High Line Designers Take on Seattle’s Waterfront

James Corner Field Operations created a compelling vision for a new nine-acre park on Seattle’s waterfront, a $50 million-plus project that will be one of the most important civic projects in the city’s 150-year history, writes the The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. City officials thought Corner showed “an understanding of Seattle’s grittiness and an affinity for it, and was able to fuse the concepts of creating an urban space with a working waterfront.” Mithun, The Berger Partnership, Herrera, and Jason Toft are also playing roles in the park design.

Before the new designs can be implemented, the Seattle Transportation Department must first pull down the aging Alaskan Way viaduct and replace it with a tunnel burrowing under downtown. The viaduct is scheduled for demolition in 2016, freeing up space for a more livable waterfront filled with public spaces, boulevards, and “maybe beaches.” The goal is to also use the new waterfront to connect a chain of Seattle’s destinations, including Pike Place Market, the aquarium, sports stadium and Olympic Sculpture Park, and neighboring communities.

Crosscut.com says the initial $6 million, two-year planning phase will focus on how the waterfront can be better connected with the major sites, and neighborhoods and districts, “both mature and emerging.”  The Seattle Times adds that Corner aims to connect “the future tree-lined surface roadway with parkland and Elliott Bay, while keeping a relationship with the working harbor to the south and bringing visitors down to the water line.”  Given that nine acres isn’t that big, Corner says the space will be designed for activity — sidewalks and bike trails on the new surface streets will help people make more use of the space. Mini-beaches could appear where there is nothing but bulkheads now, enabling more people to reach the water.

Already, however, there are concerns that the high price tag of the overall waterfront redevelopment project — some $830 million — which also includes utility relocation and sea wall and waterfront construction, will force the city to give over much of the new redevelopment to private developers. According to The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, City Councilwoman Sally Bagshaw, chair of the City Council’s parks committee, said the new waterfront must not be filled with condos. She said: “We do not want this to become Miami Beach.” She also told The Seattle Times that new public access points should be included so people can “wade or launch a canoe, along with restaurants, music venues and a possible amphitheater. The whole thing can be tied together by a waterfront trail that will continue for miles, connecting the Sound to Lake Union.”

Field operations will work closely with the city’s Central Waterfront Partnerships Committee. The first phase of design work will begin next month, and a conceptual plan based on community input will be issued by 2012. During this phase, the firm will need to coordinate its initial park concepts with the early sea wall reconstruction process. A final design will be developed by 2015 — if Seattle can pay for the project. Right now, the city has about $600 million on hand, enough to move forward, notes Crosscut.com.

Learn more about the project and download James Corner’s firm’s Powerpoint presentation about the project (Big file: 100MG)

Also, check out Corner’s work on the next phase of the High Line Park in New York City (see earlier post and a case study).

Image credit: Alaskan Way Viaduct / Seattle Waterfront / Wikipedia

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