Design Spotlight: Atrium

April 13, 2016

Our Design Spotlight series takes a closer look at past projects designed by JA. In this edition, Ray Johnston describes what it is that makes Atrium special.


Right off the bat, Atrium had some surprises in store for us. The first curious thing was the site: after studying some maps we quickly found that Seattle’s I-90 freeway tunnel is located right below the location, just a few hundred feet beneath the soil. Second, we discovered that we’d have to do a deep excavation of the site in order to remedy the impact of a gas station that previously occupied that location.  While these issues weren’t deal breakers by any means, they did help illustrate how Atrium needed a unique approach. Which is appropriate, considering that the resulting building has become a unique neighborhood fixture, situated in the heart of Leschi and surrounded by some of the most breathtaking views of Seattle and its nearby mountain ranges and bodies of water.  Rainier, the cascades, the city skyline: it’s all there.


While we had a hand in designing this building, the credit goes to Ken Coleman for being the wellspring and guiding force for this project.  Ken was trained as an architect, but has spent most of his career as the founder of Compass Construction, a highly respected firm in our growing region. Ken envisioned a site that included a central focus on a south facing courtyard, surrounded by a number of exceptional living units accessed therein.  But this is far from an insular site; In order to reflect and interact with the young and emerging commercial area surrounding it, the site has space to spare a restaurant, a bar, a yoga studio, a coffee shop and perhaps a bakery. There’s an underground bar that makes full use of the extra subterranean space made available by the deep excavation required for the site.


Today we’re happy to say that we were able to help Ken achieve his vision. 18 units are framed by a quiet and lushisly detailed atrium.  Dinner or a morning coffee are only a staircase away, adjacent to a growing pedestrian path along the heights of Leschi.  A roof garden makes for the perfect place to relax and enjoy the city–and especially the blue angels performances during Seafair.  And if you’re lucky enough to live there, make sure to spend some time at the members-only underground speakeasy bar.


JA Takes a Road Trip to Portland

August 7, 2015



We recently took a trip down to Portland to talk with the folks from Community Vision about designing a project that maximizes a diversity of age, ability, ethnicity and income in North Portland.  It’s a great idea and a great area: there are riverfront parks, a university, industrial uses and medium density housing all put together in a unique mix.



After a tour of the neighborhood, we wandered the streets of the Pearl and visited Tanner Springs (a premier urban storm water bio-filtration park), Jameison Square, and my favorite water fountain/play park in the city.


We visited the Saturday Broadway Bridge market, and had a bite at the exquisite Maurice – within view of a glass high-rise topped with windmills.


We were wowed by great architecture where maximum profit does not trump durability and the values of long lifespan buildings.  Wonderful experiments in character greet you at almost every turn.


We saw the homeless and disenfranchised treated with effective kindness without impact on tourists and mid-stream residents.  We ventured north on Williams and saw great mixed use projects in development.  There is a scale, complexity and inventiveness that is exciting and worth the added expense.


That evening we visited a wonderful restaurant on the Park Blocks called the Park Kitchen, and everywhere we turned we saw public art; A wonderful punctuation of the 200′ long blocks of Portland, which is 30% shorter than a Seattle block.  Truly Portland is a great geographic sister-city to Seattle.

An Architect’s Adventures with Monotype

July 22, 2015

The following post is written and features montypes by Mary Johnston.

About 3 months ago I decided to take a beginning print making class at Pratt Fine Arts Center. Pratt, a real treasure in our town, is an amazingly open and accessible place. The point of entry was easy for my Creative Monotype class. Prerequisite: none.



I found Monotype to be curiously akin to architecture.  Each piece is a prototype, each iteration will vary slightly due to outside factors, and each final product is once removed from the hand of the maker.  In the case of architecture the outside factors include a client, a builder, variations in materials and ways of putting them together and even the weather.  In printmaking the factors are also variations in materials, temperature, paper consistency and the press itself.  You are never quite sure how something is going to turn out until the moment you take it off the press; And in architecture, as much as architects may be reluctant to admit it, you are never quite sure how a space is going to turn out until it’s finished. I am often surprised by my buildings, mostly in a good way, and I am always surprised by my prints.  Because I am a beginner I am not always pleased with the result, but the odds are improving the more I learn.  I like my class because it resonates with the skills and experiences I have had as an architect, but the results are immediate and not nearly as expensive as a building.




I like is the collaborative nature of the print studio.  It is not a solitary art, at least not in class.  We share ink, share clean-up chores, help each other position plates and paper in the press, and most of all delight in each other’s work.  When some experiment is pulled from the press we all gather around to see the result and give praise or condolences.   With the encouragement of our wonderful instructor we support each other’s risk-taking and experimentation–something that every good architecture studio does too.  4 hours each week flies by and I am often surprised to realize I have not taken any breaks to eat, have a drink of water or, especially, look at my phone.  That kind of attentiveness is a gift that I give myself.