Seeing the Light: New Belltown Condo Takes Glass and Architecture to the Next Level

Oooooh, Canada: A Vancouver, British Columbia developer is bringing his show-stopping—sometimes eyebrow-elevating—style to Seattle with First Light Condominiums
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First Light suites will all be Alexa-enabled

“I was conceived in a trailer!”

That might just be a joke. As Ian Gillespie happens to be standing in a construction trailer wedged into a corner at Third and Virginia in Belltown. And this Vancouver, British Columbia-developer understandably might have conception on his mind given his latest to-build brain-child is slated to break this very ground next spring. Also, the project’s name has a newborn vibe, First Light.

A new condo high-rise in Seattle is already something of a miracle birth. Only California makes it as tough as Washington to build condos, according to Gillespie, whose firm Westbank builds around the globe but is making its US debut in Seattle. And only very recently have developers and architects begun to reconsider this once popular urbanite route to first-home buying, and to risk Washington’s significant condo owner protections (meaning developers and architects are more vulnerable to lawsuits). “Originally we thought First Light was going to be rentals,” admits Gillespie, “but then we realized the dearth of quality for-sale products.”

And top-drawer quality is on deck for First Light (right up to its 48th floor rooftop pool deck). Expected to be completed in the summer of 2022, the tower will encase a work space and retail mix at its base, and some 459 luxury condominiums (from $500,000 studios to $2.4 million three-bedrooms). Gillespie tapped longtime collaborator and UW alum James K.M. Cheng as architect and Pilchuck Glass School-trained artist John Hogan to imbue the building with light-bringing and -enhancing glass. As well as interior aspects, such as light sculptures, exterior glass veils will cloak the building’s base and rooftop. (Ensuring even on Seattle’s grayest days, its pool will be a sparkling attraction.)

“Everything starts with that veil,” explains Gillespie, who got the idea from a building near his Tokyo office that wore a green-screen. “The two of the three sides of the office podium has this glass veil [and] I wanted to create this idea of a work space that’s like you’re in a boathouse with the light bouncing off the water and onto the ceiling. That was the feeling I wanted to create, and the movement.”

Such artful considerations are nothing new to Gillespie. (Nor is sustainability--Westbank completed two of North America’s first LEED Platinum office buildings. For Seattle, it has LEED gold and platinum standards in mind.). Most of his developments, for example, the Bjarke Ingels-designed jaw-dropper Vancouver House—a twisting honeycomb sculpture of a building nimbly slotted into a triangular slice off Granville Island in Vancouver’s Beach District neighborhood—are created in concert with a site-apt artist, be it Zhang Huan, Douglas Coupland or Omer Arbel. (A practice some have called “art washing” to sell high-end properties.) For Vancouver House, Westbank even managed to get city approval to swing a resplendent “Spinning Chandelier” by artist Rodney Graham beneath the Granville Street Bridge.

What better place than Seattle to invoke the dancing light of a boathouse?

And now Seattle likewise is in store for some of Gillespie’s art-meets-architecture extravaganzas. First Light is actually the third Seattle project conceived by Gillespie to get underway. Denny Triangle’s HALA-compliant 1200 Stewart will hold a whopping 1,051 rental units when it is set to open in Winter 2021, and then there’s First Hill’s 707 Terry project, expected to open in Spring 2021. The result of the Frye Art Museum selling an adjacent parking lot (amid alarm from museum and neighborhood preservationists), it will comprise two “splaying” towers tied together by a sky-high glass pedestrian bridge, 488 rental units and one helluva an art array.

“I think what we do has a great deal of artistry to it and ingrained in it,” says Gillespie. “Each project kind of takes its own path, but in the case of the Frye it was this idea of celebrating the museum…and aesthetically I felt it afforded us some opportunities that would be of that site. So we are digitizing the permanent collection of the Frye and then we will pixelate that over the entire facade of the project. So when you look at that site from a block or two away you will see the permanent collection for all time.”

The floor to ceiling glass windows allow light to peek through even on the gloomiest Seattle day

So, literally, art working. (Not a bad step up for a former parking lot.)

Another Gillespie signature is retaining literal ownership of his buildings—for example, the work and retail spaces of First Light. “So, it’s not just, ‘Here’s the keys. Good luck, Joe,’ ” explains Gillespie. “No, you’ve got your keys and we’ve got a few million invested in this as well. So our interests are aligned with yours and in making this a success.”

Canadian nice and smart.

And that could be a very good thing since Gillespie and Westbank appear to have a long-term relationship in mind for Seattle.

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Art Imitates Light

‘Light as a Common Thread’ Art Exhibition Pavilion, featuring work by glass artist John Hogan, and the First Light Sales Center (Belltown, 300 Virginia St.; 206.620.2568) are expected to open in November; and when they do, they will be open daily, 11 a.m.—5 p.m. A model unit also will soon be open for browsing.

The Wow Factor

Can’t have a luxe urban dwelling without luxe urban amenities. First Light’s start in its lobby with a gallery, bike clubhouse (with 140 racks!), luxury car share and a 24/7 concierge/security service. The top three floors are spoiled with views and dedicated to residents’ better living, including a screening lounge and a wellness center (with cardio, weight and yoga sections). The 48th floor is stocked to, well, the top, with a Space Needle-facing lap pool, secret garden and pet play (and “relieve”) area. See more, watch the First Light trailer.

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