Archive for the ‘Parks and open space’ Category

BIG unveils plans for Pier 6 of Brooklyn Bridge Park

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013
Image courtesy of BIG
BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) and Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates have unveiled their design for Pier 6 of Brooklyn Bridge Park, a public space and pavilion in form of a massive wood-clad triangular viewing platform for events and skyline gazing.
BIG was selected as winner of the project in spring of 2013 and is collaborating with MVVA. The project has won approval of the city’s Public Design Commission.
BIG said its proposal for Brooklyn Bridge Park, a project that has revitalized the New York City waterfront, consists of a 6,000-square foot triangular cross-laminated timber structure, serving as pavilion and platform.
Sloping upwards 17.5 feet in height from the foot of the large gathering lawn, the platform provides views of the surrounding harbor, the Statue of Liberty, the Manhattan skyline, and the Brooklyn Bridge. In conjunction with the adjacent greenery, Pier 6 will be dominated by a flower field and treed areas giving the area seasonal displays of color.
BIG said the surface of terraced stairs, softly illuminated, will allow for large and small events and is ADA accessible. The pavilion, supported by thin steel columns, is brightly lit with up-lights and provides shade, shelter and space for indoor activities. Movable site furniture underneath the platform will accommodate a variety of programs, from food carts and picnicking to community events and small performances.
Image courtesy of BIG

Bjarke Ingels said in a press release that “The Mantaray is a small public platform at the end of the pier – equally accessible above and below. Its namesake organic slopes and curves have been shaped by concerns for accessibility, safety, shelter, structure – like a manmade reef evolved to accommodate human life.”
Pier 6, located at the intersection of Furman Street and Atlantic Avenue, spans over 1.6 acres and offers amenities, including sand volleyball courts, concessionaires, themed playgrounds, a dog run, plantings, and the seasonal Governor’s Island Ferry connecting Brooklyn and Governors Island.
Collaborators on the project also include Knippers Helbig (structure), Tilotson Design Associates (lighting design), AltieriSeborWieber (MEP), Pantocraft (code), Formactiv (expediter).
BIG is an international partnership of architects, designers, builders and thinkers operating within the fields of architecture, urbanism, research and development. It is led by partners – Bjarke Ingels, Andreas Klok Pedersen, Finn Nørkjær, David Zahle, Jakob Lange, Thomas Christoffersen and Managing Partners, Sheela Maini Søgaard and Kai-Uwe Bergmann – with offices in Copenhagen and New York.
Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates is a landscape architecture firm that creates a wide range of landscape scales, from city to campus to garden. It has offices in Brooklyn and Cambridge, Mass.

Make Way for Parklets

Monday, April 1st, 2013

There is a new position at SDOT in the Street Use and Urban Forestry Division; Public Space Manager; and with this new role there is hope brewing for more permanent parklets coming to a Seattle neighborhood near you.

San Francisco Parklet

The re-purposing of parking spaces into miniature open spaces has grown from the latest soup d’jour for urban areas across the nation with San Francisco leading the charge and most recently followed by Los Angeles’ activity parklets to a more common wrench in the toolkit of cities as varied as Philadelphia and San Jose. Now it’s Seattle’s turn. Let’s give SDOT all of our support as they move forward.
Congratulations to the very capable Jennifer Wieland as she takes on this role. She let me know that Seattle can expect to see the pilot program roll out this summer with several projects in Center City neighborhoods.
If you would like to know more about how to develop and implement parklets, see this (very thorough) study from the UCLA Lewis Center here.

MOHAI is Awesome

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013
Photo courtesy of LMN Architects

The new Museum of History & Industry, which recently relocated to its beautiful adaptation of the Naval Reserve Armory at South Lake Union Park, sounded worthy of a good hour at most. Nice little museum in a small building, with some recreated storefronts, some trinkets and photos of old Seattle, and the odd neon “R.” Entering at the large central atrium reinforced this impression, as there’s plenty of room for further installations in addition to the transplanted landmarks and interactives.

Photo courtesy of LMN Architects

But then came the second floor, and the surprisingly large volume of stuff there…captivating stuff. If you’re curious about this city, how it got where it is, the people involved, and who and what we are today, then (shaking you by the shoulders) go now. My hour turned to two hours just to see the first 40%, then a second visit. A third will be needed to see the rest.

Perhaps it’s always been a great museum. Some of it matches distant memories of decades ago. But some is new, or refreshed.

