How This Mixed-Use Complex Improves Seattle’s Water Quality | Metropolis Magazine

The content for this article was originally featured in Metropolis Magazine on November 17, 2023.

Photo of Watershed in Fremont Seattle

Designed by Weber Thompson, Watershed takes on ecological responsibilities that reach far beyond its site. Photo by Built Work Photography

The green building movement has made dramatic strides in just a few decades, constantly advancing and widening its goals to adapt to new needs, research, and technology. If you’re looking for a symbol of this progress, look no further than Watershed, an office and retail complex designed by Weber Thompson in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood with a stunning breadth of sustainable features.

Located on Lake Union, the building was commissioned by Center of the Universe LLC (COU), whose moniker nods to Fremont’s longtime nickname. Weber Thompson and COU had established trust years ago while developing another ambitious green building, the Terry Thomas, a 2009 LEED Gold project in the city’s South Lake Union neighborhood.

The seven-story, 72,000-square-foot Watershed is a podium edifice sitting on a tight downhill corner lot overlooking the water, under the towering Aurora Avenue Bridge. The building provides space for 61,000 square feet of workspace and 5,000 square feet of retail, not to mention parking spaces for both cars and bikes. Its significant green bona fides were both aided and dictated by, among other things, the developer’s sustainable ambitions, Seattle’s stringent codes, and the city’s Living Building Pilot. The latter program, based on the International Living Future Institute’s (ILFI) Living Building Challenge, provides additional height and FAR (especially valuable on a floor plate measuring just 10,000 square feet) in exchange for meeting at least three of the stringent “petals” within the certification system. The team is pursuing the challenge’s place, materials, and beauty petals, and is in the final stages of receiving certification from the ILFI. In the meantime, it has won a prestigious Top Ten award earlier this year from the AIA Committee on the Environment.

“We give huge credit to our clients to be willing to go through these rigorous processes,” says Kristen Scott, Weber Thompson managing partner. The move was especially brave, she adds, given that the pilot program levies a financial penalty if buildings don’t meet its requirements in their first year of operation. To ensure that doesn’t happen, the list of sustainability-informed elements in the building is remarkably long.

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