Four design lessons learned during Construction Administration

Radius lessons learned project tour.

One week ago, a group of a dozen or so WT employees took time out of their busy schedules to take a “lessons learned” tour of Radius, a nearly-completed mid-rise residential project in the South Lake Union Neighborhood that Weber Thompson designed. (Thank you, Compass, for letting us host this after-construction-hours event!) The goal was to learn from the successes (and challenges) of Radius, through a better understanding of the construction process and the impacts it can produce on design and vice versa. We came away from the tour with four key takeaways:

1. Massing is key; it cannot be changed down the line.

Walking up on the project, you couldn’t help but acknowledge the general massing of a seven story building stepping down the rather steeply sloping site. In addition to the required steps to maintain code-compliant building height, the project further strove to break down the massing by providing a series of lake-view window bays, and recessing the lobby entry at a gasket element.  This design approach creates a serrated edge to the building as it scrapes the skyline – a nice contrast to the blocky office buildings of the Amazon Campus across the street, and a signifier that this project is something different. Materials and colors can (and will) change over the lifetime of the building, so getting the massing right is critical, and here, we all agreed it was quite successful.


2. On a tight site, exterior massing can contribute to interior qualities like light and views.

After discussing the exterior effect of these window bays, we went inside to see the interior benefit these bays provide – providing light from two sides, as opposed to just one face wall; offering views toward Lake Union along the perpendicular building face; etc. In addition to the window bays, the unit design incorporated an “interlock” approach, both creating some variation in the unit mix, while standardizing the construction with a degree of repetition.


3. Fire separation and codes aren’t always sexy, but elegant solutions DO exist.

While inside the building, we also discussed the challenge this single, block-long building created, in terms of code requirements for fire separation. The long corridors and building height steps required fire separation doors be located in a few locations along the corridor. Accessibility and egress further required certain clearance widths be preserved, challenging leasing goals of maximizing unit area (thus minimizing corridor area). The resulting solution was elegant – fire doors that recessed flush into the adjacent walls when open and accommodated all area requirements, but did prove more costly than originally anticipated. These types of issues are not the most glamorous side of design, but are very important to the project goals and the occupant’s daily experience of getting to their apartment.

Radius_Tour_44. Not locating rooftop amenities on the highest level can have positive benefits.

Our tour continued up to the roof-level amenity area at the north end of the block. The views to the lake were stunning, and the outdoor terrace – with its barbeques, firepits, planters and overhead catenary lighting, still in the installation process – is shaping up to be a wonderful asset for the future residents. In addition to its programmatic elements and site-specific views, this terrace is further benefited by the lack of mechanical equipment in view. Its vertical location in the building (one floor below the top floor) provided another roof level on which to locate the mechanical equipment that so often gets ignored until it is put in the most cost-effective location, rarely the best location for the occupant’s experience. Why you might ask? Sometimes noise, possibly odors, but most often just the shear size and bulk of the equipment can impact the occupant’s experience of what otherwise is a wonderfully-designed space. Avoiding these impacts completely is a huge win for this design solution!

With the sun setting, we headed back to the office to burn the midnight oil and incorporate some of these lessons learned – mutually beneficial massing strategies, creative unit layouts, and consideration for well-coordinated mechanical design – into our current (and future) projects.

Aaron Swain, RA, LEED Green Assoc.

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