A little over three years ago, Bellwether Housing invited Weber Thompson to partner in the design and development of a piece of land owned by University Christian Church (UCC). In collaboration with Compass Alliance Housing, Bellwether Housing has been helping the church parishioners realize a dream – sparked in the 1960’s – of transforming their parking lot into affordable housing.
Out of this vision will stem 133 new workforce and low-income homes for residents making 30% – 80% of Seattle’s Median Income. Nearly 40% of the units will be designated for families. Working for more than two years, through two funding cycles, and the promotion of Susan Boyd to CEO of Bellwether Housing, we are finally into construction! Crews just completed the level three concrete slab pour and we’re well on our way to opening day scheduled for April, 2018.
Lovingly designated Arbora Court, the name carries symbolic meaning for UCC parishioners. It pays homage to the proverbial tree of life, while also honoring the heritage tree to the north of the site which the building was designed around. When the building is complete, a terrace courtyard will surround the tree and house a play area for children and families just below the tree’s canopy.
An art feature at the main commercial corner of the site will carry the messaging of the historic legacy of UCC. An artist from UCC is designing the piece in collaboration with the community and art consultant Sara Everett. The artist developed a leaf design that will be translated into an artful mosaic surrounding a column and may extend into the privacy screens along the residential frontages down 15th Ave NE.
Walking around the previous parking lot (now construction site) it feels surreal that this will soon be home for many Seattle families and individuals. Bellwether set a strong vision for the project: design a multifamily home that is in keeping with the district, provides character and pedestrian scale features for residents and passersby, and create a higher-performing envelop to reduce energy consumption and create a healthier building for future inhabitants.
Recently, Mindy Black (the Project Manager) and I stood across from the UCC tower where the main entry of Arbora court stands and where residents will arrive home. This entry is aligned to the UCC tower and set back from the street for relief along 15th creating what will be the front porch and providing a sense of place. The base of the bays are now in place which create a rhythm that mimics the rhythm of the church façade across the street.
The heritage tree along the north side stands solid and strong with sprouting leaves which will provide cover to the courtyard that will frame it. I cannot help but imagine this courtyard beneath the branches (which we all deemed “the tree house”) come to life with the families that will eventually live and play here. It’s even more powerful knowing it’s a dream that UCC parishioners have had for decades – and we have the honor of helping make it come true.
– Kirsten Clemens
Associate Kirsten Clemens Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C is a designer working in Weber Thompson’s affordable housing and mixed-use design studios. She is a passionate advocate for equitable and affordable communities, and is a board member for the Seattle Architecture Foundation.