Q&A with James Corner

11 04 2013

Q&A with James Corner (Principal, james corner field operations; and Waterfront Seattle lead designer).

An interview by Mark Stiles of the Puget Sound Business Journal.

Read the full article here.


Elliott Bay Seawall Project: Below the Surface”

6 12 2012

“Elliott Bay Seawall Project:  Below the Surface,” tonight at WSDOT‘s Milepost 31!

Jennifer Wieland, Seattle Department of Transportation Project Manager, addresses how the City Of Seattle is working to improve this vital piece of infrastructure, while also restoring fish habitat and connections to the water. 6-6:30pm. Free parking available for visitors via First Thursday Seattle


Waterfront Design: Lessons from Denmark

29 11 2012
2012 November 7

by Lyle Bicknell

< Inventive activators: Harbor swimming dock >

Thanks to a generous grant from the Scan|Design Foundation I’ve had the privilege of spending the last two months in Denmark. It was an excellent opportunity to examine, in detail, successful waterfront redevelopment in Copenhagen and elsewhere. The Danes have a well earned reputation for creating high quality, inviting and lively waterfronts—and even their mistakes (which aren’t many) can be informative.

Cities around the world are transforming industrial and utilitarian harborfronts into great places for people. As Seattle embarks on its own waterfront transformation this is an opportune time to explore these global solutions. Here are five lessons from Denmark:

< Public Trampoline >

Lesson One ACTIVATE ACTIVATE ACTIVATE The best public spaces offer a range of attractions from passive to active, high brow to low. Seattleites have a long running aversion to mixing our public spaces with commercial uses, but it may be time to reconsider. In Copenhagen outdoor cafes, food kiosks and other vendors add vitality and interest–animating public spaces around the clock and throughout the year.

Lesson Two AARHUS–A CAUTIONARY TALE Today, the Alaskan Way Viaduct is such a huge, loud and unpleasant presence it is difficult to imagine what our waterfront will be without it. All we can easily envision is that it will be better. But a generation from now few will remember the viaduct and its noxiousness, and our waterfront will have to stand on its own merit. To get a better feel for what that will be like, it is worth examining Aarhus, Denmark’s second largest city. Today central Aarhus is separated from its waterfront by a surprisingly noisy, heavily trafficked, five lane arterial.

This is a very similar condition to the proposed post-viaduct Alaskan Way, which at 66 feet wide and with an expected 30,000 vehicles a day, will be one of the widest and busiest streets in Seattle’s center city.

To avoid replacing one barrier to our waterfront with another we must design superior pedestrian connections across Alaskan Way—with elements such as wide crosswalks, long pedestrian crossing phases and high quality pedestrian amenities.

Lesson Three QUALITY OVER QUANITITY Given the huge opportunity to transform Seattle’s central waterfront there is a natural desire to do everything at once. Some elements like the rebuilt sea wall and new Alaskan Way will obviously need to be constructed in one phase, but the Danes show that high quality materials and fine grain design gestures are the key to successful places. If resources are limited, slow implementation beats the quick and expedient.

Lesson Four  BE TRUE TO PLACE What makes places memorable–and likely to pass the test of time–are those that are unique and genuine. An excellent example is Copenhagen’s new national playhouse designed by Lundgaard & Tranberg. The structure is supported by massive upper level trusses that not only reduce the need for interior columns but also serve as a potent allegory to the earlier shipping cranes that once lined Copenhagen’s industrial harbor. Rather than facing the street, the building further responds to its maritime context by orienting its entrance, lobby (and outdoor café) to the harborfront.

< Danish National Playhouse >

Lesson Five BEWARE THE PHOTOSHOP SWINDLE Copenhagen based Gehl Architects, an international authority on creating successful public spaces, warns against those designers whose illustrations promise public space filled with mobs of happy users when in reality the spaces end up lifeless and deserted. The most successful spaces invite you in–and entice you to stay–with a broad range of real and well thought out activities.

The removal of the Alaskan Way Viaduct gives Seattle the rare opportunity to transform our waterfront. Drawing lessons from elsewhere will guarantee our success.


Lyle Bicknell is principal urban designer at the City of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development.  He recently returned from a two month sabbatical in Denmark sponsored the Scan|Design foundation.

What’s beneath your feet?

9 11 2012

Beginning the week of October 22, SDOT will install a “Light Penetrating Surfaces Study” on Pier 62/63 as part of the Elliott Bay Seawall Project. Three test surfaces will be installed in the pier’s wooden decking: steel grating, glass planks, and a light tube. These surfaces could help increase the amount of natural light reaching the water of Elliott Bay, an important part of a healthy ecosystem. By minimizing the light to dark contrast that overwater structures – like piers and walkways – create, light penetrating surfaces can improve habitat diversity and salmon migrationalong our shoreline.

Each of these surfaces could be installed along the future seawall. They are being compared to understand their effectiveness at transmitting light. Take a walk to Pier 62/63 to see these light penetrating surfaces in action! And the project team would love to hear your feedback. Do you like the look of one type over another? Is one easier to walk on or around? What questions do you have?

Understanding Habitat

9 10 2012

An introduction to in-water, seawall habitat

Habitat restoration along Seattle’s seawall

To make life better for juvenile salmonids and other marine creatures, the City is designing a shallow, lighted migratory corridor along the seawall to enhance habitat for juvenile salmon and other marine life.  The City is planning to restore habitat by:

Elliott Bay Seawall:  An important salmon migration corridor

Tens of thousands of salmon migrate along the Elliott Bay Seawall and then up the Green/Duwamish River and its tributaries every year to spawn.  After beginning their lives in freshwater rivers, juvenile salmon then swim down the Green/Duwamish River to enter Elliott Bay in the spring and summer – along the Elliott Bay Seawall. Because the Elliott Bay Seawall Project area is such an important link in the salmon migratory route, improving salmon habitat within Elliott Bay is pivotal to the success of regional salmon recovery.

Historically, the eastern shoreline of Elliott Bay looked much like other unaltered shorelines across Puget Sound—a bluff-backed beach with intertidal marshes and mudflats.  The mudflats and gently sloping beaches of Elliott Bay were home to a bounty of birds, fish, and marine invertebrates.

When the seawall was built, the nearshore was cleared to make room for piers, roads, and buildings. With the lack of typical nearshore habitat, salmon migrating along the waterfront can become confused and vulnerable to predators.  Current challenges that juvenile salmon encounter along the seawall include:

  • Large piers, which cast shadows on the water, limiting the ability of aquatic vegetation to grow and making it difficult for juvenile salmon to navigate along the seawall.
  • Vertical hard surfacesmake it difficult for marine invertebrates, an important food source for salmon, to colonize the seawall.
  • The seawall currently lacks an intertidal zone.  In intertidal zones, land is above water at low tide and below water at high tide.  Intertidal zones provide outstanding sources of food and shelter for juvenile salmon.
  • The seawall lacks bluffs with riparian vegetation, a typically important source of habitat structure, refuge, and food for salmon.

Despite these challenging aspects, today’s seawall still provides a home to many species of aquatic life.

  • The naturally lighted areas between piers along the central waterfront are home to many types of aquatic vegetation, such as sea lettuce, and marine invertebrates like barnacles, mussels, and sponges.
  • Biologists have identified eight species of salmon, and many other species of fish, that use seawall habitats

Researching how to improve habitat

As part of the seawall replacement program, the City of Seattle is committed to restoring a functional salmon migration corridor along Seattle’s waterfront.  The Elliott Bay Seawall Project has been researching how best aquatic habitat can be restored.

Since 2008, four major studies have been conducted along Seattle’s waterfront:

  • Habitat monitoring at Olympic Sculpture Park – Researchers are monitoring how marine life is responding to habitat restoration along the park’s shoreline.
  • Exploring habitat-friendly surfaces – Researchers are monitoring test panels with new possible surfaces for the seawall to understand which surfaces are best for marine life.
  • Habitat mapping – Through underwater video and SCUBA dives, biologists are mapping what plants and animals can currently be found along the seawall.
  • Examining juvenile salmon migration patterns – To understand how habitat restoration along the new seawall could help juvenile salmon migration, researchers are studying current migration patterns to learn how juveniles migrate and how limited habitat along the seawall currently affects their migration patterns.

Waterfront Seattle’s latest Transportation Design Plans

20 09 2012
“The needs of each mode of transportation will be balanced to create a great urban place and experience for all to enjoy.”

Check out Waterfront Seattle’s latest transportation design plans here: http://waterfrontseattle.org/downloads/Waterfront_Seattle_Design_Summary_July2012.pdf

Upcoming Seattle Waterfront Events

19 01 2012

The waterfront is a treasure that belongs to all of us.
Join us for a series of informal discussions on some key topics that are shaping the future of the waterfront. Now is the time to get involved!

5:30 – 7:00 pm
Downstairs at Town Hall Seattle
1119 8th Avenue, Seattle
Events are free. Space is limited.
RSVP: rsvp@waterfrontseattle.org

Tuesday, January 31: Climate and Context
How can we make the waterfront an attractive place for all seasons?

