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Unique Urban Gateway

Unified transportation hub adds multiple threads to the urban fabric

Sound Station3 Oct18 Mcn
Photo: Kevin Scott

Located at the intersection of Montlake Boulevard and Pacific Street in Seattle, the Sound Transit University of Washington (UW) Station is part of a network of pathways, bicycle trails, a pedestrian bridge and multimodal transit connections. The station and connected pedestrian bridge create a unified solution at one of Seattle’s busiest intersections by bringing together the different transportation modalities. It also provides a unique gateway to the UW campus through its above- and below-grade experiences.

Howard Fitzpatrick, AIA, principal at Seattle-based LMN Architects and project designer for the UW Transit Station, says that more than any other station in the system, the UW station functions as a node connecting rail, buses, private vehicles, pedestrians, bicycles and, increasingly, ride-share companies. “In addition to the substantial daily ridership, the station’s location adjacent to the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium and Hec Edmundson Pavilion make it a frequent destination for sports events, with large crowds of patrons, making clear, effortless wayfinding an even more critical priority,” he says.

Photo: Kevin Scott

Clear Connections

The station connects with the University of Washington campus, the UW Medical Center and the campus sports facilities. LMN Architects opted to combine the connections into a larger, encompassing set of components that include the station entry, pedestrian bridge, grand stair, bicycle ramp and the plaza, which is orchestrated to create seamless, generous and clear connections between the various destinations. It is one of the most complex stations built so far, making clear wayfinding and civic placemaking a necessity given its interconnectedness and complexity.

The pedestrian bridge redirects traffic from the Rainier Vista view corridor on campus into the station, where escalators, elevators and stairs link into the station and to the platforms. Additionally, the bicycle ramp and grand stair provide alternative routes to the campus and the south, avoiding traffic on Montlake Blvd.

“The curved sweep of the pedestrian bridge, while sculptural on its own, serves also to redirect the linear energy of the Rainier Vista view corridor on the campus into the station, where the horizontal motion is translated to vertical movement via escalators, elevators and stairs into the station and down to the platform,” Fitzpatrick says. “For pedestrians and cyclists not accessing the station, the bicycle ramp and grand stair provide alternate routes to the campus and south toward the Montlake Cut, avoiding the traffic on busy Montlake Boulevard below. The design intent was to heighten the sense of movement through space, both vertically and horizontally, while creating views across this major intersection and out to the cityscape beyond.”

The station exterior is made up of an aluminum curtainwall system from Kawneer Co. Inc., Norcross, Ga., with a fluoropolymer finish. On the elevator hoistways are porcelain-enamel steel panels from Cherokee Porcelain Enamel Corp., Knoxville, Tenn., that rise to the roof level, while the pedestrian bridge guardrail is an aluminum picket-style rail with a fluoropolymer finish. Additionally, the north and south emergency ventilation structures feature elliptical plan forms with precast concrete panels topped with stainless steel bar grating to achieve a light, shimmering effect both day and night.

“Throughout the station and bridge design, metal is used to set off and complement the large areas of cast-in-place concrete, and add lightness and filigree to this otherwise large and massive structure,” adds Fitzpatrick.

Photo: Kevin Scott

Circulation and Wayfinding

Throughout the station, design elements create a sense of movement and connection with the urban fabric. Circulation paths from grade to the underground train platform follow an orchestrated series of movements, constantly orientating users to the stations overall volume, structure and internal flow. “Visual connections between multiple levels also create a strong sense of orientation,” says Fitzpatrick. “The two-level glass entrance structure frames views of the surrounding context, including Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains. The transparency also serves as a light well, allowing daylight to reach down to the mezzanine level. Colored ceramic wall tiles animate the mezzanine and ticket vending areas with energetic green motion lines.”

Fitzpatrick says the station is designed as a series of horizontal planes through which patrons move vertically and diagonally up and down through the space. “Beginning with the pedestrian bridge, a strong horizontal datum is established, which by means of ramps, stairs, escalators and elevators is connected to the ground plane of the plaza below,” he explains. “From here, the station entries allow people and daylight to descend to the upper mezzanine level, which has a strongly horizontal orientation, reinforced by the dashed lines of the tile pattern. From the bridge to the upper mezzanine, it was important to maintain visibility between the levels for wayfinding and security.”

Photo: Kevin Scott

An Immersive Experience

The heart of the station is a 55-foot-high central chamber, one of the highest interior volumes in the city. A collaboration between the architects and artist Leo Saul Berk created an integrated experience for travelers, where the architecture seamlessly merges with Berk’s artwork, “Subterraneum,” which expresses geological layers of soil surrounding the station walls.

Patrons first encounter “Subterraneum” at the upper mezzanine, which Fitzpatrick describes as a dynamic space. “The strong horizontals of the upper mezzanine give way to the cut-metal patterns of the art piece, which create a strong focus and sense of the surrounding earth, slowing the experience to escalator speed, and allowing for contemplation and awe,” says Fitzpatrick. “The design intent was to create this pause in the descent to and ascent from the platform, where the viewer is surrounded by and subsumed within this immersive experience between ground level and platform. From the lower mezzanine—the bottom of the “Subterraneum”—the platform level becomes visible, once again leading the eye downward and back to the strong horizontality of the platform and trainway.”

As Fitzpatrick says, part of the design of a deep station is the requirement for smoke compartmentalization, which requires a significant volume of space in the middle of the station. “We recognized the architectural potential of a space of this size, while [Berk] was inspired by his memories of daylight streaming through the cracks in an old barn for the backlit metal panels in “Subterraneum,” he says. “When he saw the geological boring information on a drawing, he was inspired to create this ‘underground planetarium,’ which abstracts the actual geological information into the backlit metal panels.”

Bristol, Conn.-based Morin Corp., a Kingspan Group company, supplied the 907 aluminum panels, 553 of which are perforated, for “Subterraneum.” The aluminum panels are mated with a blue polycarbonate panel attached to its back. The polycarbonate has a light-diffusing additive to maximize diffused light across the panels, which comes from strategically placed flood lights and some infill LED lighting. The majority of the fixtures are concealed in back-of-house voids or above the ceiling.

Track walls of perforated metal panels from Ceilings Plus, Los Angeles, are located at the platform level. The perforated metal panels are for sound attenuation and ease of maintenance, while solid metal wall panels are placed in the dark areas above the platform. Steel framing supports the lights, speakers and other systems above the platform. Krueger Sheet Metal, Seattle, fabricated the metal wall panels, while Performance Contracting Inc., Seattle, fabricated the acoustic and mesh ceiling panels.

“Each element of the project is carefully considered as a component of a larger whole, set within a complex web of uses that encompasses the campus, the surrounding neighborhoods, and important university destinations such as Husky Stadium, the Alaska Airlines Arena, Rainier Vista and the UW Medical Center,” says Fitzpatrick.

The Sound Transit University of Washington Station has received a number of design awards, including the 2018 AIA National Honor Award for Interior Architecture; 2017 Chicago Athenaeum/Europe International Architecture Award, and 2017 American Architecture Awards Airports and Transportation Centers.