A team led by developer Greg Smith is hatching plans for Seattle’s second-tallest skyscraper, built around an unconventional 44-story-high atrium.

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A local team led by developer Greg Smith is hatching plans for Seattle’s second-tallest skyscraper, built around an unconventional 616-foot-high atrium that would bathe the interior offices with natural light and give pedestrians walking beneath the tower a view of the sky.

The 880-foot-tall tower, known as 888 Second Ave., would be the fifth tallest on the West Coast, according to the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat.

Smith said his firm, Urban Visions, controls the full city block bounded by Second and Third avenues and Columbia and Marion streets, and he expects to apply for a permit later this year. The project doesn’t have any committed tenants or financing yet, Smith said.

The proposed 60-story skyscraper would have about 1 million square feet of office space and about 160 luxury residences on top, as well as some retail spaces at the base. The well-known Metropolitan Grill on the Second Avenue block front will anchor the new tower’s retail. The current mid-rise buildings on the block are old but not protected as historical landmarks.

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Developers are scrambling to put up new towers in downtown Seattle, driven by declining vacancy rates and gung-ho investors.

Kevin Daniels’ The Mark, a 660-foot office-and-hotel tower at the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and Columbia Street, is under construction. Meanwhile, Wright Runstad and Co. is pursuing a permit for an 850-foot office and residential tower at Rainier Square on Union from Fourth to Fifth avenues.

Nationally, there are about 30 towers more than 490-feet tall under construction, according to the Council on Tall Buildings.

Smith said he set about commissioning the unusual design with the question, “How can we take the traditional high-rise and rethink it?”

Skyscrapers in the United States typically are built using a traditional “bar” design, where elevators, bathrooms and other services are encased in the building’s concrete core. That means occupants get natural light only from the periphery of the building.

By rearranging those services around an open void, said NBBJ architect Ryan Mullenix, the “doughnut” design results in a building that is more energy efficient and more transparent, and it fits more people on each floor.

“All those are more conducive to the way we are productive, the way we are happier in our space and the way teams collaborate these days,” said Mullenix, who led the architectural design team.

NBBJ incorporated an atrium core in Samsung America’s 10-story San Jose headquarters, which is under construction. While the doughnut design has been used in a high-rise in China, Mullenix said he’s not aware of any U.S. towers that use the design on such a large scale for an office building.

Structural engineer Ron Klemencic of Seattle-based Magnusson Klemencic Associates, whose firm’s credits include the original World Trade Center Towers in New York and Two Union Square in Seattle, came up with the doughnut’s key structural design: Eight tubes arranged like a tic-tac-toe board with the atrium at the center. The tubes and the atrium are anchored by four columns, each 10 feet by 10 feet and connected diagonally with steel braces.

The atrium running up through the tower would be an 80-foot square.

While the large vertical atrium would have a glass roof and glass floor, it would be open between floors, Mullenix said.

“Yes, you could throw a football across from one floor to the next,” he said.

The atrium would also provide some natural temperature control through what’s known as the stack effect: It would pull hot air out of the office floors and replace it with cooler fresh air.

“It creates a nice cycle and one we can control for the right comfort level,” Mullenix said.

The doughnut design challenges today’s conventional wisdom but also harks back to how office buildings were designed more than a century ago, said Kate Simonen, an associate architecture professor at the University of Washington who teaches structural engineering.

“By turning it into a doughnut, you’re getting back to the basic principle of being able to get light to spaces without electricity,” Simonen said. “An office building without a center solid core is a pretty novel thing. It’s not done at this scale.”

Inside the proposed tower, a bank of elevators with glass paneling would be located on one side of the atrium. Tenants could book one of six white cubes on another side of the atrium for meetings. Like elevators, the see-through cubes can move to different floors to meet the needs of different tenants, Smith said.

There would be two outdoor terraces — an east-facing one on the 44th floor and a north-facing one on the 12th floor. At the 44th floor, the tower changes from a square shape to an L-shape that consists of 16 floors of luxury residences.

The tower’s facade also would feature “fins” that vary in length and position to improve the tower’s energy efficiency based on the sun’s movement.

Rather than have the tower’s base dominate at street level, the ground floor is designed to be an open plaza.

Smith said he wants an alley vacation from the city to expand the public alley, now a 16-foot-wide corridor connecting Columbia and Marion streets, to 80 feet. Access would be limited to pedestrians.

People could walk under the building and look up through the atrium — what Smith calls “the eye into the sky.”

Simonen praised the idea of giving the public the benefit of that pedestrian connection and the sky view through the atrium.

“It’s got to be a lot more expensive because they have to buy a lot more glass and windows,” she said.

Smith estimates the tower will cost about $750 million. He said he’s confident there are investors who will support the project. Smith’s firm is also developing 200 Occidental for Weyerhaeuser in Pioneer Square and a 40-story apartment building at Second and Pike.

Marshall Gerometta, who tracks skyscrapers for the Council on Tall Buildings, said the proposed Seattle tower, if it existed today, would be surpassed only by Columbia Center at 701 Fifth Ave. and U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles.

But two more towers under construction in California will be taller than the proposed 888 Second Ave.: Wilshire Grand Center, a hotel-and-office tower in Los Angeles at 1,100 feet high, is expected to open in 2017. And in San Francisco, Salesforce Tower, an office tower at 1,070 feet high, could open in 2018, Gerometta said.

Smith said his team is trying to do something bold for Seattle’s skyline.

While Seattle is known internationally for its creativity with food, technology and music, “we’ve been kind of shy as it relates to design, whether it’s architecture or interior design, yet we have rock stars here,” Smith said.

With 888 Second Ave., he said, “We’re really flexing … our design talent and doing what we think is cool for Seattle.”