Design-Build firm SolTerra have gone before the Design Commission for advice on their proposed Strata project on N Williams Ave. The mixed use building would include 5 floors of residential units, with 95 one and two bedroom units provided. The ground level would include 5 live/work units, as well as 3-4,000 sq ft of retail. 44 below-grade parking spaces and 144 long-term bike parking spaces would be provided for the use of the residents.
The project site is the eastern half of a block bound by N Williams, Fargo, Vancouver and N Monroe. The northern portion of the site is currently used as a parking for the Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church located on the same block. The church will remain, and the project will incorporate 9 parking spaces for the use of the church. The southern portion of the site is currently vacant. One block to the north is the site for the recently approved Woods project, also by SolTerra.
The exterior expression of the project is derived from stratified bedrock forms found in nature, which are emphasized on the facade by the shifting horizontal forms. Green walls are proposed as part of SolTerra’s core belief in reconnecting people to nature. Exterior materials proposed for Strata include cast-in-place concrete on the ground floor, Silbonit fiber cement panel on the upper floors, cor-ten steel canopies and planters, aluminum storefront windows, VPI vinyl windows and metal railings.
Facing N Williams Ave the project would have a sunken courtyard, leading to the main residential entry, as well as 4 live/work units. The rooftop level would include an ecoroof, photovoltaic panels, planter beds and a roof deck.
A memo [PDF] to the Design Commission outlined potential areas for discussion. These included: the design parti; the massing, scale and form; the exterior materials; the ground level vibrancy; exposed pedestrian bridges; and the interior courtyard space. At the November 12th advisory hearing the Design Commission offered a general direction to simplify and clarify the concepts shown, with Commissioner Vallaster offering the following advice:
You’ve got enough concepts here for about three projects. You’ve got too much dumped onto one site. How do you therefore take it down to one strong concept and really do a good job of developing that? If it’s the balconies, let that be your concept. The other stuff can kind of go by the wayside. Just do a really strong concept and development based on a fairly simple theme.. You have one project—the Woods—this is another one, presumably you have another one… you’ve got enough ideas here for work on several sites in the future. Select one, and just run with it: energy efficiency, if that’s your priority, or the green theme of hanging gardens.
The project will be required to go through a Type II Design Review, where a decision is made by Bureau of Development Services staff.
This reminds me of architecture school in the 1970s, with the attempt at organic form, and the huge costs it would entail. I agree with Don Vallaster’s comments, but even then, I wonder how those 2nd to 5th floor green walls will be maintained. Wouldn’t well chosen street trees provide the traditional connection with nature, without adding pathways for leaks and rot?