[Maritime Week / Bell Street Pier]


Architects strive to create a framework for economic success

By David Hewitt
Hewitt Isley Architects

The Central Waterfront Project began more than twenty years ago, driven by the Port of Seattle's vision that their land holdings on the central waterfront could provide the necessary catalyst to make the waterfront an economic and civic asset to the city. In that time, there have been a number of studies and concepts directed toward those goals, each step refining the idea through public comment and expert opinion as to the potential and appropriate uses for the site.

Finally in 1991, the Port of Seattle developed a concept for the central waterfront and the upland property from Wall Street to Pine Street. The concept identified uses that were both civic and commercial. This included direct water-oriented uses such as fish processing, trawler maintenance facilities and a large working apron (deck) that extended the length of the project to facilitate working waterfront uses, a marina for short-term moorage, as well as an international conference center, a cruise ship terminal (future), a maritime museum, a major restaurant and public open space - all on the west side of Alaskan Way. The east side would include a hotel and/or inn, office space, parking and a significant number of residential units, all developed by the private sector. An ambitious plan appropriate to opportunity of the central waterfront.

Designers of the Bell Street Pier project tried to create a functional and friendly gathering space while preserving the form and style of the waterfront.

The design team and the Port of Seattle developed a series of goals for the project that were intended to serve as criteria for decision making through the design process. The goals were not directed to what the project was to look like, but more the spirit and function of this great opportunity. The goals included:

As the project nears completion, the physical results of the goals are clear. The bridges at Bell and Lenora connect the waterfront to the Market and Belltown. Each is close to stops of the waterfront trolley, thereby, making connections to Myrtle Edwards Park and as far as the International District. Each of the bridges is more than a bridge. They create new view opportunities--places to see the waterfront and the city as you have never seen them before. The Lenora bridge is a renovation of what was there for years as the bridge to nowhere.

We have also added a glass elevator, for view and safety, and a tiered viewpoint. This new view corridor is protected from encroachment by agreements between the Port of Seattle and the City of Seattle. At Bell, the bridge does even more. It crosses Alaskan Way, the railroad tracks, and the steep hillside; it is clearly a linkage and a symbol of the project. It connects the parking garage to the waterfront and provides elevator access to the sidewalk below. But most of all, it leads directly to a public space on the roof of the Maritime Museum; a new place to view Elliott Bay and the workings of the waterfront. The bridge terminates at the grand stair (with elevators) that leads down to the International Conference Center level 3, a new cafe/bookstore level 2, to the public plaza by the entrance to the Museum and its symbolic window to the street.

The portion of the project built by the Port of Seattle is a composition of elements: two bridges, three buildings (one with multiple functions), two public spaces, a marina, and street improvements from Pine to Wall Streets. The main building has really two faces: one to the north which is the working side with a broad working apron and piersheds to house trawler maintenance, cruise ship activities, fish processing and administrative offices for those activities. The architecture is of the simple geometry of the early piersheds in colors reminiscent of the cargo containers of today.

The south face is the civic side and the center of public access to the project. Here, all of the elements are clear. The restaurant building's form helps define the boardwalk to the South and the more formal space between the Maritime Museum. Concurrently, it is the first building one encounters when arriving from the South. Its strong geometry is based on the angle at which all piers on the central waterfront meet Alaskan Way and recall the wooden piersheds still in use on the waterfront. The space is further defined by the playful Harbormaster building, whose function is to administer the operations of the new marina and also serve as a security office for the project.

The International Conference Center will bring delegations from all over the world to meet, communicate and determine policy for organizations of all dimensions and descriptions including the domestic market. The meeting accommodations contain the highest technology for multi-lingual teleconferencing. The spaces have been conceived to provide a provocative arena for intellectual discourse set against the natural setting of Elliott Bay.

The aesthetic impact of the project is amplified with the inclusion of site specific art. At the extreme south end of the marina is a light tower by Ron Fischer. Ann Gardner has created a glass mural in the public space near the entrance to the Maritime Museum. Kris Snider (Hewitt Isley) created the water feature in the public plaza. The Port of Kobe, Kobe, Japan, presented the stone sculpture at the entrance to the International Conference Center to the Port of Seattle as a gift of good will.

The total architectural composition is complex. The project can only be seen as an entity from the water or from the taller buildings upland. The land side views are sequential as one moves by the project. The working aspects are clearly differentiated from the public elements and are woven together in overlapping geometry and colors that provide an ever changing composition as one experiences the project. It is our hope that visitors to the project would return again and again to take advantage of the project's many and varied opportunities.

David Hewitt is principal architect for the Bell Street Pier Development, and partner in the Hewitt Isley Architectural firm.

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Copyright © 1996 Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce.