Tom Kundig's first high-rise isn't scheduled to break ground for at least 18 months. But if the luxury Candela Hotel & Residences gets...

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Tom Kundig’s first high-rise isn’t scheduled to break ground for at least 18 months. But if the luxury Candela Hotel & Residences gets built, it will look like nothing else in downtown Seattle.

Kundig’s preliminary design shows one building that, from some perspectives, would look like two: a green, 19-story hotel and a white, 35-story condo tower.

Plans include a terraced, sunken courtyard studded with trees — not scrawny plums or cherries, but big Douglas firs.

The building, at Second Avenue and Pike Street, would have a cinched waist: big on the bottom, skinny in the middle, then bigger again up high. The top 13 floors of the condo tower would be cantilevered out up to 30 feet from the shaft below.

Kundig says his design for Candela references the Northwest lifestyle — casual, yet sophisticated — and its inextricable connection with the Northwest landscape: forests, mountains, clouds.

“It’s part of our DNA,” Kundig said. “Nature is part of our soul.”

Greg Smith, a principal with project developer Urban Visions, says he challenged Kundig to design a building that was distinctly Seattle, that could exist only here.

“Tom’s architecture reflects the Northwest,” Smith said.

Take that sunken courtyard, for example. Smith calls it “the ravine.”

Its footprint will get smaller as it drops two stories from street level. There will be water. The big firs will keep it in perpetual shade — Kundig says a colleague calls it “fatigued light,” the kind you find on the floor of an old-growth forest.

And at the bottom of the ravine, where the light is most filtered and the city most distant, hotel guests and condo residents will find a spa.

“When you live in a city, you need that refuge,” Kundig said.

The architect says he also designed Candela to complement and enhance its built surroundings.

The quarter-block site, a lowly parking lot today, “truly is a crossroads,” Kundig said.

It sits midway between the Pike Place Market and the Washington State Convention & Trade Center.

Millions of people — tourists and others — walk down Pike Street between those destinations every year.

Kundig’s plans call for a restaurant that opens onto Pike and interacts with the street and for new paving and landscaping to make the connections stronger and the walk more interesting.

“The most important part of a building is down at the street level,” Kundig said. “If it kind of goes away in the sky, that’s perfect.”

The Candela site also sits midway between two other iconic white towers, the Space Needle and Smith Tower, Kundig and Smith noted in a presentation to the city’s Downtown Design Review Board last month.

“Hopefully it’s as important as those buildings,” Kundig said later, “but we won’t know for 20 years.”

The review board members had plenty of questions and some suggestions for Kundig. For the most part, however, they liked what they saw.

“It’s a beauty,” one member told Smith as the meeting broke up.

Kundig and Smith plan to present a fine-tuned design to the board sometime in the next few months. Urban Visions doesn’t expect to get construction permits from the city until late 2009.

After that, Smith says, construction timing will hinge to a great extent on the mind-set of lenders, who lately have become especially risk-averse. Maybe the tide will have turned in 18 months, the developer says; maybe it will be later.

In any event, Smith said, “we’re committed to making this happen.”

Kundig acknowledges Candela is likely to be more prominent, more visible than anything he’s done before. High-rises affect a community more than other buildings, he says. They shape its skyline. They influence its street life.

But the design principles are the same: If you understand a project’s environment and set out to design something that fits, he said, “then the building just sort of starts to design itself.”

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or