Want to better understand our regrades, the suburbanization trend, or our one-time wealth of old theaters? Or the Great Seattle Fire complete with intentionally cheesy but catchy and informative multimedia show every 15 minutes? Boeing airplanes and worlds fairs? The surprisingly long list of movies filmed here? Local civil rights efforts?

MOHAI does a nice job of covering these and many other topics, including multiple viewpoints on many topics, and deeper dives on numerous touchscreens. In some areas it’s primarily boosterish, such as the 1962 fair, though that may be par for an event that was about boosterism. In others it’s surprisingly honest on topics such as Microsoft’s past missteps. They’ve done a good job mixing media — photos, text, spoken word, video — a key since people learn in different ways, and are drawn to different modes.

Part of going to MOHAI is South Lake Union Park. Be sure to leave time to stand at the end of the pier and look at the city. Or grab lunch as the Compass Cafe (part of MOHAI) and sit on the pier and look at the city. Prepare to be happy…Seattle looks great from here, especially now that you understand more about how it happened.


10 ways to make cities more walkable

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Seattle has a number of walkable neighborhoods, from Capitol Hill to Belltown. An article in The Atlantic Cities offers 10 tips for making cities more walkable

Ballard is an urban village and a fun place to walk. Photo by Clair Enlow.
. The suggestions come from Jeff Speck’s new book, Walkable City.

Challenge your inner pedestrian

Friday, September 21st, 2012

HBB Landscape Architecture has created the Palletable Plants Park, a temporary installation in a parking space in front of the firm’s Seattle office at 215 Westlake Ave. N.

Photo courtesy of HBB Landscape Architecture

The “park” highlights edible and ornamental plants while showing what can be done with little more than an open parking space, recycled materials and versatile plants. It also has furnishings constructed from recycled pallets.

The installation is part of PARK(ing) Day, an annual one-day-a-year worldwide event designed to show what cities would look like if more public space was allocated for parks, recreation and social interaction rather than for cars.

Locally the event is sponsored this year by the Seattle Department of Transportation. A total of 14 parking spaces, almost all downtown, have been temporarily converted by groups and firms into everything from a photo booth to a Bocce ball court to a place where you can challenge your inner pedestrian by getting a Transportation Tarot Reading.

As part of Park(ing) Day, a number of local organizations, including Feet First, are sponsoring an event in Pioneer Square, which turns Occidental Park, Nord Alley and  parking spots on Main Street into a summer lawn party. It ends at 2 p.m. today.



Missed signage opportunities

Friday, August 3rd, 2012

In today’s world of signage and ads plastered everywhere, it seems odd to advocate more. But here we are…some local cornerstones might be missing out on customers, and signage could change that.

The Seattle Center offers great examples. Atop the Space Needle, two comments from the visiting throng seem most frequent aside from ones about Mt. Rainier: kids shouting “there’s McDonald’s, with the “M” on the roof,” and people of all ages asking “what’s that building with all the colors?” The Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum seem to have an awareness issue among tourists. Many of these people are presumably wondering what to do after the Needle, and might love to know about two of our best museums, which might even get the kids excited. Some signage viewable from 520 feet, not to mention some other angles nearby, seems worth the expense.

The Center House (ok, the “Armory”) is gradually adding new food outlets. But some break a cardinal rule of food courts: you can’t read the signs from across the room, particularly from some directions, and even if you can read the sign they’re not always clear from 150′ away about the cuisines they offer. Many visitors walk in, stand in one place, and decide what to eat, particularly families. The big signs seem to be winning. They’re aided of course by people’s familiarity with brand names, vs. local sellers who might have an artsy name and then, like Skillet, use smaller secondary signage to explain what they sell. For example Starbucks tends to have a line all day, often an absurdly long one (dammit), but a little coffee stand nearby goes mostly unnoticed, though in its defense it does say “coffee” if you’re looking from the south. For the Armory itself, a little of that “M” mojo would be useful too; why not tell Space Needle visitors above that food is available next door?

The new City Target is a welcome addition to Downtown. Their signage is clear – if you’re a block away, looking up, and familiar with their logo. But walking by, even the logo isn’t as easily seen. On high-traffic Pike especially, shouldn’t there be something pointed at pedestrians, a little above your head, that gives you some indication that it’s a Target store? Maybe even something that say they sell groceries, electronics, etc.? There’s a sign listing departments but it’s flush with the exterior and in small font, mostly useful as wayfinding for those about to walk in.

