When it comes to public space, linear paths and waterfronts have been generating a lot of attention—like the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, the High Line in New York, and the upcoming Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago. But it’s also important to rethink how traditional urban park space can thrive in the next century.
In May, the three finalists of the Seattle Urban Intervention: Howard S. Wright Design Ideas Competition for Public Space met at the Intiman Playhouse to present proposals for redesigning a 9-acre site that is currently home to Memorial Stadium at the Seattle Center. The goal of the competition was to generate dialogue and innovative ideas for the Seattle Center based upon the Center’s 2008 Century 21 master plan, a 20-year scheme for unifying its cultural, civic, architectural, and commercial spaces.
The winning project, In-Closure, by Paris-based ABF-lab (Paul Azzopardi, urban engineer; Noé Basch, climate engineer; Etienne Feher, architect) emphasized the notion of protecting and preserving the landscape through a flexible and adaptable human-scaled approach.
“We began with the most basic and ancient forms of human connectivity—gathering around a campfire,” ABF-lab explained at the public presentations. Their project encourages simple, organic design solutions for a city that can be weighed down by its notoriously slow political procedures. “Traditional urban planning methods are reaching the limit,” said the firm in their design statement. “You can plan an urban project; it will be obsolete even before seeing the light. How can we thus produce such a dematerialized urbanism?”
Their design quite literally brought the wilderness back to the city, centering on foresting the existing playing field and enclosing the 9-acre site with 33-by-13-foot movable event “boxes” that could house market stalls, cafes, greenhouses, micro theaters, and even mini libraries.
Materials used to create the scheme’s modular structures would include stacked local timber, mirrored facades, and a running track made from panels that would generate electricity through movement. The team loosely drew their inspiration from Seattle’s vibrant stalls at Pike Place Market. While imagining that these boxes could find new homes in other public spaces in Seattle, ABF-lab also incorporated spaces at the Seattle Center that would encourage treetop climbing, performances, and even campfires—simple solutions, where the human is at the middle of the process.
The runners-up included KoningEizenberg Architecture + ARUP of Los Angeles for Park, a plan that included various programs: a pool, a pavilion area, a pole forest, cantilevered stadium seating, and a space for a farmer’s market. And Boston firm PRAUD for Seattle Jelly Bean, which incorporated terraces, courtyards, and a playing field with a giant blimp-like interactive “jelly bean” that would be both a micro-climate control device and a display screen.