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'Woonerf' is the Dutch concept developed by Niek de Boer in 1963 in the city of Delft, Netherlands (Collarte, 2012), embracing the idea of a “living street, ” where the street becomes the social space. As a human-centred approach to the design of the street adjacent to the Design Lab and Residence, it increases the symbiotic potential of vehicular and pedestrian movement by simply giving the pedestrian the right of way.


The urban design proposes the concept of Woonerf to knit the waterfront and downtown together. The Woonerf is located on Western Avenue and Post Alley to provide a more lively pedestrian experience through mixed-use elements at the ground level. As a pedestrian-only path, Post Alley is also thought to feature restaurants, cafes, and artistic elements (such as mural competitions and sculptures) to appeal to not only nearby residents but a greater population, including transient users and tourists in Seattle.

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1) Widened sidewalks along Western Avenue and Seneca, Marion/Madison, and Columbia Street to provide greenery, introduce street furniture and landscaping, and promote pedestrian and bike circulation.

2) Introduction of greenery where pedestrians circulate to delimit vehicular access and create a visually appealing environment (integrated with the new waterfront design plan).

3) Creation of opportunities at the ground level for food, activities, and various retail storefronts to increase primary and secondary uses of the district.

THE BUILDING: Western Ave Design Lab

The Cascadia Open Design Institute is located on Western Avenue between Spring and Seneca Street. Informed by an urban analysis and the proposed urban design specified in the urban study, the Design Institute reinforces circulation patterns and current storefront uses. Through its geometry, organization of the program, and treatment of the building envelope, it strengthens the the Woonerf as the key urban design concept and creates a dynamic space that helps the users unlock their creative potential.

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THE PROGRAM: Public, Institutional and Residential

To encourage mixed-used development, the building accommodates public, institutional and residential programming.

In response to its location, its massing seeks to link Post-Alley and Western Avenue together. The building mass is divided into three volumes that reflect the diversity of scales in the vicinity (where the middle volume is elevated to allow for this connection). 

The building geometry also responds to its neighbouring building (the Centre for Urban Waters) to create a path that will guide pedestrians from Post-Alley to Western Avenue and allow them to have a direct visual connection with the waterfront.


THE STRUCTURE: Shell and Core

As per Lynch “special façade characteristics [are] also important for path identity.”


In this vein, the Cascadia Open Design Institute is made of an interior envelope and an exterior shell in response to the Western Avenue Woonerf approach and diversity of modern and historical buildings. The interior envelope is made of brick “straps” of different widths at the lower half of each floor and windows on the upper half. The exterior shell, intended to trigger curiosity among pedestrians is a triangulated semi-transparent enclosure that surrounds the lower half of the building. The shape of the shell allows for openings to retail space at the ground level and enclosed exterior patios on the upper floors.


The exterior shell also gives opportunities to have enclosed outdoor space at the upper levels of the building. These outdoor spaces perform as key spaces to enhance the pedestrian experience along Western Avenue above street level.

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The exterior shell also gives opportunities to have enclosed outdoor space at the upper levels of the building. These outdoor spaces perform as key spaces to enhance the pedestrian experience along Western Avenue and Post-Alley and continue to draw the public toward the building.



Following the dynamic character of the woonerf along Western Avenue, the institute is also designed so all the vertical circulation is visible to the pedestrians passing by Western Avenue, adding movement above ground level which appeals to the pedestrians and creates a sense of curiosity to visitors in the building.



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