Wednesday, February 8: Mobility and Access
The waterfront is a crossroads. How do we balance the many transporation needs?

Wednesday, February 15: Uniquely Seattle
Seattle’s waterfront has a rich context and history. How can we design it to reflect the uniqueness of the place and speak to our past, present and future?            

Monday, February 27: Environment and Ecology
How can the waterfront help to restore the natural
ecology of Elliott Bay and showcase sustainable design?

Monday, March 5: Setting the Stage
How do we create vibrant spaces  for arts, culture
and entertainment?

Questions or comments?

Check out Milepost 31

10 01 2012

Milepost 31 highlights the people and projects that shaped Pioneer Square and provides an inside look at the SR 99 Tunnel Project.

What’s inside?

Inside Milepost 31
View more photos on Flickr.

Visitors to Milepost 31 will find more than just construction photos and brochures. You’ll find history, artifacts and interactive exhibits designed to broaden your understanding of the land beneath you. You’ll explore the neighborhood’s changing landscape, from earth-moving efforts of the past to the massive tunnel project that will soon move State Route 99 underground and reconnect Pioneer Square to the waterfront.

Visitors can browse through four sections:

  • You are here: Similar to the “you are here” points on maps, this section orients visitors to Milepost 31. It tells the story of the land upon which you are standing from the perspective of several different historical figures.
  • Moving Land: This section examines how the natural forces of glaciers, earthquakes and volcanoes have transformed Seattle’s landscape during the past 15,000 years. Visitors will also learn about our own effects on the land, from the filling of the tidelands in Pioneer Square to the various regrade projects across the city.
  • Moving People: This section tracks transportation over time, with an emphasis on Pioneer Square. Visitors will see how people-moving has changed – and in some cases stayed the same.
  • Moving Forward: This section is all about tunneling. Visitors will learn about the history of tunneling technology, tunneling in Seattle and, of course, the SR 99 Tunnel Project. In addition, exhibits show visitors how the project – along with the Elliott Bay Seawall Replacement and Waterfront Seattle – will transform the future of Pioneer Square.
Map showing Milepost 31 in Pioneer Square Where to find us
Milepost 31 is located at 211 First Ave. S. (between South Washington and South Main streets) in Seattle.

Why create Milepost 31?

This information center is required by a memorandum of agreement (pdf 510 kb) signed as part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Project. The agreement was developed to address Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires agencies to take into account the effects of their projects on historic properties, such as those in the Pioneer Square Historic District.

Within the agreement, city and state preservation officers along with the Federal Highway Administration, national and local preservation groups, neighborhood organizations and local tribes determined that a project information center is one way WSDOT could help to keep Pioneer Square vital during construction. The agreement also calls for WSDOT to monitor and protect historic buildings during SR 99 tunnel construction and to develop traffic management and construction coordination plans for Pioneer Square.

Why the name “Milepost 31″?

Mileposts mark progress. They help you track where you are on your journey, reminding you of the places you’ve passed through on your way to somewhere else.

But what if a milepost is so interesting that it becomes a destination? Located on SR 99 at the western edge of Pioneer Square, Milepost 31 is that kind of place. It marks a spot on the highway, but it also marks the spot where, before mileposts existed, mile-thick glaciers gave way to native civilizations. It’s where Seattle’s first neighborhood saw the rise of the city’s most notorious stretch of highway – the SR 99 Alaskan Way Viaduct – and where crews building the world’s largest diameter bored tunnel to replace the viaduct will first cross into the soils beneath Pioneer Square.

211 First Ave. S., Seattle (between South Washington and South Main streets)
Admission is free. Tues-Sat 11am-5pm

James Corner’s waterfront plans: get the editing pencil

9 11 2011

The success of some New York public spaces such as the High Line and Bryant Park may be leading the architect for Seattle’s proposed Waterfront Park to crowd and over-program a space that cries out for serenity and introspection.


Sea Organ

30 09 2011

I stumbled across this project recently and was really taken with its ingenuity:

Sea Organ is an architectural and experimental musical object located in Zadar, Croatia. Is a pipe organ that has a set of 35 musically tuned tubes located underneath a set of large marble steps played by the sea waves. The movement of the sea pushes air through, and depending on the size and force of the wave, it produces a somewhat random but harmonic sound. Designed by architect Nikola Basic in 2005, who recently received the European Prize for Urban Public Space for this project.

What do you think? Would this work in Seattle?


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