This code-changing project brings unprecedented programming and newly-tapped potential to one of the oldest and most historically significant neighborhoods in the City of Seattle.
Client Urban Villages, Inc.
In converting the Westland Building, a historic steam-supply warehouse into a hotel, our team consisting of Urban Villages, Inc.(UVI), Curioso, Aparium Hotel Group, and JTM construction is revitalizing a historic railspur corridor and public alley intersection to create new ways to experience age-old buildings and infrastructure in Pioneer Square. Between integrating new building code legislation and amended zoning ordinances with the design, this project builds a unique bridge between the past and present and ensures a healthier future through adaptive reuse.
Revitalizing Seattle’s Historic Downtown Redevelopment has been slow to arrive in Pioneer Square. Full of 19th century buildings, many developers steer clear of the neighborhood, as renovating a building this age poses numerous challenges, especially if the desired building use differs from the original. But the neighborhood is experiencing a revitalization, with newly converted office buildings, restaurants, bars, and cafes opening up. UVI foresaw the opportunity that would come with not only developing a hotel, but an entire micro-district that connects to the community, and creates a steady flow between the neighborhood’s first rooftop bar, an alley-fronting restaurant, and the activated railspur corridor brought back to life for the very first time since its use as a rail supply line serving Pioneer Square in the early 20th century. Given that both UVI and Miller Hull share philosophies rooted in sustainability, we enthusiastically joined the effort.
Termed RailSpur because of the historic train lines dead-ending here, the rail corridor is double-wide to accommodate the two tracks. Counter to most public alleyways in the neighborhood running north to south, this unique two-block private passageway runs east to west creating the only mid-block intersection in Pioneer Square as it crosses the south extension of Nord Alley. In the heart of the city’s most historic neighborhood and within close proximity to Lumen Field and T-Mobile Park stadiums, and afuture Port of Seattle cruise terminal one block west, the hotel will become a hotspot for tourists and locals alike. Adding to the area’s appeal is a series of cobblestone and brick alleyways which impart an intimate and nostalgic ambiance passing between some of Pioneer Square’s oldest edifices.
Changing Code, Spurring Modernization The vision for this site was undeniably there, but legislation would have to be navigated and reconsidered in order to properly fit this building into 21st century standards. The first impediment was the prohibition of rooftop restaurants in Pioneer Square. Recently, Seattle’s Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI) adopted new mass timber building codes, enabling the project to be built higher than previously allowed with traditional heavy timber. This extra height made assembly spaces at higher floors possible. However, these modifications were formulated for new projects, and in this project’s case, we would need to further adapt the existing heavy timber structure to meet the new mass timber code to unlock the rooftop for neighborhood gatherings.
But there was another obstacle to rooftop revelry in Pioneer Square’s zoning ordinance that prohibited eating and drinking establishments on rooftop penthouses. UVI and its land use attorneys from McCullough Hill Leary saw an opportunity to build on a proposed modification in the 2022 Citywide Rooftop Feature Code Amendments, and successfully convinced City Council to add new language “to allow rooftop uses in Pioneer Square to include spaces for lodging and eating and drinking to help attract visitors and economic activity to the neighborhood.” This opened the rooftop to programming never-before allowed.
The thoughtful, adaptive reuse of the historic Westland Building has enabled us to work with the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Tax Incentives Program (a federal program providing tax breaks to private developers to encourage adaptive reuse of historic structures), which has a group of architectural historians who review and assess whether a building has been adapted to their standards. Our team weighed every architectural and structural intervention against these standards to clearly distinguish the old from the new, looking for the gentlest approach which could be reversed in the future.
To further activate the RailSpur alley, an outdoor dining enclosure extending from the alley-front restaurant required an intensive approval process with Seattle City Light as the enclosure sits atop an electrical transformer vault delivering power to two buildings. A section of the dining enclosure roof is designed to be removed to accommodate future replacement of the transformers.
Transforming the Building from Work to Play Originally a steam pipe supply company, this building was built with wide square floor plates, a configuration that didn’t allow for daylighting and egress windows for guest rooms in the middle of the building. In 1979, when the building was converted into offices, a narrow court was cut into the center of the structure to introduce daylight to the office floors. This Sky Court has been widened and further expanded into the void from the relocated elevators to bring daylight and air into the interior guestrooms and all the way into the entry lobby and restaurant on the lower levels via a large skylight. A planter placed at the top edge of the Sky Court will cut a verdant silhouette against the sky as one looks up from the lobby. Historic timber joists have been relocated from the structural bays housing a new vertical circulation core to support the Sky Court skylight and restore the historic structure damaged and removed in the 1979 renovations to the the main central bay.
To future-proof the functionality of the structure, significant seismic and mechanical upgrades have been made, ensuring the building remains structurally sound and safe for inhabitants, without compromising its historic value. It was crucial to our team to preserve the brick exterior and historic essence while modernizing the 1907 building and connecting the historical city with the future of Pioneer Square byadding a rooftop bar and hospitality suite, as well as a dining enclosure in the RailSpur alley. With these modernizations, the building stands to remain relevant and vital for decades to come. Hotel Westland will open in the Summer of 2024, alongside a number of other developments in Pioneer Square. Collectively, they will usher the neighborhood into a new era of vibrancy and commerce, activating the historic RailSpur with community events, art exhibits, and unique local eating and drinking establishments.
Architect: The Miller Hull Partnership, LLP Interiors: Curioso Operator: Aparium Hotel Group Contractor: JTM Construction Civil Engineer: MIG Structural Engineer: CPL Landscape Architect: Site Workshop Envelope Consultant: Morrison Hershfield Acoustical Consultant: Tenor
Vertical Transportation Consultant: Lerch Bates Fire and Life Safety Code: Holmes Fire Historic Report: Kathryn Rogers Merlino