Architecture We Actually Like

Driving early across 520 to see an ultimately disappointing gallery opening yielded an hour's free time in Bellevue last week. The area pinched between 405 and Bellevue Way is undergoing tremendous growth, with many condo, apartment, and commercial projects nearing completion. Begun a few years ago, they're arriving on market at arguably the worst possible time. But, regardless of the leasing prospects in our currently sucky economy, there's some eye-catching stuff going up in Bellevue. At the corner of N.E. 10th St. and 112th Ave. N.E., Su Development is erecting three towers of strikingly different design. The first, dubbed 989 Elements, was completed two years ago, and the 23-story mixed-use tower houses the Open Satellite gallery.

But what's that crazy, undulating tower rising next to it--the one that looks like individual floors are being shoved irregularly from side to side....?

Across the courtyard from 989 Elements, two more towers are nearing completion. Facing the east toward the freeway is a canted-roof, 17-story structure that housed the Night Rider installation by artist Joseph Gray last winter.

Set back farther west, in a quieter mini L-block, is its taller companion tower. Together they comprise Elements too, designed by local film Cutler Anderson Architects (with an assist by project architect CollinsWoerman) for Wu. This 27-floor apartment building--with retail at its base--is compared to "a series of drawers hanging from four massive piers," in the words of architect James Cutler. It's not done yet, but we like it and the enclosed courtyard facing west to 111th Ave. N.E. Once a through street, it's been dead-ended against the busy thoroughfare of N.E. 8th (which carries 40,000 cars a day, according to Elements marketing materials). Though this shady, L-shaped enclave isn't quite so open as the rendering below would imply:


There are actually other buildings, including a retirement home, on the west side of 111th. Likely to reach completion this fall, Su's complex is being billed as part of the "Ashwood Arts District," which includes the nearby Bellevue Regional Library, Ashwood Playfield, a projected performance space, Open Satellite, a doll museum, and a yet-to-be-built theater. The three Elements towers will house some 440 renters, with conversion to condos a possibility when the economy improves. A pedestrian walkway is also planned to cross 405 at N.E. 10th, leading over to the hospital district of East Bellevue.

Given that a Bellevue office worker at the nearby Microsoft tower could walk from Elements to work, and from work to Bellevue Square and home, in 10 or 15 minutes per leg, that makes the area reasonably pedestrian-friendly--just the opposite of the city's usual reputation. Certainly the city is growing ever denser and less car-dependent. (Though as The Seattle Times reports, steep condo discounts may be required to lure empty-nester Boomers out of their old suburban homes--assuming first they can sell their old homes.)

On a hot sunny Friday last week, I was struck by the number of patrons at the nearby Bellevue Regional Library. (Statewide library usage is way up, another recession statistic associated with people having more time on their hands.) The library was full of patrons, while the streets were rather empty. Granted, most people had left work early to get a jump on the weekend, but it was considerably less bustling than Belltown. The few outdoor dining areas I could find had a few customers, but there aren't many enticements--like parks or benches--to get people to gather in public.

Once the two new Elements towers begin filling up, of course, its courtyard may accomplish just that. Free Wi-Fi will be offered in community areas. Prices for the one beds, two beds and "Panache Homes" will range from under $1,000 (ha) to over $2,000--we're guessing way over two grand for the upper-floor Panache Homes. (Floor plans are available, but without square footage figures.) There's also a bar and grill called Vertigo at the top of the existing tower. Though in terms of life's more mundane necessities, downtown Bellevue's only real grocery store is the new Safeway--a long trek away at 4th and Bellevue Way, basically a car.

Now if we could only relaunch the old Eastsideweek (1990-1997, RIP), with a branch office nearby, I wouldn't mind living in one of those extruded drawers.

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