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By Clair Enlow

May 2, 2018

Big changes in Seattle waterfront design merge Overlook Walk with Ocean Pavilion

  • The result will be a grand civic gesture, a single project that changes the way people experience the city.
    Special to the Journal

    Five years from now, getting to the Seattle waterfront should be an unforgettable experience. That's still just a promise, but design of the future waterfront has reached another milestone.

    New drawings shown to the Seattle Design Commission last month tell the story. There were a variety of changes and refinements, but the big step is that the Overlook Walk and the Ocean Pavilion — an addition to the Seattle Aquarium — have been joined together as a seamless whole.

    The designer of the Overlook Walk is James Corner Field Operations, and LMN is designing the Ocean Pavilion.

    It may come as a surprise that the Overlook Walk, the cliff-spanning centerpiece of the post-viaduct Seattle waterfront, is actually partly built. It is part of MarketFront, an extension of Pike Place Market designed by The Miller Hull Partnership, and yields new views and pathways west from the market. The space opened last spring and is already a popular spot to sit, snack and soak in the views.

    Images by city of Seattle and JCFO [enlarge]
    The Overlook Walk would seamlessly meld with the aquarium’s new Ocean Pavilion, shown on the right.

    The Overlook Walk opens up to Elliott Bay after crossing the Ocean Pavilion. Sculpted steps will provide many routes to the shoreline.

    Looking south, another view of the Bluff Walk shows a new retail structure on the left.

    This view of the Overlook Walk is directly below MarketFront, near the footprint of the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Called the Bluff Walk, it will lead downward toward the bay.

    Miller Hull is collaborating with JCFO on the Overlook Walk.

    A good fit

    Design for the Overlook Walk and MarketFront started six years ago, and design of the Ocean Pavilion has accelerated in the last year. But until now it's been difficult to work out how exactly MarketFront and the Overlook Walk would fit with the Ocean Pavilion.

    Now it's clear. The Ocean Pavilion has been moved to the south and reshaped under a functional roof so it is a little more streamlined and less obstructive to grand views of the bay.

    The Overlook Walk and Ocean Pavilion will be virtually indistinguishable from some angles, with a roof on the pavilion that doubles as a park-like view deck and walkway. That walkway will lead to an elevator on the south side, one of three prominent public elevators connected with the Overlook Walk.

    That's not the only thing that has changed since new images were last available, in the fall of 2017. The overlooks themselves — vantage points for pedestrians — have shifted. They are more integrated with the rest of the Overlook Walk and there are none that look out directly over a street.

    New drawings from JCFO show that the Overlook Walk will consist of three main structures on the hillside between Pike Place Market and the Seattle Aquarium. There is a platform or bridge to span a street — the un-built Elliott Way — between the lower two structures.

    At the top is MarketFront, already filled with people streaming from Pike Place Market and Western Avenue. It extends the character and presence of the market.

    Overlook Building

    The second structure, roughly in the path of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, is called the Overlook Building, and it will partly extend the character of the market with a shed-like cafe structure on top, looking out toward the water. It will also be a base for the next segment of the path to the waterfront. Planters, seating and places for kids to slide are shown.

    Below the Overlook Building, a span over the future Elliott Way takes the Overlook Walk over to the top of the Ocean Pavilion. North of the pavilion the path divides into three distinct stairways. Whether they lead toward Pier 62-63 or hug the pavilion, all the stairways will lead to the shore.

    As JCFO's Overlook Walk design has evolved, a primary piece is the span over Elliott Way between the Overlook Building and the complex structure of the Ocean Pavilion. The landscaped bridge will be an important segment of the whole. In previous versions, the width threatened to cast too much shadow on the street.

    When shown last fall, the bridge was streamlined and curved to minimize cost and maximize light. In the newest version, it has also been slightly raised and leveled to bring more light to the street — and to the Overlook Building's storefronts along Elliott Way.

    The top of the bridge and connecting pathways give less emphasis to north and south views, saving them to be enjoyed from the Ocean Pavilion's roof.

    At the street level of Elliott Way, just below the bridge, is another significant change in the design. It's an opening and archway between the branching stairways, leading from Elliott Way under the Overlook Walk, gently down to the plaza around Ocean Pavilion.

    With the top of the Overlook Walk mimicking features of Pike Place Market and the lower parts made of streamlined concrete, two very distinct characters will meet in the middle, at the Overlook Building.

    But the three parts add up to a grand civic gesture, a single project that will change the way people experience the city. Some of the basic ideas seem simple, but it's complicated to join different projects of this scale and deliver them at the same time.

    Most of the Overlook Walk will be so visible and accessible that it will undoubtedly be well used — at least by the people who now stream through the market and along the waterfront. The growing population of downtown Seattle is expected to show up.

    The pathways will be welcoming and exciting, especially going down.

    Will elevators work?

    When it comes time to rise, the three elevators — especially the one next to the roof platform of the Ocean Pavilion, will be very popular. Will they work? The city of Seattle will have to do better than it has with the prominent lift to the east of Alaskan Way across from Bell Street Pier, which has had spotty service in the last year.

    So far, the design of the Overlook Walk has been well received by the Seattle Design Commission. It's due for one more review at an undetermined time before passing into the next phase — permitting.

    Ken Johnsen of Shiels Obletz Johnsen was hired last fall by the Seattle Aquarium to manage the Ocean Pavilion project, and he has seen the designers of MarketFront, Overlook Walk and Ocean Pavilion come together as a team to work out the overall concept.

    But Overlook Walk and the pavilion will be permitted separately. The city has already completed the environmental impact statement for the Overlook Walk, and the aquarium will begin its EIS next month and finish in time to meet the Overlook Walk schedule, according to Johnsen.

    Construction on both will wait until demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct is complete and construction on the new Alaskan Way is well underway, likely in the summer of 2021.

    Johnsen expects that construction contracts for both projects will be advertised this summer, and contractors will become part of both teams early. He emphasized the need for both projects to be completed in tandem, and estimates that will happen by 2023.


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

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