First Light

First Light

1101 2nd AvenueSeattle

As any painter knows, having the right palette prepared is half the work of art. When Westbank and the interior designers at James KM Cheng architects began the design process for First Light, they started off by asking a series of questions. What is the nature of light here, and which colors are most inspiring under them? How could the textures and details within a new tower build on connections to Seattle’s strong maritime and aviation heritage? How could the finishes and furnishings of the building’s interiors express the sentiment that this is a design for Seattle, and nowhere else?

Some of the answers to these questions came together quickly. As a city mainly built in the twentieth century, concrete has long been the construction material of choice for such beloved institutions as the Pike Place Market, high-rise towers, college and university buildings, and the infrastructure of airports and overpasses. The design team decided that concrete building elements should be celebrated, shown with pride in public lobbies, even within private spaces of suites. Moreover, when concrete appears, it should be uncovered and unvarnished – direct and simple. Coupled with the exposed concrete, a rough aggregate warm-toned terrazzo is used as a highlight on some balconies and garden decks, including the lobbies.

The Ship Canal has always been one of Seattle’s most vital spaces, ringed by machine-shops, boat-makers and foundries. The direct and powerful shapes produced by the industrial legacy of areas such as Ballard has inspired the Seattle architecture of Tom Kundig and Steve Badanes, which the design team studied. Seattle’s current astonishing success as a place of corporate creation and innovation arises directly out of these heritages of craft in concrete and metal, so a contemporary look was needed, but one just over the horizon of contemporary taste. In setting a range of colors, James Cheng reminded his team of his mentor Arthur Erickson’s philosophy for buildings in the northwest – that a range of greys, with tiny highlights of color and the framing of nature, would evoke every color in the rainbow under the grey vault of rainy days. Hot colors work in the southwest, and quiet pastels are right for the Midwest, primary colors excel on the bare shores of the arctic and Canadian Maritimes, but a range of greys seems inevitable here, west of the Cascades.

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