The 5th and Madison Building and Plaza. Seattle, Washington.
copyright Benjamin Benschneider The 5th and Madison Building and Plaza. Seattle, Washington.

Seattle is known for its rainy weather, Puget Sound and the iconic Space Needle, built for the World’s Fair Century 21 Exposition in 1962. The structure has defined Seattle’s skyline and become the city’s most recognizable landmark.

The Space Needle, however, is only one of Seattle’s stand-out pieces of architecture. In 2004, Seattle-based Ruffcorn Mott Hinthorne Stine was approached to transform the Bank of California office tower, a 1970s building on Fifth and Madison, into a competitive Class A office building. That same block included plans for constructing a thin residential tower.

The resulting structure is a 170,000-square-foot metal and glass tower on which more than 18,000 individual, colored stainless steel tiles scale the 240-foot-tall south wall. Each of the 24 floors has a maximum of six units to optimize resident privacy and preserve views. The north half of the building is clad in a floor-to-ceiling glass unitized curtainwall system and metal spandrel panels are painted a dark metallic blue to emphasize the thinness of the tower and provide contrast to the Seattle Public Library across the street.

“We decided to use metal because we were interested in designing a very modern, visually lightweight, crystalline appearing residential tower that was playing off of the juxtaposition of the library across the street,” says Ev Ruffcorn, FAIA, principal at Ruffcorn Mott Hinthorne Stine.


Shingle Randomization

Because of how narrow the building is, the elevator and stairwells are enclosed in a structure on the exterior of the building. This piece is exposed both to the adjacent office building and the city; this design choice resulted in a large blank wall. “We wanted to come up with a way of designing and decorating that back wall in a very artful and cost-effective way,” recalls Ruffcorn.

Becki Frestedt

The city of Seattle has an extensive design review process that took close to nine months to complete. “This idea of using the shingles came after we went through that process so we had to go back and show [the city] the shingles idea and get their approval,” says Todd Stine, AIA, LEED AP, and principal at Ruffcorn Mott Hinthorne Stine. “They had a lot of interest in how we were going to treat this blank wall.”

Ruffcorn and Stine had used metal shingles on a project in Iowa before and decided to work with the same product to create a palette of colors that could be installed in a random order. The design team conducted a series of mock-ups and decided to use 30 percent matte stainless steel, 30 percent yellow-green, 25 percent yellow-purple and 15 percent bronze. Two computer-generated, randomized lists of the four colors were created then sorted by the manufacturer into boxes of 62 tiles each. Holaday-Parks Inc., Seattle, the installer on the project, installed the shingles in the same order they were pre-sorted. The number of tiles in the boxes was different from the number of tiles in a row on the wall, which helped increase the randomness of the pattern.

“We mocked up a section of the building that encompassed an expansion joint and trim on the windows,” explains Brett Connoley of Holaday-Parks. “Once that was completed it was easy to do the installation with 18,000 tiles.” Because the tiles were covering an elevator and stairwell shaft, Connoley and his crew only had to install a weather barrier behind the shingles. They also had to be aware of keeping the tiles in alignment, accommodating the expansion joints at every other floor and maintaining the random pattern. In the end, it took a four man crew about six weeks to install 18,440 9- by 15-inch colored tiles, totaling 25,100 square feet.

“We wanted to use colors that worked with the palette of other materials on the building,” explains Ruffcorn. “We had some stone that was yellow-colored, some other metal that was painted a deep blue and metal panels that are silver. We wanted something that worked well together as a whole but still had enough color that it was obvious we were doing something more artful and not just a standard building product.”

The entire building is built out of metal and glass. It has a metal curtainwall enclosure. There are two silver panel wing walls on either side of the shingle wall to create more privacy for the bedrooms, which face the office building. “We use metal in a lot of our projects because it’s expressive, modern and usually is pretty cost-effective,” says Ruffcorn.

Green Matter

The new building was constructed on top of an existing parking garage that was built with the original office tower, which influenced the location of the structural columns, layout, shape and height of the residential tower.

The 5th and Madison Building and Plaza. Seattle, Washington.
copyright Benjamin Benschneider The 5th and Madison Building and Plaza. Seattle, Washington.

“We went all the way down to the lowest level of the garage, removed the existing slab and dug a new 7-foot-deep concrete pad footing. Then we cut holes in the slabs all the way down to put columns on existing columns and run new columns all the way down and tie them back down into the garage slab,” explains Stine. “It not only created a structure for this new building, but improved the structure for the garage, as well.” The garage is shared parking for the residential building and the office building.

The owner is targeting LEED Gold from the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council for the tower. The original plaza had a 7-foot step between the east and west sides. When the new plaza was built, that step was made into a sloping plane that transitioned over the elevation difference. A rainwater cistern sits in that void space and collects stormwater from the towers. It can hold up to 27,000 gallons of water to provide all of the irrigation for onsite landscaping, which includes native and adaptive plantings. The building also exceeds the Atlanta-based American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers Inc.’s 90.1 standard, “Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings,” by 28 percent.

Community Response

The 5th and Madison Building and Plaza. Seattle, Washington.
copyright Benjamin Benschneider The 5th and Madison Building and Plaza. Seattle, Washington.

Part of the complex includes a landscape garden between the office and residential buildings. The landscaped garden is open to the public and anyone can sit by the water feature or on the lawn area. “It’s one of the largest publicly accessible landscaped areas in the city,” asserts Ruffcorn. “Before, the area was bare-end concrete so the community is very excited that it’s been reborn as this vital green space. The opportunity to convert a pretty miserable piece of downtown into a destination for city occupants was pretty exciting and rewarding.”  

Consumer interest also is high. Of the 126 units in the building, approximately 80 percent are sold or rented. “The shingle wall has been exciting,” says Ruffcorn. “That really stands out in the city as being an amenity for everyone. There have been a lot of comments from the city. We’ve become known as the architects who know how to design blank walls.”

Panel Discussion

The south wall of Fifth and Madison in Seattle features 18,440 9- by 15-inch stainless steel tiles totaling 25,100 square feet from Elkhorn, Wis.-based Millennium Tiles, Four colors were custom manufactured—matte stainless steel, bronze, yellow-purple and yellow-green—via a prismatic coloring process consisting of an electrochemical process that thickens the naturally occurring chromium oxide on stainless steel. The clear oxide layer acts as a raindrop that creates the rainbow. Visible light is prismatically separated into different wavelengths, resulting in different colors within the clear oxide surface. The color changes with light conditions.

The building also features 9,175 square feet of Noblesville, Ind.-based ProClad Matrix custom open-joint ribbed metal panel system and 2,730 square feet of CENTRIA, Moon Township, Pa., Concept Series CS-260. The metal panels are colored with PPG Duranar Sunstorm Silversmith.

Ruffcorn Mott Hinthorne Stine, Seattle,, served as the building architect. Turner Construction, Seattle,, was the general contractor and Seattle-based Holaday-Parks Inc.,, conducted the installation.