregon, recently became the first certified manufacturer of CLT for construction material in the U.S.

Clt was developed in the 1990s by researchers in Austria and Germany who were looking for a use for pieces of surplus wood. The material is created by layering smaller pieces of wood together into a kind of sandwich that offers the strength and insulation found in the massive timbers of the past, and that can be used for the walls, floors, roof beams and posts that make up a building. 

One of the most touted aspects of this material is its role in fighting carbon emissions. Trees absorb carbon and use energy from the sun to grow, which makes them a lower carbon choice than concrete or steel, which not only don’t absorb carbon, but require much more carbon-emitting energy to manufacture. Trees are also a renewable resource, as long as they are harvested from a sustainably managed forest. And CLT can be made from otherwise underused or damaged woods, such as the vast forests of domestic pine that have been killed by mountain pine beetles.

Another selling point, particularly in urban areas, is that CLT panels are prefabricated—bring them to the building site, and your building goes up quickly, with less noise, pollution and traffic delays than with other materials. The eight CLT stories of London’s nine-story Murray Grove apartment building went up in nine weeks.

But building with CLT is not all about practical considerations, says Susan Jones, who owns the Seattle architecture firm Atelierjones and designed her family’s home as the first (and so far only) CLT home in Seattle’s Madison Valley in 2015. The material itself—in the case of her house, CLT primarily from white pine and left unpainted—is a sensual pleasure, from the quality and patina of the wood to the subtle pine smell in the house.

“It’s been incredibly satisfying to live with it,” Jones says. “That’s what architects are asked to do—we create beautiful spaces for people. What’s better than to immerse yourself into this incredibly rich natural environment of wood?”

Here in Washington, there’s enough raw material to immerse us all in that environment. But only a handful of projects in the state have used the material so far—for example, in Jones’ CLT house, in the walls of the Bellevue First Congregational Church sanctuary designed by Atelierjones and on a building project at Washington State University in Pullman. In Oregon, Joe Mayo recently worked on the design for what is to be the first use of U.S.-made CLT on a two-story building project, using panels manufactured by Oregon’s D.R. Johnson.

There are a few other regional CLT building projects in the design process now. In June, Washington state granted design-build contracts to several architects, including Susan Jones of Atelierjones and Joe Mayo of Mahlum, for 900-square-foot classrooms at several elementary schools in western Washington, to be constructed by the end of 2017. 

Another building, Framework, a 12-story building with retail, offices, and housing in Portland, Oregon, is currently in the design process, after a team, which includes Blomgren as its fire and earthquake CLT engineering specialist, won a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tall wood building competition created to encourage innovation with the material. Winners for 2015, including the Portland team and a team in New York City, each received $1.5 million for the research and development phase of creating buildings using CLT and other engineered wood materials.

At the University of Washington, associate professor of architecture Kate Simonen is leading another USDA-funded study to determine the relative environmental impact of using mass timber in commercial office buildings in Seattle, which follows on other studies indicating that this kind of building will have a lower carbon footprint than other building materials. 

While she’s cautious about reaching premature conclusions in her study, Simonen thinks it might not be a bad idea to start working now to get the structures built in our region. 

“We don’t have all the answers now, but in order to get those answers we need to help lead innovation,” she says. “It makes sense to take some risks in our region to advance a building material that supports our region.”