Stone World

Seattle Civic Center rises in limestone

October 1, 2003


The City of Seattle is creating a new Civic Center, which features a new City Hall, Justice Center and open spaces, tying together city offices located in the Arctic Building and Key Tower, the latter of which will house the majority of the city’s downtown workforce. And while the designs for the new City Hall and Justice Centers were completed by different architecture firms, they both feature French limestone as a signature element.

This new centralized Civic Center will work for both customers and employees by locating customer-service functions in a single, accessible place. According to city officials, several studies by architectural and engineering firms had concluded that it would be more cost-effective to build new facilities to replace the Public Safety Building and Municipal Building rather than try to renovate them and bring them up to earthquake safety code.

Justice Center

The Justice Center will replace the existing Public Safety Building (PSB), which “is over 50 years old, seismically deficient and nearing the end of its useful life,” according to a statement by city officials. The new Justice Center is sited in a key position in Seattle’s new Civic Center campus, between James and Cherry Streets on the east side of Fifth Avenue. The architect for this project -- which houses both the Seattle Police Department and the Courthouse -- is NBBJ of Seattle.

“There is a strong desire of both the Courts and Police to have a distinct image from one another, based on their programmatic differences,” explained a document released by the Seattle City Council. “The combination of programs within one building yields a structure with two different parts: a primarily glass Courts and public portion that occupies the southern part of the block; and a primarily masonry and office Police portion on the northern part. Aligning with the City Hall across Fifth Avenue, larger, more honorific public gathering spaces are located along the southern edge of the site, while office spaces are located on the north.”

The masonry on the project is comprised of French limestone from Guinet-Derriaz of Chilly-Mazarin Cedex, France. A total of nearly 65,000 square feet of Hautville limestone was specified for the Justice Center. The stone cladding, which is 1 1⁄4 inches in thickness, was specified in a flamed finish.

“The Seattle Justice Center is a key element of Seattle’s new Civic Center Master Plan,” NBBJ stated about the building, which has a total budget of $92 million. “NBBJ’s design creates distinct identities for the courts and the police headquarters within one building and gracefully and efficiently fulfills the city’s new sustainable design mandate.”

City Hall

The new City Hall is located on Fifth Avenue between Cherry and James Streets, across from the Justice Center. “It will be an important new public landmark representing Seattle’s open and accessible government,” according to the council, housing the Mayor’s Office, the City Council offices and Chamber, the Civil Law division of the City Law Department, some offices supportive of the Mayor and Council, and key customer services. “City Hall celebrates the civic and participatory nature of Seattle’s community through a design that focuses on public spaces and experiences.”

The project was conceived to be a state-of-the-art facility with a 100-year life cycle, and as such, the basic infrastructure of the building -- including structural, mechanical and electrical systems -- will be of a quality befitting this goal. Moreover, according to the council, exterior and interior finishes were chosen for their “aesthetic timelessness and physical endurance.” The architecture on the project is a joint venture between Bassetti Architects and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, with a Joint Venture Office in Seattle.

Once again, the aesthetic goals were met with French limestone from Guinet-Derriaz. For this building, over 200 cubic meters of Hautville limestone was necessary. The stone is being used as 1 1⁄4- and 3-inch-thick cladding as well as cut-to-size features such as columns. Like the Justice Center, the limestone at City Hall features a flamed finish.

The overall budget for the City Hall is $72 million. In addition to funds from the sale of city-owned buildings, money for the new Civic Center is being raised from ground and commercial lease revenues of city property. Additionally, the City of Seattle estimates that the annual operating costs of city buildings can be reduced by $3 million annually by replacing older, expensive buildings with new, more cost-efficient buildings.