Otak Design Team Keeps History Alive at Jasmine Tower
Historic preservation often entails restoring and rehabilitating old structures. However, for Otak’s Jasmine Tower project in Seattle, Washington, the goal for preservation is instead to maintain the location’s use as a public gathering space—one that captures decades of memories while offering the opportunity to build new ones.
Jasmine Tower sits in the Chinatown and Asian District of Seattle and was the former site of a community building that was first constructed in 1942 as a one-level brick building. Two levels were later added and the site became home to a restaurant and lounge called Bush Gardens. Through the years, the location was the site of numerous weddings, parties, and significant events that many in the community now remember fondly.
With this history as the backdrop, Otak was contracted to create a design reflecting the site’s former uses, while adding new housing opportunities and helping rejuvenate this area of the district. The client, Vibrant Cities, has offices next door to the site, as well as family history tied to the neighborhood, making this a personal legacy project for both the client and Otak. Getting the formula for this endeavor just right requires numerous meetings with multiple project stakeholders, including Seattle’s International Special Review District board and the community to ensure the integrity and dignity of the neighborhood remain intact.
“Our clients have trust in Otak. Our design team had previous experience working through these kinds of challenging processes. We have experience with that type of building and we can take charge and guide it through the design process. There are lots of meetings with the community as well as the board, and if we’re not paying attention to that large constituency group, then we’re not going to be successful,” says Gary Reddick, the project’s Director of Design. Gary was joined on the Otak team by Li Alligood, Senior Planner, Casey McKenna, Senior Project Manager, and Ron Dean, Senior Designer.
The community originally wanted to preserve the building and Otak set about surveying the property to see if rehabilitation was possible. Unfortunately, the building proved to be structurally unsound and nothing was salvageable. “What we’ve really heard at the meetings with the public is that they want the legacy of Bush Gardens to continue. Our job has been to show that the happy memories were more about the experience than the building. There are so many memories embedded in the site and we know if we keep a part of the new building as a community gathering space, those memories can be retained and new ones created,” Gary comments.
That input from the public has reshaped the original design for the first two floors which were initially intended to be mostly residential. Now, that space will be occupied by a restaurant and retail on the first floor and office space on the second. A large community event room will also occupy much of the second floor and serve as the new place for building memories. In a nod to the history of the space, old photos and artifacts from the site’s days as Bush Gardens will be featured throughout. The remaining fifteen floors will be residential and there will also be a three-level parking deck underground.
Along with capturing the history, the design of the building is also the first in the district to take full advantage of the 170-foot zoning heights. Strategic massing, where the ground levels will be given more weight than the upper levels, will help maintain the neighborhood feel of 3 or 4-story buildings. “Otak is experienced as the first development group to take advantage of height increases in other areas (see Hyatt Place). Being the first to reach for those heights requires additional explanation and meetings to build comfort,” Gary comments.
With at least three more meetings to go, Gary says construction is not likely to begin for another year or possibly two. But he knows the end result will be a building that embodies the community spirit. “It’s not the building, it’s the container for the memories. We’ve honored the container in our design and the building will add value to the whole district and bring people back.”