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June 29, 2017

New open space is the next step on a path to the waterfront

  • This is the start of a promenade that will take shape after the Alaskan Way Viaduct comes down.
    Berger Partnership


    How do you design a new outdoor civic space that serves as a seamless extension of Pike Place Market, satisfies the deeply rooted historic aspirations of the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority (PDA), and can benefit from 10 million visitors per year?

    This was the daunting challenge we excitedly and humbly took on as the landscape architects for the MarketFront expansion.

    Steep site

    The MarketFront marks the beginning of the post-viaduct Overlook Walk promenade that will eventually connect Pike Place Market to the waterfront. Design features, elements and site grading will blend fluidly with the waterfront plan, allowing visitors to someday discover Pike Place Market by trekking up from the waterfront — an experience reminiscent of early days in Seattle.

    Addressing an extraordinarily steep slope and tightly compressed site to accomplish an ADA-compliant pathway afforded opportunities to leverage the topographic creases at turning points along the way for seating.

    Photo courtesy of Berger Partnership [enlarge]
    A pathway zigzags through the steep site and offers seating along the way.

    Large-scale circulation ramps create spaces out of the accessible routes, extending the familiar ramping “language” of the existing market. Gathering spaces and seating occupy the space created by grade transitions, with no leftover edges.

    The pathway zigzags through the steep site, providing direct and serendipitous opportunities to reach destinations along the way. Open spaces serve as layers that sweep through a range of corridors, stairs, seating and open decks, evoking a sense of discovery much like finding one’s way from the fishmongers to the Giant Shoe Museum and other hidden treasures throughout the existing Market. The ramp in combination with the plaza and top-level deck add a much-needed 30,000 square feet of public open space to the city.

    Timeless feel

    Maintenance played a big role in the design of the spaces, materials and plantings.

    The project team focused on durable materials, crafted and refined in both interior and exterior spaces, telling the story of the Market and its sense of place in the city fabric. In keeping with the gritty, historic character of the Market, the team designed MarketFront’s open spaces to be experienced as if added, edited and organically evolved over time.

    Home to a rich collection of market vendors and host to some 10 million annual visitors, the Pike Place Market provides the physical and cultural space where these two come together.

    The new MarketFront extends this function with spaces that are scalable for Market activities, large events and daily visitor use. Combining several small spaces quickly accommodates a larger audience and use.

    Material selection and detailing emphasize functionality and reinforce the Market’s character and its industrial grain of steel, concrete and wood. The use of authentic, durable and crafted materials creates a timeless aesthetic complementing the Pike Place Market Historic District.

    Native plantings

    Steel planters strategically incorporate planting areas into gathering spaces and wind down the ramp, providing lush greenery without compromising flexibility of space.

    An ethnobotanical plant palette includes species of cultural significance to local Native American communities and are arranged onsite to emulate the transition from Puget Sound lowlands to the grassy meadows typical of a waterside bluff. The native and naturalized plantings add movement, color, and texture to the expansive vistas of Puget Sound.

    A warm underglow

    The team worked closely with lighting designers at dark | light to create balanced illumination for safety and wayfinding without interfering in nighttime views. Linear LED fixtures incorporated into the seat steps, and custom light armatures create a warm underglow during the evening hours and invite visitors to linger at sunset.

    Some extra quirk

    The integration of donor elements, such as bronze hoof prints embedded in concrete, wind from Western Avenue to the vendor shelter.

    More than 5,550 charms sparkle from the railings, while a brightly colored undersea mosaic by market artist Clare Dohna adds vibrancy and delight. The viewing deck — with Billie the Piggy Bank and an expansive water-to-mountains backdrop — is perfect for selfies (#MarketFront).

    Each provides the right amount of quirk and interest to contribute to the Market’s unique character.

    A team effort

    It has been an honor for our firm to help shape a beloved Seattle institution — not just the finished product, but the process and teamwork it takes to complete such a complicated project.

    Achieving a timeless, flexible and refined public open space is a compliment to the team of players that worked tirelessly in the background from conceptual design through installation. The key was having a collaborative, dedicated team led by Miller Hull architects, who respected all team members’ roles in shaping the MarketFront.

    Prior to working on this project, it was easy to associate the Market with flying fish and fresh produce, but a new appreciation has emerged through understanding the complex logistics and dedicated people that bring the Market to life every day and the incredible amount of public health and housing support the Market Foundation provides. The PDA and its executive director, Ben Franz-Knight, kept the project focused on people — not simply visitors but also future residents of the senior housing and the community of market vendors.

    This project gave us all a deeper, richer perspective of the Market’s indelible impact on the well-being of Seattle that will live with us forever.

    Jonathan Morley is a principal at Berger Partnership, a full-spectrum landscape architectural and urban design firm.


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