In Belltown there’s a place called Form/Space Atelier. It’s downstairs out of sight with only a small sign by the street entrance. After years of vaguely wondering what it is, this blog post was impetus to WebCrawler them. Turns out they’re an art gallery, not a furniture store. Good to know. Perhaps the sign by the door could have the word “gallery” added, unless this knowledge is
intentionally being closely held, or only for people who know that an atelier is typically the “workshop of an artist in the fine or decorative arts” according to wikipedia?

Again, the world has plenty of ads and signs. Actually far too many. But sometimes an addition is welcome – descriptive, not in anyone’s way, and pointed at likely customers.

Redevelopment planned at Melrose and Pine

Tuesday, April 17th, 2012


Ground Zero – Melrose and Pine

Madison Development Group plans to redevelop the “Bauhaus Books and Coffee” block on Capitol Hill. Photos by Patrick Doherty

To read the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog and its various commenters, that’s exactly how you might describe the current local sentiment about the impending redevelopment of a site at the southeast corner of this key “gateway” intersection, as it’s identified in the City of Seattle’s Pike/Pine Design Guidelines.
But seriously the collection of structures at this site (most recognizable as the “Bauhaus Books and Coffee” block) is definitely a character-defining element of the Pike-Pine Corridor, both in terms of its historic structures and some much-loved, iconic businesses located therein. In addition, as its “gateway” identification connotes, it’s one of the first remarkable collection of older, character-defining buildings as one arrives to the neighborhood from Downtown.
And now comes Madison Development Group (MDG) with a proposal to redevelop the entire site with a mixed-use building, which naturally raises local hackles.  Why, ask many locals, do these sites need to be redeveloped when they contain such lovely buildings?
Well, market forces are obviously at play here, combined with permissive zoning that allows substantially more development potential than the existing buildings embody – as the City implements its growth-management-sympathetic goals of accommodating urban growth, supporting transit-oriented communities and generally building urban villages.  In fact, the zoning has allowed greater development there for decades.  But market forces are finally catching up with that development potential.
What tempers the all-out higher development potential of the underlying zoning are the above-mentioned Pike/Pine Design Guidelines that contain some very specific language encouraging the most sensitive design possible where “character structures” are involved.  In essence, within the Pike/Pine Conservation Overlay District such “character structures” should be incorporated to the greatest extent feasible within the new development scheme.  Some purists scoff at this, labeling it as a “façadectomy” approach  to historic-building conservation, but frankly, short of full-on landmark or preservation-district level of control, that’s about the most the City can do legally to “conserve” these character-defining elements of such a neighborhood (be that Pike/Pine, Fremont or Greenwood).
What we should all hope for now is that MDG and its architects live up to the challenge to bring a truly sympathetic solution to this thorny design problem.  Somewhere between preservation of the buildings as-is and a pastiche-level façadectomy approach should be the right, elegant solution that melds the character and essence of these historic buildings with a handsome, contemporary companion.  This can be done, but it takes a high level of finesse not often seen in this neighborhood or elsewhere in Seattle . I won’t drag you through my list of successes and failures, but suffice it to say there have been some recent examples in this very neighborhood of both elegant additions, breathing new life into character buildings, and awkward, heavy-handed boxes abruptly shoved down on top of historic buildings.  Let’s hope the former examples inspire MDG, not the latter!

To learn more about the planned redevelopment, go to

Controversy over Counterbalance Park

Thursday, April 12th, 2012
Counterbalance is an urban plaza in Seattle’s Queen Anne/Uptown neighborhood. Photo by Murase Associates

Photo by Murase Associates

An addition to Counterbalance Park at Queen Anne Avenue and Roy Street in Seattle is causing a debate about whether the public work of an architect should be changed without appropriate oversight. In this case, the work is by well-known Pacific Northwest landscape architect Robert Murase, who died in 2005. Here and here are some articles about the controversy.


Should build taller in Seattle?

Monday, March 12th, 2012
Do we want the Amazon buildings to look like the Russell Investments Center, the widest building on the Seattle skyline? Here is the Russell building times three. Photo montage by Scott Surdyke.


Scott Surdyke,  SeattleScape’s newest blogger, has some things to say about’s proposal to build a large office complex in downtown Seattle. Here is his take:

The news is REALLY BIG: Amazon and its architect, NBBJ, will present to the downtown Design Review Board on March 27th its proposal for a MASSIVE new office tower campus in the heart of the Denny Triangle. The proposal is expected  include up to three (3) 1-million-square-foot towers, and may include up to two towers per block. In ANY city today, this would be viewed as a once in a lifetime project, a signature addition to the skyline, and an equally important opportunity to provide great public benefits such as open space and other on-site amenities. However, the scale and potential bulk of these proposed towers is concerning when you consider just how big (wide) a million-square-foot building has to be when it only has 500 feet of height to work with.

