To celebrate 15 years of the Storefront Studio, UW hosts ‘Building Blocks,’ a multimedia exhibit detailing the project’s history. Photo by Kailey Waring/University of Washington

To celebrate 15 years of the Storefront Studio, UW hosts ‘Building Blocks,’ a multimedia exhibit detailing the project’s history. Photo by Kailey Waring/University of Washington

UW’s Storefront Studio Project Revitalizes Historic Northwest Streets

For 15 years, the student-driven program has given new life to thoroughfares in Northwest communities.

Main streets often overflow with history. To walk down one can feel like traveling through the decades. Bringing change to these storied streets takes a thoughtful balance between honoring the past and renovating for a healthy future.

For 15 years, University of Washington architecture senior lecturer Jim Nicholls and his Storefront Studio Project have trekked out to towns all over the state to reimagine the historic—often decaying—facades of main street buildings and public spaces.

The work of the project is chronicled in Building Blocks: Storefront Studio on Main Street, a multimedia exhibit featuring old news articles, videos, and posters of past proposals which highlight some of the project’s best moments through the years. Building Blocks is on display at University of Washington’s Gould Hall through May 4.

There’s always a tough balance between innovation and wanting to hold onto history. Some fiercely protect these old buildings and street corners, while others see the spaces as an opportunity to set up shop for new businesses. Nicholls found that tapping into the local community was the best way to find a middle ground.

“Rather than focus on the problems that need to be fixed or corrected, [we’re] working with the community to try to find the good things and then build on them or enhance them,” Nicholls says.

The Storefront Studio Project started after the City of Seattle gave funds for streetscape updates to businesses on University Avenue near the UW in 2003.

During the quarter-long projects, the students set up shop in a donated storefront and work alongside city planners, downtown association members, business owners, and residents. They start with public open houses that guide them in creating a visual analysis of their host street.

An important step in the process, according to Nicholls, are the asset maps the students create to pinpoint areas of a street that can be built upon without changing its historical features. Later they use archival research and photographs of the current streetscape to create before-and-after proposal renderings.

“We’re not just about making it pretty,” Nicholls says. “We really want it to be economically viable. We’re really trying to help design jobs.”

The various projects on University Avenue were such a success that the city’s Downtown Revitalization Initiative formed a partnership with Storefront Studio. Through word-of-mouth, the project soon spread to other locations from Gig Harbor to Roslyn to Bothell—and even back to the University District.

During a quarter in Gig Harbor, the students proposed building parking decks into a small hill that could be closed off on weekends and turned into a small retail space. Suggestions like these are compiled into a book that is given to the town, which they can refer to when applying for grants and building construction plans.

In 2016, the program collaborated with Cafe Allegro co-owner Kate Robinson and other property owners on the University District Alley Activation Project. The project is one of several in the city that works with the Seattle Department of Transportation to make alleys safer and functional for pedestrians.

“Working with Jim’s class was fantastic and we appreciated the intense focus on community needs for the project,” Robinson says.

Storefront Studio set up wooden benches and overhead lighting in the alley between 15th Ave NE and University Way NE.

“We approached the project with the intent that the space would be a living lab for the community so that we could better assess what works on a human scale and functionality level,” Robinson says.

To commemorate the work Storefront Studio has put into revitalizing these small business communities, Nicholls is also releasing a book co-authored by former student Stacy Cannon. A release party for Building Blocks: The Storefront Studio on Mainstreet Fifteen Years of Community Architecture will be held on Wed., April 25 at 5:30 p.m. in the gallery in Gould Hall.

kdeluca@seattleweekly.com

More in News & Comment

Mary Lynn Pannen, founder and CEO of Sound Options, has consulted thousands of Washington families on geriatric care for 30 years. Photo courtesy of Sound Options
Seattle Takes on Elder Abuse as Reported Cases Rise

Local agencies and geriatric care managers aim to increase public awareness about the epidemic.

The Ride2 transit app will offer on-demand rides to and from West Seattle starting on Dec. 17. Courtesy of King County Metro
Climate Action Coalition Urges City to Respond to Seattle Squeeze

MASS asks the city to prioritize reducing traffic and increasing pedestrian safety ahead of the Alaskan Way Viaduct’s closure.

State Supreme Court Strikes Down I-27; King County Will Pursue Safe Consumption Sites

The decision upholds a court ruling keeping the anti-consumption site initiative off the ballot.

Seattle’s Hockey Team And Stadium Are On Their Way

Key Arena renovations will be completed without the use of public funding

Andrea Bernard, Allycea Weil, and Phoenix Johnson (left to right) are Licton Springs K-8 parents who want their kids to stay in the Native-centered program. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Licton Springs K-8 Parents Dismayed by Potential School Move

The PTO says children have benefited from the Native-centered program, and that transferring the pupils would disrupt their progress.

Seattle Municipal Court’s warrant outreach event on Nov. 30, 2017. Photo by Melissa Hellmann
Seattle Takes Steps to Quash Warrants

City Attorney attempts to address inequities in criminal justice system and enhance public safety.

The King County Courthouse. File photo
King County Council Acknowledges Report on Juvenile Solitary Confinement

Report also says youth of color face a disproportionate amount of disciplinary measures

Federal Way Megachurch Slapped With Another Sexual Exploitation Lawsuit

Lawsuit calls for removal of Casey and Wendy Treat, and CFO, from church leadership roles.

The Centralia Power Plant is a coal-burning plant owned by TransAlta which supplies 380 megawatts to Puget Sound Energy. It is located in Lewis County and slated to shut down by 2025. Aaron Kunkler/Staff Photo
National Report Outlines Climate Change’s Course For Northwest

More fires, floods and drought appear to be on their way for Washington state.

Mustafa Getahun and other Washington Federation of State Employees laundry workers picket University of Washington Medicine at Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery on May 17, 2018. Photo courtesy of the Washington Federation of State Employees
University of Washington Laundry Workers Feel Hung Out to Dry

The Rainier Valley facility’s imminent closure leaves over 100 people looking for new jobs.