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April 17, 2003
Image courtesy of BA/BCJ
The design team sought to capture the essence of Seattle in its plans for the new City Hall building, incorporating feedback from the public. From those plans emerged spaces such as the City Council chamber, shown here.
Seattle City Hall will be a beautiful building.
The design has been influenced by a number of factors: the budget, the local context, the functional program, the steeply sloped site, the restrictions of working around the existing building and the relationship to the Civic Center Campus.
But more than many other buildings in the downtown core, City Hall has been greatly influenced by Seattle’s well-known public process.
An active involvement of interested and affected parties, citizens, businesses, advocacy groups and government agencies is a key feature of making a public project successful. The broader the base of support of a project, the greater the chance the building will be accepted and used. For City Hall, the process involved large numbers of people through all stages of the design.
The master plan, adopted by the City Council in 1999, set many important directions for the project. Those involved during that six-year planning process can speak eloquently on the number of options and extent of exploration undertaken with public input. Bassetti Architects/Bohlin Cywinski Jackson has only benefited from the careful evaluation of building size, mass, program and feasibility derived from this exploration.
For the design of City Hall, the largest extent of public input was gathered during the initial design phases. Through public workshops, presentations, e-mail commentary and the press, design team members participated in a broad dialogue that strengthened design principles, project vision and priorities.
Much of the public comment focused on answering the questions “What makes this a civic project?” and “What about this is a Seattle experience?” As the architects, landscape designers and public artists adapted the design in response, the project became more accessible, transparent and unique — capturing the essence of the environment, history and nature of our community and government.
Construction has been a phase of realization, not only in terms of realizing the design, but also in a growing recognition of how different City Hall will be at the completion of this work. The gracious public lobby, reception room and Council chamber form a memorable set of spaces in which to continue civic dialogue.
Although not complete for another year after the offices and public rooms are in use, the Fourth Avenue level of the building will provide a distinctive home for the more cultural and relaxed aspects of city life.
To write that it has been easy to accumulate, balance and respond to public participation would not be true. Public process by definition encourages debate and recognition of conflicting opinions.
It is the challenge of public work to keep the citizenry informed, maintain the budget, create a beautiful design and make sure the building functions well. Hopefully those that participated will recognize the responses to their comments and take pride in the vision they helped shape.
The design team feels honored to have been entrusted to bring an enduring and symbolic civic heart to Seattle. We believe the public will delight in our collective effort.
Marilyn Brockman is a principal at Bassetti Architects and managing partner for the joint venture architectural team of Bassetti Architects/Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. She has led the team’s many public presentations and design charrettes.