A tale of Two Towers:

The widest building on the Seattle skyline is the Russell Investments Center (former Washington Mutual Tower). This is a 1.2 million SF building, also designed by NBBJ,  squeezed into 575 feet of height, and it is a full block wide. The size and shape of this building was determined by the former “CAP” on building heights, which were first reduced to 450’ in the late 1980s.  Since then, height limits for major towers have incrementally crept upward as Seattle has warmed up to the fact that taller, narrower buildings (think Vancouver BC) are much more desirable than squat, full block buildings, which tend to block out sunlight, create a “canyon” effect and offer little or no public open space.

A major contrast to the Russell Investments Center is the original Washington Mutual Tower, which at 772 feet is widely considered one of Seattle’s most beloved skyscrapers. That building, even though it’s approximately 200’ taller, is roughly the same size (1.1 Million square feet) as the Russell Investments Center, if not a little smaller. Not only  is the building, now called 1201 Third Avenue,  a striking and elegant addition to the Seattle skyline, but it also offers substantial public open space with its sunny and lushly landscaped plaza.

Today our city planners and leaders have thankfully embraced the blueprint for a truly sustainable and livable downtown, whereby taller, more slender towers are encouraged in order to provide greater public benefits such as open space, light and air between buildings. Vancouver, BC is an ideal model of how this can be achieved, and even that city has now raised its height limits in anticipation of buildings in the 600-700’ range. However, in order to achieve that height, new towers in that city are subject to more rigorous design review, and they are expected to meet greater architectural standards as well as increased open space and LEED requirements.

Similarly, heights in Seattle’s central downtown core have been lifted. However, the adjacent Denny Triangle, often considered a “secondary” office core, has height limits of only 500’. Perhaps there was an assumption that those million-square-foot tenants (of which there are very few) would likely go in a single tall (or is that double-tall?) tower in the central downtown core.  Such is not the case for the Amazon proposal, where the preferred location of its new towers is appropriately much closer to its new campus in South Lake Union.  Planners at the time likely did not conceive that there would someday be demand from a single user for 3 million square feet in a neighborhood that is largely known for vacant lots and  car dealerships. This, then, may be one of those instances where it makes much more sense to consider allowing buildings with a taller, leaner profile.  As Seattle gets denser, we will have precious fewer opportunities to for light, air, open space and the views that are cherished by so many. It would be prudent for Amazon and our city leaders to at least consider an option that allows for a taller tower configuration (much like the way the City already accommodated Vulcan and Amazon by raising height limits for several of its South Lake Union buildings). Rather than three or more towers of 500’ each,  a tower campus with a true variety of heights might achieve greater long-term benefits for our city.

Before the City accepts a proposal that could equate to the combined mass of three Russell Investments Centers (see above),  we should at least give Amazon and NBBJ the opportunity to consider narrower, taller buildings for its new tower campus.  The current density would not have to be increased, however allowing flexibility for taller and narrower buildings could bring more open space and provide other public benefits to our “new” downtown.

According to the city of Seattle, a public meeting will be held Tuesday, March 13 at 6:00-7:30 p.m. at Seattle Municipal Tower, Room 4050 to identify concerns about the site and to receive public input into establishing priorities for public benefits which may include low income housing, townhouse development, historic preservation, public open space, implementation of adopted neighborhood plans, improvements to pedestrian circulation, urban form, transit facilities and, or other elements that further an adopted city policy and provide a demonstrable public benefit.

A copy of the proposal materials are available at the DPD Public Resource Center, 700 5th Avenue,  Suite 2000. The center is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. The telephone number is (206) 684-8467.

City to remove Madison Park fence

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

The city of Seattle will remove a fence in the Madison Park neighborhood that for decades has blocked public access to a block-long swatch of Lake Washington shoreline, one block north of Madison Beach park.
The decision by Acting Seattle Parks Superintendent Christopher Williams follows a campaign by Patrick Doherty in SeattleScape to get that area opened to the public.
Removal of the fence was opposed by some Madison Park residents who cited safety concerns.
The city expects to start taking down the fence in early 2012, Williams said on
He said that all the 20-plus miles of city-owned shoreline along Lake Washington and Puget Sound and associated tributaries is accessible to the public except that stretch.
The fence was installed in the mid-1940s.

This block-long stretch on Lake Washington has been behind a fence for decades.