New Seattle substation is cool enough to draw a crowd

Most substations are eyesores. This one won't be.


Welcome to the substation

The typical substation is a high-voltage blot on the landscape. But not this one. Seattle’s Denny substation is under construction in a dense urban neighborhood instead of being screened from the public, and it aims to welcome pedestrians rather than fence out trespassers.


Light up the night

The project to build Seattle’s first new substation in 30 years comes from public power utility Seattle City Light and architecture firm NBBJ. The substation is sited near Seattle’s South Lake Union and Denny Triangle neighborhoods, and it's set to bring power to residences and businesses throughout the city (including nearby Amazon corporate headquarters, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center).


Room for a dog park

The design calls for more than 44,000 square feet of open space, including walking paths, outdoor gathering spaces and, potentially, an off-leash dog park.


Multi-level walkways

Sloped, faceted walls, clad in metal and translucent glass panels, are designed to create a less imposing environment than a typical substation. An elevated pedestrian walkway will provide views into the substation.


Integrated graphics

"The enclosure’s multiple terraced walkways draw pedestrians onto the substation to give them an intimate understanding of the facility through integrated graphics, educational components, landscape and seating areas. Elevated 16 feet above Denny Way’s busy traffic, the substation affords visitors a unique urban vantage point," NBBJ writes in its project description

Seattle City Light

A look inside

Seattle City Light is building an underground distribution network along with the new electrical substation. It’s all part of a major electrical system upgrade for the city of Seattle.


Substation equipment contained

There’s no roof on the Denny substation, but most of the substation equipment – power transformers, capacitor banks, grounding banks and more – will be housed in enclosed structures that are only accessible by City Light personnel and technicians.


Translucent exterior

“Instead of the 40-foot-high screen wall typical of facilities of this type, the design is faceted and stepped for a lower profile, and much of the enclosure is transparent, particularly at street level,” says NBBJ.


Room for art

Seattle City Light partnered with the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture to integrate both permanent and temporary art into the Denny Substation Project. 


Kinetic artwork

Among the proposed artwork is artist Ned Kahn's "Switchwall" installation, which consists of a series of panels, integrated into the surface of the substation, that will move when the wind blows and turn on different colored lights.


All about energy

NBBJ’s design includes a 2,500 square-foot learning center focused on energy.


Room to gather

Indoor and outdoor community spaces are part of the design.


Sustainability goals

Sustainability features include on-site solar power and a heat recovery system that aims to provide 100% of the required heating for many facilities within the substation.


View of public space

The electricity that flows through the substation will come primarily from clean hydroelectric and wind power, according to NBBJ.

truelook denny webcam

Construction progress

On-site excavation is complete, and crews have begun pouring the foundation for the substation and installing duct bank and vaults. Construction of the substation and the network is expected to be complete in mid-2018. A live webcam shows the progress. 


Design selection

NBBJ's design for the Denny Substation was chosen as the designated preferred alternative and was later identified as the selected design after receiving the Seattle City Council’s approval.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.