In Seattle, the Legacy of Design Innovation Lives on

During the ASLA 2012 Annual Meeting, Layne Cubell, Seattle Center, City of Seattle; Mia Lehrer, FASLA, Mia Lehrer + Associates; and Thaisa Way, ASLA, University of Washington, discussed Urban Intervention: the Howard S. Wright Design Ideas Competition for Seattle Center. Deborah Guenther, ASLA, LEED AP, Mithun, moderated the session, describing the competition as a challenge to rethink the role of public space in an era of technological change, do-it-yourself (DIY) interventions, social transformation, and privatization. Part of the Next 50 Years event, a six-month celebration of the legacy of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair (the event that built the space needle as a vision of the city of the future), the design ideas competition aimed to rekindle the fair’s spirit of innovation.

Cubell discussed the mechanics of the design competition. The site chosen was a 9-acre space in Seattle Center, the 74-acre cultural campus that was the site of the 1962 World’s Fair. Early planning for the competition began in March of 2011, and it was formally announced in November of that year. Entries were received from across the world, responding to the question, “how must public space perform in the coming century?”

The jury for the competition consisted of three nationally recognized landscape architects, a designer, an artist, and a civic leader. Three semi-finalists were chosen, each with a distinct approach to the design problem. Semifinalist Koning Eizenberg Architecture + ARUP produced “Park,” a far-reaching design that attempted to unify Seattle Center’s disparate elements. Park’s design included a stadium and landscape hybrid structure, in addition to pathways, forest, and a multimodal transportation and recreation hub.

Less heavily programmed and more of a single bold gesture, semi-finalist PRAUD’s design, Seattle Jelly Bean, centered around a giant tethered balloon floating over the landscape below.

The winning submission, ABF’s “In-Closure,” was another bold gesture, envisioning the site as a forest preserve enclosed within a semi-porous wall, designed to organically change over time.

These imaginative submissions are just the next chapter in Seattle’s history of design innovation. Way discussed Seattle’s design competition culture, citing numerous examples of the city’s progressive attitude toward design. She described how Seattle community designers saved Pike Place Market between 1963 and 1971, demonstrating that designers should not just respond to demand, they should advocate for design.

Way stressed the capacity for designers to envision how cities might look and function differently in the future. For instance, Lawrence Halprin and Angela Danadjieva’s Freeway Park showed how public green space could be layered on top of existing automobile infrastructure.

Way cited Richard Haag’s Gasworks Park as another example of design innovation in Seattle. Built on the site of the Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant, Haag’s design retained much of the gasification plant’s structure, converting the site to public space through bioremediation techniques. Gasworks Park illustrated how public space can be established on a seemingly incompatible site without erasing the site’s history.

As one of the jurors, Lehrer discussed her perspective on the design competition. In the end, the jurors voted for “In-Closure” because it proposed a replicable and organic system that can grow and evolve over time. The design idea did not equate innovation solely with technology, and it recognized that, at its heart, ecological resilience comes from the community itself. Interestingly, Way observed that parks designed by landscape architects tended to stay parks, while submissions designed by architects focused on buildings. Lehrer then raised the question, should the call for entries for a park project require a landscape architect to lead the team?

This guest post is by Ben Wellington, Student ASLA, Master’s of Landscape Architecture Candidate, Louisiana State University and ASLA 2012 summer associate.

Image credits: (1) Silver Script, (2) Koning Eizenberg Architecture + ARUP, (3) PRAUD, (4) ABF, (5) A. Lee Bennett, Jr. / ATPM, (6) Huge Ass City, (7) Santa Clara University, (8) ABF

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