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By Clair Enlow

June 28, 2017

Design Perspectives: Overlook Walk slims down, aquarium steps up

Special to the Journal

As summer begins to heat up, the urban shore looks closer than ever in two new visions of the post-viaduct future.

Designs have evolved for two key pieces of that future: Overlook Walk, the pedestrian pathway that will soar over the cliff below Pike Place Market; and the Seattle Aquarium, with its planned onshore exhibit space called Ocean Pavilion.

When they begin to take shape in the next five years, downtown Seattle can expect to be truly connected to Elliott Bay. It won't be a moment too soon.

Leaner lines, better views

Overlook Walk is a bridge-to-the-bay, with stops along the way. It will connect MarketFront, the new addition to Pike Place Market, with Alaskan Way.

Image from city of Seattle, JCFO, The Miller Hull Partnership [enlarge]
Overlook Walk is a bridge-to-the-bay, with stops along the way. It will connect MarketFront, the new addition to Pike Place Market, with Alaskan Way.

The design, led by James Corner Field Operations with The Miller Hull Partnership, is ongoing — and a revised concept will be presented to the Seattle Design Commission this fall. Design should be complete in late 2018, according to Marshall Foster of Seattle's Office of the Waterfront. Construction funds will come from several sources, including a local improvement district, Friends of Waterfront Seattle and the city.

A public open house about the design with new explanatory graphics is planned from 6 to 8 p.m. July 20 at MarketFront Pavilion, 900 Western Ave.

Corner and David Miller of The Miller Hull Partnership have revisited each zone along the Overlook Walk path. The experiences are still there — spectacular views, play areas, cafes and seating — but they've made some changes. It will be different from the Overlook Walk that JCFO originally proposed in 2012. It's a bit leaner in places, but there's more bang for the buck.

The biggest difference is Overlook Walk will be slimmer as it crosses above Elliott Way, a new roadway nearly aligned with the path of the current viaduct. Elliott Way will split off from Alaskan Way before it reaches the aquarium, and head north and uphill, away from the waterfront.

As it crosses over Elliott Way, the Overlook Walk will be little more than a bridge with curving sides, compressed in the middle. Gone is the massive structure and lid-like landscape shown in previous drawings, but there will be new views in all directions from the curving edges.

Going west after it crosses the roadway, Overlook Walk will divide before stepping down to the shore right in front of the Seattle Aquarium. One of the two paths will go north, towards Piers 62 and 63. The other will head south, toward the Seattle Great Wheel. In between the two sets of steps will be a site for the aquarium. The idea is to make room for the aquarium to expand and join the addition with the Overlook Walk.

'OK, what's next?'

People on the Overlook Walk will have a third choice after they cross over Elliott Way. Instead of taking the stairs north or south, they can walk onto a new roof deck on the Ocean Pavilion, which is accommodated by the north-south split.

Seattle Aquarium has long sought a way to expand, ultimately rejecting over-water alternatives and seizing the chance to go inland with the Ocean Pavilion. Design is continuing full speed at LMN Architects. The new pavilion will be literally joined with the Overlook Walk, and the two will be built more or less concurrently, sometime after 2021.

Image from city of Seattle, JCFO, The Miller Hull Partnership [enlarge]
A slimmer Overlook Walk would cross over the new Elliott Way and then split — with pathways going north and south — before touching down at the level of Alaskan Way. A new addition to the Seattle Aquarium is planned for a site between the pathways.

The site for the aquarium addition has been there for awhile, but the aquarium has been waiting for the current moment, according to CEO Bob Davidson. Digging for the new tunnel for state Route 99 is done, and the post-viaduct future seems a lot closer to reality.

“We are collectively relieved,” he said. “Now it's, ‘OK, what's next'?”

What's next is the Ocean Pavilion, currently in the conceptual phase of design. It's a vision of blue water and deep sea creatures — and will be very visible along the waterfront promenade. Pedestrians will find the promenade widening into a large plaza and wrapping around the Ocean Pavilion's curving tank and superstructure.

Renderings of the Ocean Pavilion show tall, transparent, curved walls surrounded by a spiraling walkway that will take visitors up and down and all around it. Standing near it, visitors will get views of the city and the bay. As they turn inward toward the wall, they'll feel immersed in a coral reef near another edge of the Pacific Ocean — think giant turtles and sharks.

Motion inside the tank will complement motion along the pedestrian pathways and in the plaza.

But there are challenges. Architect Mark Reddington of LMN said one big puzzle is getting the light right in the exhibit.

Davidson said it's all part of making Seattle Aquarium a place where people can connect with the Pacific Ocean and life below the surface, while continuing the aquarium's longtime focus on local waters.

Just the beginning

For the first time, the crowds that pack into Pike Place Market can now spill out onto MarketFront. The long-awaited double-deck extension to the market takes people from the old Desimone Bridge — which has until now stopped at Western Avenue — out into a new view.

MarketFront looks like it has always been there, and that's by design. It's like a little hill town with a top deck. The Miller Hull Partnership's design strikes the right balance between the funky charm of the market and a new industrial aesthetic.

Walking along Western Avenue you can catch glimpses of sky through passages in the base of the new structure. The top deck lures people from the old Desimone Bridge, over Western.

People enjoying the views from MarketFront can look down now, if they dare, over the rushing traffic along the Alaskan Way Viaduct, but in a couple of years the real show will begin. The viaduct will go away, and the Overlook Walk will appear.

When it's complete, at a yet undetermined time, people visiting MarketFront can choose to stroll down a series of gently sloping walkways to Alaskan Way and the waterfront itself, all without dodging traffic or losing sight of Elliott Bay, thanks to the Overlook Walk.

Along Alaskan Way, eyes will be on the Ocean Pavilion.

“I believe this location will change the way we see the city and the city sees us,” said Seattle Aquarium spokesman Tim Kuniholm.

And finally at the aquarium's ticket counter they'll have a quick answer to a regular question: How do we get to the market?


Clair Enlow can be reached by e-mail at clair@clairenlow.com.

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