100-Year-Old Seattle Church Is Converted to Housing


You get the feeling that it’s really hard to build apartment buildings in Seattle, that it ranges from NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) to Full BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Everyone).

Architects Allied8 share the backstory behind the Columbia City Abbey Apartments, where they describe the difficulties it faced in obtaining approval to convert an old 1923 church into 12 residential and two commercial units.

Original church before renovation.

Allied 8

“Several developers had tried to redevelop the property, but failed due to the hurdles of an old building, strict zoning or a limited budget. We worked closely with the client to successfully navigate each external measure (a tough sell for an architect!) We were able to significantly increase the footprint inside. ”

Ally 8

It’s often the case that building codes that limit floor space that it becomes impossible to do such a thing add floor space even if it’s inside and no one can see it, but they seemingly could use an old building code around that To increase the area a little: “We have combined planning and design, revised an old master’s use permit and an expiring contract area and at the same time designed an adaptive re-use concept, whereby the total area was increased by 28% or 5,000 SF.”

Rafael Soldi

The project is a speculative rental project, but the architects cannot be argued about “sustainable” because, as we like to say, the greenest building is what is already there.

“In practice, sustainability is part of extending the useful life of the building by another 100 years. The latest, most efficient mechanical systems were over budget, but our aggressiveness in maintaining and reusing them resulted in savings and a reduction in our carbon footprint, which meant our customer was successful for the first time in 20 years and after a handful of hopeful developers and the Abbey still stands. ”

Rafael Soldi

Indeed, as we have found many times, the first principle to reduce raw carbon and pre-carbon emissions is to “increase the use of existing facilities through renovation or reuse”. The first rule in the “Architects for Climate Protection” manual reads: “Reuse existing buildings: pursue a strategy of refurbishment, refurbishment, expansion and reuse versus demolition and new construction.” However, one could point out that it would have been nice if they were the most efficient mechanical systems built in if they wanted to last another 100 years.

Rafael Soldi

Every apartment is different and there are some strange conditions, like huge trusses in the middle of the rooms, but that’s part of the charm. They also make no claim to historicity and use a modern palette of colors and materials. In an interview for Gray Design + Culture, architect Leah Martin says: “Our intention was to revive the 1923 building wherever we could. It wasn’t about recreating the original building. It was about compensating for the historical moments in the building with modern accents and functionality. ”It’s also cheaper.

“The age and history of the abbey have inspired us, especially paired with the historical photos. No two units are the same size and layout due to the unique possibilities that the interior design of the abbey offers – we wanted each resident to have a personal, haptic relationship with the past of the abbey and thus also the history of their neighborhood. We built with the same sturdy materials that the abbey was originally built from – brick, wood, concrete. This not only offers the residents more privacy than modern apartment buildings, but also acts as a natural thermal mass. ”

Rafael Soldi

Builders who build rental apartments have a tight budget. Allied8 has made a virtue of necessity by not spending money on adding things, but instead taking things away and leaving exposed brick and concrete elements behind. I don’t think it’s great that the kitchens are all one long wall in the big room, but it’s flexible and open and the big rooms are big.

At a time when we need a lot more living space, we need a much smarter adaptive post-use of existing buildings like this one. Governments should make it easy instead of making it so tedious; this project started in 2014. We will not repair our cities if the renovation takes seven years.