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On approach, SODO Community Market in Seattle’s SoDo district appears to be a grocery store just like any other. From the spot-lit displays to the checkout and bagging area, it was designed to look identical to a typical supermarket — but its mission is fairly different. Run by Northwest Harvest, a food justice organization, and designed by Seattle-based architecture firm Allied8, the outpost acts as a community hub as well as a shop where those in need can grab a meal or food items — at no cost. 

“We wanted to intentionally blur the lines between a food bank and a grocery store,” says Thomas Reynolds, CEO of Northwest Harvest. Avoiding the typical typology of institutional food distribution centres, Allied8, in collaboration with Grayscale Studio, centred autonomy and dignity by re-creating the food shopping experience in a warm, welcoming environment.

The adaptive re-use of an existing warehouse allowed Allied8 to keep its build costs down and environmental footprint modest. Inside, birch plywood provides a bright, inviting basis for casework and modular furniture throughout the space. Plywood walls with pegboards allow the marketplace’s display shelves to be easily scaled up or down to accommodate fresh stock and avoid empty-looking shelves. Mobile tables and carts, integrated for easy re-configuration, proved useful during the pandemic as makeshift counters for curb-side food pickup. 

The multi-functional building also serves as a headquarters for Northwestern Harvest — the 557-square-metre interior is fittingly decked out with multiple meeting rooms, private offices and a staff kitchenette. Providing support in more ways than one, the space’s offices are available for social service providers to meet with their clients. A surplus room in the back, along with a large cooler and walk-in freezer, allow for extra food storage, an anomaly among food donation centres.

The marketplace’s birch plywood is echoed in the office space’s sliding doors and kitchen cabinetry, providing a sense of unity and consistency to the space. A monochrome colour palette in shades of deep blue and contrasting pops of soft red affords dimension to the unified millwork. Polished concrete floors add a contemporary flair to the communal spaces, while broadloom carpeting reinforces the homey atmosphere in the meeting rooms and offices.

Outside, a canopy proffers an inviting courtyard for pop-ups, events and community gatherings. The front façade of the building, built of glass framed by stained cedar, beckons potential customers with a colourful neon sign reminiscent of an old-school market hall. A green apple shines bright, adding a spot of colour to the grey Seattle skies. 

In Seattle, A Community Market Offers More Than Just Sustenance

Allied8 crafts a welcoming grocery store for those struggling with food insecurity — but don’t call it a food bank.

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