Seattle’s Increased Density Rezoning Gives Way to Creative Designs

REDMOND, WA—Seattle’s rezoning for increased density to support improved transit infrastructure has prompted in more creative designs. The resulting high-density projects are more livable in terms of amenities, outdoor space and unit layouts.

Moreover, high-density multifamily projects are increasing to support exploding employment growth on the Eastside. As cities become denser in response to this growth, there are fewer lots to be had.

Specifically in Redmond, many lots bring challenges with a high-water table, setbacks, fire lane access and zoning. Modera Redmond, developed by Mill Creek and designed by Tiscareno Associates, maximizes both unit count and tenant livability with 300 residential units, two courtyards and bi-level parking on a small 1.8 acre footprint.

The building’s unusual lowercase “y” plan resolved many of the site’s challenges and lent itself to a high unit count and tenant amenities. The shed roof is inspired by farmhouse structures of the region’s ranchland heritage and is atop the lobby entrance. The units, the courtyards and the rooftop deck are all oriented to provide access to daylight and surrounding views. The units are a mix of studio, one- and two- bedroom residences ranging from 477 to 1,233 square feet.

The site is effectively a whole city block, but having only one narrow street front affected every design decision from footprint to parking to required fire-lane access. Other restrictions such as broad setback regulations, vehicular and pedestrian access requirements considerably shrank the lot’s buildable area.

With minimal buildable space and a five-story cap, Tiscareno Associates had two key goals: maximize the density to improve client ROI and provide a high degree of livability to increase tenant satisfaction. The team went through the whole alphabet of building shapes─Xs, Es, Cs, etc.─to find the best footprint and envelope to get the units and amenities to work.

Per city regulations, the longer a facade, the deeper its setback must be, so keeping the sides shorter allowed for shallower setbacks and more buildable space. The finished building has one long edge at the north, but that is next to trees on the adjacent property where wider setbacks are desired.

“Maximizing both livability and unit count requires very strategic layout, and Modera Redmond is like a huge geometric puzzle,” Bob Tiscareno, design principal, managing partner and founder of Tiscareno Associates, tells “We ultimately fit 300 units by carving out meaningful setbacks and courtyards, then selectively locating and orienting every unit to maximize the potential of each corner and building face. This combination increased the building envelope and window ratio, and allowed us to open up smaller units to sunlight and views.”

Each unit had to provide the tightest fit while also ensuring natural light and comfortably sized rooms. One tactic was to establish an optimum depth-to-width ratio for each unit type, then strategically distribute the units into the building’s wings to meet zoning and setback requirements.

“Deploying a highly modulated facade at the longest sides mitigated their length and helped us quickly obtain design review approval,” Tiscareno tells “It also upped the livability meter by allowing for more corner windows and numerous bay windows in which tenants can literally stand over the sidewalk as they take in the views. The final design maximizes light, rentable square footage and parking with an elegance that reveals nothing of the complexity and creative ingenuity that went into achieving it.”

Indoor amenities include double-height lobby, fitness room, movie screening room, meeting room, bike repair and wash station, and an automated package concierge. The project includes Redmond’s first rooftop deck featuring an indoor lounge, outdoor barbecue and landscaped gathering areas. There are two levels of parking (1.5 levels of which are underground).

“The client’s desire to maximize apartment count and residential variety yet reduce the number of unique apartment types to manage costs presented its own complexity,” Tiscareno tells  “These are often mutually exclusive goals, because a typical way to increase unit count is to make every apartment uniquely fit its space. This can easily lead to 150 unit types for a 300-apartment building, which sacrifices all financial and scheduling gains of using standardized floorplans, cabinet configurations, finish packages, etc. Pushing into this client goal led us to about 40 unique floorplan types that are still very inviting and livable. This did require a lot of maneuvering to fit the 300 homes, but the cap on floorplan types curbed construction costs to the degree the client requested. The two-courtyard layout demanded its own innovative approach to resolve the inherent circulation and unit design issues they created.”

He says the solution is a somewhat meandering circulation that looks like it would be less efficient, but it actually helps the building exceed the target efficiency standards on net rentable to gross area.

“The two courtyards also yielded 38 inside corner units—a lot for a project of this size,” Tiscareno tells “Designing inside-corner units is always challenging, yet even a simple change like pulling back an exterior wall yielded larger resident windows overlooking the courtyard. We now use this and similar techniques on other development communities because they were so successful here.”

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