You see them all over town now. First, it was one or two, and then a creeping infection in the city of Bellingham, an infection of ugly, sometimes small and sometimes massive apartment buildings. These architectural furuncles pop up across the city like their dermatological cousins and, if not treated immediately by effective design standards, join with adjacent similarly infected edifices to form multi-family carbuncles that are difficult, if not impossible, to get rid of. And they leave scars as they age.
You can click through the photos at the top of this article to view samples of this “architecture” that, unfortunately, has taken hold in cities across the nation. Bellingham you are not alone! Justin Fox, writing for Bloomberg Business Week describes them thus:
“These buildings are in almost every U.S. city. They range from three to seven stories tall and can stretch for blocks. They’re usually full of rental apartments, but they can also house college dorms, condominiums, hotels, or assisted-living facilities. Close to city centers, they tend toward a blocky, often colorful modernism; out in the suburbs, their architecture is more likely to feature peaked roofs and historical motifs. Their outer walls are covered with fiber cement, metal, stucco, or bricks.”
The term “blocky” does not do justice to these boxes that look more like stacked shipping containers than anything else. They proliferate because they are cheap. According to the article, 20-40% cheaper to build. And they are aardvark ugly. Is this what is taught in architect schools nowadays? The only things missing are the rental ads extolling them as “luxury” apartments as happened with all those “luxury” garden apartments decades ago. Remember?
The Bloomberg article describes these structures as “podium” housing. Usually a concrete, one-story base with a 5, 6, 7-story wood stick structure above. Of questionable safety in a fire. The most prominent examples of these apartment blocks are the student housing projects, NXNW on Lincoln St. and the massive bunker (perhaps it can be repurposed eventually as a jail?) called Gather Bellingham. And yet another blockhouse (warehouse?), Western Edge, to be built on State St. for hundreds of students, all bikers we are told, and so with inadequate parking. And although this podium housing is relatively cheap to build, the rents are no bargain. You lease by the bedroom and pay $700-900 per month - for the moment.
These edifices create canyons where often sunlight cannot enter. An especially egregious example is the canyonland at the end of Railroad Ave. near Boundary Bay Brewery. With the newest buildouts, Fairhaven canyonland is appearing near the tennis club, pushing from the ground skyward as if it were up-welling magma. Fairhaven will also soon be home to the Fairhaven Tower, a version of a podium building, located at 12th and Harris. It is supposed to be a reprise of the former Fairhaven Hotel that once stood at the corner before being razed in 1956. The reality is that it is one more stick-like building but with a clock tower, added to give some sort of homage to the tower of the former hotel. And don’t forget, there will be penthouses. Bellingham’s answer to the housing crisis.
We are not impressed.