Building a community
In 2017, Amazon announced it is building a shelter for Seattle nonprofit Mary’s Place within one of its new office buildings – this first-of-its-kind set-up is scheduled to open in 2020.
Leading up to that date, we talked to a handful of groups heavily involved in this project about what it means to them, what they hope it will mean for families staying at Mary’s Place, and the community.
We spoke with Marty Hartman, executive director of Mary’s Place, Ian Kell and Matt Blakeney from Seneca Group, Peter Krech, Kim Krech, and Kelly Van Gelder from Graphite Design Group, and Tess Wakasugi-Don from GLY Construction. And, we're sharing never-before-seen sketches of the new space.
Tell us about your involvement in this project?
Kelly – Graphite: We are the architects and designers on this project – in fact, this project brought me out of retirement as this is the project of a lifetime – it’s an incredible honor to do this type of work for Mary’s Place.
Ian – Seneca: We work with Amazon to develop their real estate portfolio – we are project managers. Early in the discussions about providing a home for Mary’s Place, we needed to determine if it was even feasible to put a shelter within an office building, and once we figured out that it was indeed possible, we had to figure out how to actually do it.
Marty – Mary's Place: Every meeting I have about this new shelter is the highlight of my week. Everyone working on this project is committed to making it the very best place possible – it’s going to be our dream home.
Tess – GLY: GLY is the general contractor – we are building this new space and managing the various sub-contractors working on this project. We renovated and re-energized both of the temporary shelters Mary’s Place has been using on Amazon’s campus the past two years so we were excited to continue working with Mary’s Place on something permanent.
What has it been like working on this project?
Kim – Graphite: As we design this space, the word that keeps coming up is “community.”
Peter – Graphite: We have come to realize that this is not an office building that happens to have a shelter inside of it – the building is a cohesive space for all in the community and we have to design it with that in mind. In the six year history of Graphite, this is one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve ever been a part of, because we’re making a true contribution to the place we live, in the work that we do.
Ian – Seneca: Amazon has always had a strong determination to make this happen. There have been significant obstacles we’ve had to work through – for example, how do you make sure a vertical, multi-level space maintains a strong sense of community? With Amazon’s strong and consistent commitment to make this work, we are inspired and empowered to solve these challenges.
Matt – Seneca: My favorite thing about working on this project is working with Marty Hartman and her team. It is inspiring just to be in the room with her. I’ve loved talking with her about what she really wants and envisions because we are able to help her make those big dreams a reality – I’ve loved seeing her ideas progress.
Marty – Mary’s Place: In the past, we’ve only moved into existing or vacant buildings and from there figured out how to make everything work. This situation is new for us – we are being asked, "how can we make this work for you, Mary’s Place?" The group of people working on this project – this community – is trying to meet our families at their needs so that they don’t feel less than. This entire process has been a huge gift of love.
There have been numerous design iterations for this space in an effort to best serve the families and the staff using the space. Tell us about some of the features you are most excited about.
Kim – Graphite: Per the suggestions of Marty and her team, we worked to hybridize private rooms to give families privacy and a place to get a good night’s sleep, but also to maximize common, community space to facilitate friendships and conversations.
Kelly – Graphite: We used three guiding concepts as we designed this building. First, we wanted to create moments where guests remember where they came from as Mary’s Place hosts families from over 44 different countries around the world – we want to celebrate these various cultures. Second, we let the Pacific Northwest inspire us – when families walk into this building, we want them to feel like they’re being wrapped in a warm, comforting, flannel shirt. And third, we do not want this building to feel like a hotel or an office building – we want it to feel cozy and welcoming.
Marty – Mary’s Place: Early on in the design process, we decided to triple the number of Popsicle Place families this shelter could accommodate. Popsicle Place is a program that supports families who have children battling life-threatening illnesses. When this new shelter opens, we never want to turn one of these families away. These particular rooms are being carefully and thoughtfully designed with extra outlets, spaces for wheelchairs, extra shelving – these rooms will be a place where families can be comfortable, and feel at home, while their child works to get healthy.
This team is building an interfaith room for prayer, with a foot washing station so families can live out their cultural traditions while staying at Mary’s Place. There will be space for us to do our own meal prep on site, a garden, a rooftop playground, a dog wash station, and more.
Matt – Seneca: Rather than just a long straight wall to separate the Mary’s Place shelter from office space, the designers have made alcoves in the wall, to create discoverable seating areas and reading nooks. We hope the kids will enjoy treating these spaces like forts within a giant forest wall – I think this will be a defining part of this building and create spaces for people to have a few minutes to themselves, and forget they’re in a shelter.
Ian – Seneca: There will be a number of retail spaces on the first floor of this building, just like all of our other Amazon buildings. I am looking forward to seeing how these businesses, Amazon employees, and Mary’s Place all come together in ways we can’t even anticipate yet – I think this juxtaposition will spark something totally new for this community.
What are your hopes for the future Mary’s Place shelter within Amazon’s office and why has this project been meaningful for you?
Kim – Graphite: This building is going to create an environment that facilitates change.
Kelly – Graphite: To be a part of a project that will impact people every day, every month, every year, until we figure out a way to resolve family homelessness, has been soul-satisfying work.
Tess – GLY: One of the cool things about being the general contractor, is that years down the road, we can drive by buildings we worked on and know the work we put in to create that space. I’m excited that this is a permanent space, and that for many years, we can know that we were part of this project that was so needed in our community at this time.
This new space being located inside of an Amazon building shows our families they are wanted, they are loved, and their community wants to help them – there is no greater gift as that’s what we’re really all looking for.
Ian – Seneca: I am most excited to see what this space is going to mean for the people using it, and how it can help families get back on their feet and back into housing. To know that on any given night, more than 200 parents and children will be sleeping inside, and not in their cars or outside, is powerful.
This project has cultivated some incredible relationships, and has blossomed into so much more than a project by Amazon and Mary’s Place. To see so many people within the Seattle community now want to step in and work on this issue, to raise awareness and resources to fight this problem, has been incredible and eye-opening. I count myself fortunate to be working on this project – it’s changed me for sure.
Marty – Mary’s Place: This new space being located inside of an Amazon building shows our families they are wanted, they are loved, and their community wants to help them – there is no greater gift as that’s what we’re really all looking for.
The very intentional set-up of this building will give our families access to housing specialists all day, a space to do resume reviews, mock job interviews, and a place for kids to go to Kids Club, get their homework done, do yoga, and go to Girl Scouts, so that moms and dads can focus on their jobs to maintain financial stability. Volunteers, donors, school groups, university students, and more can come volunteer here.
This shelter will be a place where this community comes together to love their neighbors. When people walk in, they will be welcome, and they will feel welcome. Everyone here will be family – it will be a beacon of hope in the middle of our city.