Plimpton-Poorvu Design Prize: 2018 PORT DISTRICT: INTERBAY. SEATTLE FIRST PLACE WINNER

Featuring Commentary by Richard Peiser

Georgios Avramides, MDes Real Estate and the Built Environment ’18, Duly Lee, MDes Real Estate and the Built Environment ’18, John Lee, MDes Real Estate and the Built Environment ’18, Emily Marsh, Master of Urban Planning ’18, Alex Rawding, Master of Urban Planning ‘18

The Plimpton Poorvu Design Prize is a well established $25,000 USD gift from Samuel Plimpton MBA’77, MArch’80 and William J. Poorvu MBA’58, to encourage cross disciplinary work. The application is open every year to all master level students enrolled at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) with a viable real estate project completed as part of the GSD curricula, demonstrating feasibility in design, construction, economics, and in response to market needs.

Fig 1: The Interbay Delta Master Plan and Port District development plays a key role in addressing these challenges for both the Port and the City. The master plan strategy is hinged on improving the existing and planned transportation systems that intersect the site.

Seattle’s rapid population growth and economic expansion over the last five years has ushered unprecedented investment into the region but also intensified urban social challenges, such as poverty, rising housing costs, and growing traffic congestion. As capital continues to flood the city’s real estate markets, affordable housing and high-paying low-skilled jobs have been pushed to the outskirts of the city. Today, the Port of Seattle, once a bedrock of industry and working-class jobs, is under immense political pressure to play an active role in helping to address Seattle’s socio-economic challenges. The proposed Port District masterplan utilizes existing transportation pathways and capitalizes on the technology sector to improve a formerly industrial swathe of land and address the socioeconomic issues plaguing the city.

Port District, located at the southeastern section of the Interbay corridor and adjacent to Downtown and Queen Anne, provides an immediate opportunity to create value within Interbay and to the Seattle region at large. The Port District pays homage to the Port of Seattle and complements Seattle’s “software” industry by creating expansive advanced manufacturing space, which will specifically be developed for the cross-laminated timber industry — a growing regional, national, and international industry.

Fig 2: Ecosystem of uses. Ground floor and land use plans depict the mixture of uses that will provide a complete urban village experience for both residents, employees, and visitors. The transit connections will provide ample access to, from, and within the District.

The remainder of the nearly 80-acres of land will include residential market-rate and affordable development, office, retail, hotel, public space and trails, and connections to the surrounding communities, coalescing into a vibrant new community that will reaffirm Interbay as a civic destination of regional importance. The Port District serves as an economic hub and connection to other economic hubs and provides new housing while improving the livability of existing neighborhoods. The Port District’s explicit focus on fostering industrial innovation and housing diversity embodies the City’s desire for a more inspired and inclusive future.

Fig 3

The INNOVATION TRIANGLE is the advanced manufacturing hub, including exhibition space, direct-to-consumer retail, and other amenities. In 2018, Mayor Durkan and the Port announced plans to invest $2.1 million for pre-apprenticeship and worker retention services, and we imagine the Port District would facilitate these programs.

The RESIDENTIAL VILLAGE offers a variety of housing typologies, including condominiums and apartments, and an array of price points, including affordable, workforce, and market rate. The housing is designed to benefit from the public realm amenities, community space, retail, and sweeping views of the bay.

TRANSIT HUB is a central “mixing” node connecting Downtown and South Lake Union to Queen Anne, Magnolia, and Ballard. It creates a central place for people to mix — either as they arrive at work or home, or as they depart for work or home. The Transit Hub will interweave light rail, bus, auto, and bike/pedestrian connections at a single entry point to the Port District.

