May 19 James Corner Seattle Waterfront Presentation

20 05 2011

I was able to attend last night’s festivities at Bell Harbor Marina in downtown Seattle. This time around they had food carts and music on the Pier and it actually was sunny! Again they had stations to vote for different ideas and a new existing conditions physical model.

After the intro by Marshall Foster, James Corner outlined the scheduling and overall feedback from the last meeting:

  • They are in Concept Design Phase, which will last until the end of 2012

Questions about the future of the new waterfront:

  • What do you want to see? Parks, Natural habitat, Strolling, Sitting, Viewing, Health + Fitness, Walking, Playing, Concerts, Lounging
  • What do you not want to see? Obstructions of the water, tourist chain restaurants
  • Where do you want to be? Unanimously it was near the water

For this preliminary design concept meeting, Corner presented 3 scales of design:

  • City: Recentering Seattle around Elliott Bay
  • Urban framework: connecting the city to the waterfront
  • Waterfront: Creating/Revealing  Tidelines and Folds


On the zoomed out scale, James showed several diagrams showing how rings connect things around Seattle


James continued his diagrams of the 8 districts along the waterfront and how important it is for them to be brought down to the waterfront and have their own character. He also discussed his approach on public transportation: keeping the main routes N/S for automobiles and public transit, and opening up healthy E/W connections for pedestrians. He strongly mentioned how Seattle needs to make a decision and make the waterfront pedestrian focused (all renderings showed streets and bike lanes with pedestrian crossings that were dominant)


Tidelines: were used as an organizational framework to hang features from. The tidal nature of Seattle fascinates the design team and they want to demarcate the tides and water depths with the new design. The great elevation difference between certain areas of downtown and the waterfront pose a problem, specifically in 4 areas he pointed out (Belltown, Pike Place Market, Colman Dock, and Pier 48).

People want a closer relationship to the water so he created different section diagrams that could be applied to connect the two elevation (steps, terraces. overlooks, furniture) to interlace the public and water realm. He also talked about canopies and how they could collect water and be used for storm water management solar panel housing.

He showed renderings of the 4 connections (Belltown, Pike Place Market, Colman Dock, and Pier 48) and how folding plates could be used to connect each elevation (some with over 80′ difference) using beaches, baths (he really liked the outdoor baths, how would that work when its always raining?!) parks, galleries, etc, to activate the waterfront.

I do enjoy how he is trying to respect the different neighborhoods and give them an identity on the waterfront, making the solution a non-linear design that should be very exciting.


  • (provoke, inspire, rethink)
  • (accessible, safe, vibrant, ecological, sustainable)

They also had an update about the Seawall on a board: exciting to see new alternatives being worked out that include carving into the land and not keeping the seawall where it is currently.

A NEW THING I LEARNED ABOUT SEAWALLS: James Corner mentioned that biologists they have been speaking to said that when you drip fresh water along the seawall, this helps create habitat which in turn helps the juvenile salmon: i.e. the canopies that hold water could redirect it along the seawall! Awesome!

All in all, the renderings were very vague, almost too vague that they all began to look like the Olympic Sculpture Park. But as Corner repeatedly stated, this is concept design and should not be seen as final ideas.

His ideas on framework and the overall concepts were very strong, excited to see the next go-around!




One response

26 05 2011
making big urban ideas happen through idea management

[…] of natural systems and urbanity. With a considered framework (summarized nicely by Cristina Bump here) a presentation in Seattle by Corner and his team last Thursday night brought the potential of a […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: