On June 7, 2023, the City of Seattle announced three winners of its Office to Residential: Call for Ideas contest for which it received a total of 13 submissions. Hybrid Architecture, LLC, took first place; Gensler, Seattle Office Project Team took second; and the Miller Hull Partnership took third. Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections will study the submissions and determine what legislative and regulatory modifications would be necessary to support and further these proposals and other future office-to-residential conversion projects.
Seattle will also be holding a series of exhibitions over the coming weeks where project submissions will be available to the public. On June 14, 2023, from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM, a reception will be hosted by the Seattle Architecture Foundation and the City at the American Institute of Architects. The gallery will also be open to the public from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM on June 21, 28, and July 5. After June 14, 2023, those interested can access contest submissions at the project website.
Seattle’s primary goal with this contest was to provide a vision for the future of downtown and begin charting a concrete path to getting there. Since working from home has become more common following the COVID-19 pandemic, vacancy rates in many office buildings have risen sharply, while housing availability and affordability remain ongoing issues. If Seattle can show a realistic—and profitable—path to converting commercial office spaces into residences, it would be addressing both problems, killing two birds with one stone.
This is not the first time underutilized commercial spaces have sought to be reimagined, and it certainly won’t be the last. Empty shopping malls are a recent example of such reimagining. The International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) published a report titled Envision 2020, containing eight findings or “Bold Statements” relating to reimagining empty shopping centers as mixed-use spaces serving housing, warehousing and distribution, and fostering community—backed up with concrete success stories and evidence.
The reimagination efforts of underutilized office spaces by Seattle and others present new and exciting opportunities for contractors, commercial spaces, and the communities they serve.
Commentary: The City of Seattle announced three winners of its Office to Residential: Call for Ideas contest. The winners were Hybrid Architecture, LLC; the Gensler, Seattle Office Project Team; and the Miller Hull Partnership. By paving a path for converting underutilized office space to residential spaces, Seattle appears to be seeking to tackle ongoing issues regarding housing availability and affordability at the same time as the decline in use of office spaces. Reimagining commercial office spaces presents new and exciting opportunities for contractors and owners of commercial office spaces, and ACS will continue to keep you updated on legislative and regulatory changes resulting from this push by Seattle.