[Landscape Northwest]
March 31, 1998

Art meets ecology in a wetland

Anderson & Ray

Try to recount a time you have walked through a "wilderness" area and discovered something not exactly natural. Perhaps it was a line of rocks in the woods from an old wall in New England, an ancient footpath worn deeply into the red rock of Arizona, or an abandoned line of fence posts on the prairies of North Dakota. Certainly these intrusions peaked your interest; perhaps they delighted, disappointed, or even scared you.

Aligning things "unnaturally" is a quintessentially human activity.

Alignment can express the highest aspirations of humankind or simply mark property boundaries. The Reserve at Pritchard Beach, a project we are building along the shores of Lake Washington, will exhibit such alignment geometry.

This geometry will be the primary visual artifice to reside in the otherwise natural appearance and function of a restored wetland. Aligned objects will be placed in this landscape to express our place in ecology and our overwhelming desire to observe the wild. Through the synthesis of ecology and art, The Reserve at Pritchard Beach is poised to offer its visitors an understanding and appreciation of the wild landscapes it represents.

The Reserve at Pritchard Beach is a remarkable 7-plus acre project along the south shore of Lake Washington, in the Rainier Beach neighborhood, and three miles south of Seward Park. The Reserve's landforms, wetland zones, and paths will follow a fundamental goal of synthesizing ecology and art. Elevated viewing platforms or "Eco-piers," an amphitheater, and wheelchair-accessible paths will bring people closer to communities of open-water and emergent wetland, scrub/shrub thickets, and upland forest while consolidating areas of human disturbance and travel to a small portion of the site.

The synthesis of art and ecology will invite people with all degrees of curiosity and knowledge to enjoy the restored wildness and wetness of the Reserve site. Here, members of the urbanized world will have the opportunity to view themselves within the regional ecology of native wetland plants and wildlife. Almost seven acres of native plant communities will harbor a diverse range of wildlife and demonstrate the beauty and natural character of our region's wetlands. Woven into this adventurous landscape, a thoughtfully designed system of human interface opportunities will inspire curiosity and help present the lessons and emotions of the wild to those who are usually confined by our urban fabric.

Eco-piers will defy the curvy paths and shoreline, aligned with a linear view corridor toward the lake. From each overlook pier, there will be views of a specific wetland community as well as an opportunity to orient oneself to all of the other piers and associated gathering places. Over time the piers will be consumed by the verdant nature of a water-rich plant community. By periodically elevating visitors from their complete immersion in the landscape, these piers present a higher ground on which to stand and observe -- a refuge within a refuge. Linking the piers and allowing people to explore areas that would normally be inaccessible, elevated boardwalks wind through the site.

Several features of distinct visual interest will be formed of trees. The "Alder Gallery" grove is a feature inspired by the alders that occur spontaneously as the beautiful aftermath of natural floods, fires, and avalanches. The arched beams of the "Maple Cathedral" will be formed over many years by the vaulted branching of Big-Leaf Maples, resulting in a landmark space. The evolving upland coniferous forest, which shroud the drier edges of the park while cradling the open wetland, will provide a dark green vertical contrast to the bright sky reflecting in the central pond.

Seasonal eye-catchers are discovered from certain viewing points; the "Swamp Lantern Cavern" and "Devil's Club Crescent" will emit a glow of primary yellow and red from the dark bottom of the existing forested wetland. These features are intended to be artistically striking places which also uphold the ecological integrity of the park.

While the natural character of The Reserve will evolve during the lives of successive generations of visitors, these artistic messages will communicate growth and natural evolution by visibly contrasting with or joining in the landscape's changes.

Generations of dramatic unnatural changes have already been seen by The Reserve's land. The opening of the Ship Canal lowered the level of the lake nine feet-effectively draining the slough, and turning the island into a peninsula which left more open land. Currently the site is used as Park Nursery development and storage.

The project is a partnership of Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation and the Pritchard Beach Community Council, with mutual agreement to develop a natural wetland space and a learning environment.

Visitors to the Reserve at Pritchard Beach will have an opportunity to experience art as well as ecology. They visitors will watch as The Reserve's piers are consumed by the verdant nature of a water-rich plant community, leaving their alignment as the sole reference to human endeavor in this "natural" place.

C. Morris Anderson is a landscape architect with Anderson & Ray.

Copyright © 1998 Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce.