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09.29.2010
Field Operations Storms Seattle Waterfront
New York landscape architects win competition to design major shoreline project
The new park and a surface boulevard will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, creating some 9 acres of new public space at the heart of the city's waterfront.
Courtesy WSDOT

Seattle is one of the latest cities to take on a major revitalization of its postindustrial embankments. Last week, it selected James Corner Field Operations to take the lead in “transforming a gray and dreary transportation corridor into a vibrant, active, exciting public space,” as Karen Daubert, executive director of the Seattle Parks Foundation, described the task. The project, estimated at $569 million, will provide nine acres of open space, left when an elevated freeway along the city’s central waterfront is demolished. The Alaskan Way Viaduct, on the city's west side, is an imposing physical and visual barrier that planners have dreamed of removing for decades.

New York-based Field Operations, which specializes in landscape and urban design, led the design teams for the High Line and Fresh Kills Park in New York, and is  working on a new civic park (also near the water) for the city of Santa Monica. The supporting cast includes NY-based SHoP Architects as well as Seattle firm Mithun. The team was selected from a shortlist of four, which also included Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, Michael Van Valkenburgh, and Wallace Roberts & Todd.

WSDOT's early concept for the proposed new promenade, with pink areas showing space that can be designed with new public amenities.

The city arrived at its decision after the four firms made public presentations on September 15 as part of a forum at the Benaroya Hall auditorium attended by some 1,300 citizens. In his presentation, Corner played up the grit of the city. “It’s a working waterfront. It’s tough… I really hate waterfronts that are anesthetized and beautified to the point of looking like every other city,” he said. “Our job is to make dramatic settings where you can…take in the spectacle of life.”

The park will depend on construction of an underground tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way viaduct, a $3.1 billion project funded by state and federal dollars and headed up by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). The city has secured half of the park funds and is deciding how to acquire the rest. There will be no commercial development on the public property occupied by the viaduct. “We see this like the High Line in New York City, which is an excellent example of how public open space created opportunities for private development,” said Rick Sheridan, communications manager for the Seattle Department of Transportation. City officials have been clear on their stance against waterfront highrises. “We do not want this to become Miami Beach,” said councilwoman Sally Bagshaw.

An early visualization of the tunnel's south portal, looking toward the city center. The concept will be developed as part of the project's design process.

The city has issued an RFQ for the construction team and plans to announce its selection in October. The construction and design teams will work together on the design and be “joined at the hip for the entirety of the project,” said Sheridan. Conceptual designs are set for next year, construction is scheduled to begin in 2016, and the park is slated to be completed in 2018.

Lydia Lee