“City Life at Street Level:” Batik and Expo Apartments featured in City of Seattle case study

The Seattle Office of Planning and Community Development (OPCD) helps create places for all Seattleites to enjoy by developing design guidelines and code standards. In spring of 2019, OPCD researched and assessed selected street level frontages in Greater Downtown to better understand which design qualities encourage interaction and identify opportunities for improvement.

OPCD featured Runberg’s Expo and Batik apartments as two examples of successful street-frontage design.

“An active street life — both day and night — is a defining feature of the city and important for livability, vitality and character… The street level of buildings is a critical part of the public realm, offering a place to travel, eat out, exercise, shop and meet others,” said OPCD in the report.

Some qualities are universal no matter the scale of the building or the uses inside: clear glass, welcoming entrances, canopies, lighting and detailing for pedestrian scale. Other qualities are more dependent on the activities inside and how they engage with the sidewalk.

Expo (pg. 12-13): Lesson 1 – Storefronts should be designed for variety
Storefronts play a critical role in creating an active atmosphere and signaling walkability. Fine-grained storefronts, punctuated with multiple doors and individualized storefronts, are especially tied to walkability and thriving activity.

At Expo, it may look like the different storefronts were personalized by tenants since they vary so much from each other, but they were designed early on, during the design of the building, approved and built as part of the initial development.

Batik (pg. 22-23): Key Lesson 6 – Vertical rhythms create pedestrian scale
Most buildings incorporate vertical elements or rhythms along the street level facade; purely horizontal elements create a long expanse without human scale. Modularity in window size, door size and materials can be designed in proportion with the human body to contribute to pedestrian scale.

Batik is on a sloping site, and has well-placed commercial spaces facing south onto a setback plaza and community park across the street. The remainder of the perimeter has ground-level residential units with patios that step with the grade; some front a pedestrian promenade connecting through the neighborhood.

“Walking along a ground floor facade with primarily vertical rhythms makes the walk much more interesting and eye-catching. We move from ‘column to column,’ which makes the walk seem shorter.”

Read the full report here.