The content for this article was originally featured in the Daily Journal of Commerce on April 28, 2023.
Northlake Commons, Seattle’s first mass timber life-science building, is rising quickly at 3800 Latona Ave. N.E. near the shores of Lake Union.
The four-story, 196,000-square-foot project consists of two majority mass timber buildings, which will house a mix of life-science and tech office space, above a concrete podium/plaza level.
Floors one and two are slated for life-science tenants and three and four for tech clients, with around 167,000 square feet of total rentable space. The ground/plaza level has 4,000 square feet of retail and 4,000 square feet of restaurant space. No tenants have been confirmed.
General contractor Swinerton Builders broke ground on the project last February. The larger building, the east building, is topped out. The west building is slated to top out in mid to late May. All construction is on schedule to be completed this fall.
Construction time on site has been significantly reduced due to the building’s majority mass timber frame which is comprised of cross-laminated timber floors and glue-laminated timber columns and beams made from Douglas fir. The project’s mass timber components are fabricated off-site by project partners Kalesnikoff in B.C and Timberlab in Oregon and then assembled in place in Seattle. Kalesnikoff supplied and manufactured the CLT and Timberlab the glulam. Northlake Commons utilizes what Timberlab calls its ‘goal post’ design technology which allows for beams and columns to effectively slot into one another creating a seamless look and finish. Column tops are carved out in a goal post shape using CNC machines at Timberlab’s warehouse ready for CLT beams to be slotted in place on site.
(Editors note: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Kalesnikoff is the project’s CLT supplier and manufacturer.)
The project’s mass timber structure will be exposed at all levels on the interior. The wood has been treated with an attractive whitewash finish that brings out the tones of the Douglas fir and also acts as a sealant and UV protector. The building will be clad in dark fiber cement panels in a shingled pattern that resembles tree bark.
Northlake Commons is a spec-built building developed by Hess Callahan Partners in partnership with Mark Grey of Stephen C. Grey & Associates and the Dunn family (of Dunn Lumber) which owns the land for the development. Weber Thompson is the architect.
At a recent panel discussion on the project, Joanna Callahan of Hess Callahan Partners said the decision to build with mass timber was driven by the developer’s commitment to sustainability and the opportunity to create a truly unique “landmark” building that felt “quintessentially Northwest” and celebrated the legacy of Dunn Lumber and the Dunn family. The project also includes a 23,500-square-foot warehouse, distribution, and showroom facility for Dunn Lumber within the lower southern half of the building along Northlake Way.
Northlake Commons occupies a whole city block and even during construction it is evident that the project will have a transformative impact on the neighborhood. The plaza level will activate the site for public use with its retail and restaurant elements. It will also have some public seating and attractive landscaping that includes a sunken rain garden. Moreover, the project’s north plaza connects directly and seamlessly to the Burke-Gilman Trail.
Brittany Porter, senior associate at Weber Thompson, previously told the DJC that the design concept for Northlake Commons was inspired by a walk in the woods and the distinct layers of the forest. “When we were designing the project, we wanted to ensure that the mass timber frame was celebrated and was expressed in a way that future tenant improvements would not cover up the structure,” Porter added at the panel discussion. “We also wanted to celebrate the other materials in the building (steel, concrete, glass) in a beautiful way.”
Northlake Commons has been designed to take full advantage of the postcard views of Lake Union afforded by its location. Porter explained that as many wooden beams as possible were located perpendicular to major glazed spaces so that they did not obstruct views or block daylight from flooding the building.
Another eye-catching architectural feature of the project are a series of sky bridges that connect Northlake Common’s two buildings on levels two through four. These connectors are designed not simply as a means of circulation but as programmable spaces that can be used as outdoor office space. They are outfitted with overhead cover, lighting, electrical outlets, and capacity for outdoor heaters to keep them functional all year long. There are two connectors at each level. The connectors on levels two and three are exposed. The fourth level is enclosed by glass. The connector to the north has views of a bike trail and park, the connector to the south has views of the lake. Both overlook the project’s landscaped courtyard.
The initial design for Northlake Commons was completed just before the pandemic. The building was originally designed as straight office space but quickly pivoted to include life-science elements once the pandemic’s effect on the office market came into view. This shifted the design as life-science spaces require a higher fire safety rating, which required thicker CLT on the life-science levels. Some areas on those levels also needed to be covered up for safety and more freight elevators were added to support future life-science tenants.
Another major impact of the pandemic was to bolster the health and wellness features of the building. Northlake Commons has extensive outside space and amenities that encourage access to the outdoors and promote the health and wellness of tenants. In total, the project has 65,000 square feet of programmed outdoor space integrated into every level. This includes spacious private decks and 49,000 square feet across the public plazas on the north and south ends of the project.
The development has high sustainability goals and is targeting LEED Platinum certification. It also includes a bioswale that will enable the development of a regional stormwater system in partnership with the city of Seattle and clean millions of gallons of polluted water.
While tenants are yet to be secured, Callahan said Northlake Commons has been designed to be as flexible as possible with the ability to serve diverse clients in the life-science and tech space. She also added that she hopes to see more mass timber projects in Hess Callahan’s future, noting that the decision to build in this material did not equate to significantly more costs.
When completed later this year, Northlake Commons will also have a bike and kayak storage room at the basement level with over 200 bicycle parking spaces to promote cycling to work. In addition, there are three parking areas for cars. Areas one and two share a daylight basement with the Dunn Lumber warehouse and level three is an entire floor of below ground level park
The project team also includes Spear Street Capital GeoEngineers, geotechnical; DCI, structural engineer; Malcolm Drilling, ground support, shoring; KPFF, civil engineer and surveyor; Glumac, sustainability consultant and MEP; RDH Building Science, envelope; Weber Thompson, landscape architect; Lerch Bates, vertical transportation and Heffron Transportation, transportation. JLL is the broker.