Bold Design,
Subtle Substation

Substations are critical to a city’s power supply, but they are often eyesores. So NBBJ and Seattle City Light teamed up to create a design that better integrates into the city, both aesthetically and sustainably.

The Denny Substation represents a physical merging of public infrastructure, architecture, urban design, landscape architecture and interior design. It aims to create a symbol of pride for the South Lake Union neighborhood, Seattle City Light, the City of Seattle and the natural region that powers the city.

The substation responds to Seattle’s rapid growth, particularly the tech and biomedical sectors (including Amazon, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and PATH) that are revitalizing the neighborhood but simultaneously create a heavy demand for power. The substation’s physical form stands as a significant historical marker of this era and signifies a critical investment in Seattle’s future.

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. Additionally, the upper enclosure walls angle away from pedestrians to mitigate bulk and scale and to increase access to light and air on all sides. Its footprint allows ample open space for art, seating and an off-leash zone for the area’s many dog owners. The rising and falling walkways surrounding the substation create an ADA-accessible quarter-mile ambulatory loop.

Engaging Community Space

Denny Substation encourages visitors to engage and interact with the facility from outside-in to understand the integral role of energy in their lives. The translucent glass and stainless-steel panel enclosure slopes inward, drawing in light and sculpting comfortable spaces for gathering, to create a community space that activates the substation’s western edge.

The community space features a bold strike of yellow that leads pedestrians inside and to the back gallery wall washed with light from a skylight above. Natural light floods the interior that hosts a meeting room with seating capacity for events, a public art gallery space, a flexible workspace for groups meetings and individuals, and a coffee and gathering area.

Awards and Publications


Engineering News-Record National, Best Project Award, Best of the Best Project - Energy/Industry
AIA Seattle, Honor Award, Honorable Mention
Fast Company Innovation by Design Awards, City Solutions, Finalist
IIDA Northern Pacific, INconcept15 Award
Interior Design Magazine Best of Year Award


Metropolis, “NBBJ Reimagines a Piece of Seattle Infrastructure as a Sustainable Civic Landmark,” August 20, 2019
Fast Company, “The World’s Ugliest Architecture Gets a Stunning Makeover,” August 8, 2019
Slate, “Seattle Is Building the Coolest Electrical Substation Ever,” September 15, 2016
Wired, “We Want To Hang Out At This Electrical Substation. No, Really,” July 11, 2016
Fast Company, "World's Coolest Electrical Substation Has a Track and Dog Park,” October 7, 2014