The role of secondary spaces as incubators
There has been a lot of talk about re-development in our part of town lately. As more and more of the defunct condo projects from the recent boom (and bust) are dusted off and turned into apartments, questions about how much is too much and what really defines a neighborhood are cropping up. Capitol hill has been a generally pro-development environment, at least compared to some neighborhoods. The fact that Liz Dunn has been one of our most active developers probably has a lot to do with that. Her firm, Dunn and Hobbes, has completed some exemplary work in the past decade and she has endeared herself to the neighborhood with a portfolio of sensitive adaptive reuse projects that address the changing nature of business on Capitol Hill while honoring the built legacy of past times. The Piston and Ring building and the Melrose Market are both wonderful examples of this and neighborhood favorites.
Melrose Market - image by Mathiew Thouvenin
Melrose Market - image by Rob Ketcherside
Sadly, not many developers are following the Dunn and Hobbes lead. When a white DPD sign goes up outside an existing building, the best the community can hope for is a weak attempt at preserving the existing facade while building as much as possible above and behind. While I could complain about the poor design of some of our new buildings all day, my main concern is the loss of what I will call second class space. Many of these buildings are redeveloped because they are 'underperforming' in terms of rental rates as compared to some of the neighboring buildings. They can't charge premium rents because they are a little run down, old, and in some cases, don't quite meet code. I love these kind of spaces. I don't equate old with quality (I have worked on way too many old houses for that) and I am not overly fond of non code compliant spaces but I am fond of low rents and small spaces.
These kind of buildings are sources of diversity in an increasingly homogenous environment. In Seattle, these types of spaces often house artists and musicians, at least until the redevelopment starts (Anyone remember the Washington Shoe building?). In some other cultures, these types of spaces tend to be places for micro enterprise to flourish. When I find out that there is a high quality art plotter sharing space with a vintage clothing store above an ice cream shop I am reminded of the Chunking mansions in Hong Kong or a market in Mexico. The Mexican Markets and the Chungking mansions are both structures that allow for the proliferation of small business and encourage the generation of new ones. In that way they are reminiscent of the famed building 20 at MIT. By combining multiple functions and uses in close proximity, these spaces allow for the cross pollination of ideas.
Market in Cuernavaca - image by Houshang
Lets try not to destroy them all.
*The Chungking mansions are fascinating. I had the 'pleasure' of spending a night there in 2001 and it was mind blowing. To give you an idea..... An anthropologist decided that in order to really understand it, he need to live there. For FOUR YEARS. These buildings are a little city (maybe a country) onto themselves.
Chungking Mansions - image by Wak Kun