Development phasing of the Port District is designed based on two key strategies: 1) creating self-sustaining social and economic ecosystems within each phase that then feed to the larger project, and 2) building assets that would be most valuable to the City, the Port, and neighborhoods first. The advanced manufacturing space is developed first, which will complement the existing Port uses. The upfront capital costs of constructing the new Armory Bridge and The Boardwalk (plus Elliott Bay Trail extension) would be incurred by the project entity so as to add social and economic value to existing residents and the Port District overall. Each phase thereafter will build off the prior phase to create a series of sub-uses and communities that are part of a larger whole.

Fig 4: The Port District will create jobs, homes, opportunities, and public spaces, and will signal a new era of equity and unity for the City of Seattle.

The project is largely contingent on the sale of a portion of the Port’s land, which is currently used as a storage facility for the State’s army reserves. The Port has given indication that it is open to this possibility under the right circumstances. Given the City’s recent legislative directives to promote access to manufacturing jobs, creating industrial space, and expanding housing options, the City will be an eager partner in this endeavor.

The backbone of the Interbay Delta Master Plan is its transit and connectivity investments, organizing the heavily trafficked Interbay corridor, interweaving Magnolia, Queen Anne, Ballard, and Downtown more efficiently and elegantly. These connections will create natural investment opportunities at key nodes along the transit spine, link to adjacent communities, neighborhoods, and economies, and leverage Seattle’s existing economies and regional assets to create a new advanced manufacturing industrial hub.


Richard Peiser has been the Michael D. Spear Professor of Real Estate Development at the Graduate School of Design since 1998. He is also Director of the university-wide Real Estate Academic Initiative created in 2003. He was previously on the faculty at the University of Southern California (1986–1998) as associate professor of urban planning and development, director of the Lusk Center for Real Estate Development, and Academic Director of the Master of Real Estate Development Program that he founded in 1986. Peiser received a BA from Yale University, an MBA from Harvard Business School, and a PhD from the University of Cambridge.

The 880 acre Seattle Interbay site is one of the most challenging that students have had to face in the Field Studies Class.2 The site not only stretches between two bodies of water, it is divided down the middle by intercontinental train tracks and a major rail yard. The winning team for the 2018 Plimpton-Poorvu Prize comprised of Georgios Avramides, Duly Lee, John Lee, Emily Marsh, and Alex Rawding came up with a master plan strategy that achieved multiple goals simultaneously:

They linked the two sides of the site together by crossing the railroad yard with the new public transit line;

They created a vibrant mixed use development- the Port District-closest to downtown Seattle that provided early development opportunities and cash flow;

They incorporated manufacturing industry that responded to Seattle’s industrial needs and took advantage of the cross-laminated timber and software industries;

They extended Seattle’s bike trail and pathway system while providing green space to the Port District by taking advantage of the elevated edge of the District adjacent to the railroad.

Port Distict|Interbay won in part because their final submission did an excellent job of incorporating suggestions by faculty on the Prize jury after the class — in particular they added sections that showed the complicated topography of the site, made the Port District itself much more vibrant in terms of creating exciting spaces to enhance the sense of community, and produced superior graphics to explain the complex layers of their solution showing pedestrian access, public transit, green pathways, and vibrant places including the transit hub, boardwalk, promenade, and innovation triangle.

The team also had outstanding perspective drawings that brought their solution to life showing how lively the ultimate buildout would be, as well as detailed and credible phasing plans and financial analyses that responded carefully to market demand.

As the instructor, it was gratifying for me to see the evolution of the team’s scheme not only throughout the course but also over the stages of the post-course competition. While the team was faithful to their initial strategies to interweave and connect both sides of the rail tracks, they successfully responded to suggestions about making the core development area — the Port District — an exciting and vital community.

Harvard Real Estate Review

A student-run publication investigating the intersection of real estate, technology, and design. We foster collaborative conversations between students and industry professionals to explore solutions to contemporary urban issues.

Harvard Real Estate Review

Written by

Editorial team at the Harvard Real Estate Review

Harvard Real Estate Review

A student-run publication investigating the intersection of real estate, technology, and design. We foster collaborative conversations between students and industry professionals to explore solutions to contemporary urban issues.

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