Posts tagged with "Brutalism":
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City is hosting an extraordinary exhibition surveying late modern architecture from a country that no longer exists: Yugoslavia. Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948–1980 is on view now through January 13, 2019. Approximately six hundred items are on display in salon style across MoMA’s galleries including original drawings, newly crafted scale models, and a series of commissioned photographs by a Swiss photographer Valentin Jeck. The material is not presented chronologically but rather arranged spatially as a series of sequential topics ranging from Global Networks to Everyday Life and Identities, each branching into sub-topics. Distinct rooms are reserved for individual architects that the curators have highlighted as key thinkers in the spatialization of the Yugoslav socialist identity, including Bogdan Bogdanović, Juraj Neidhardt, Vjenceslav Richter, and Edvard Ravnikar. An entire gallery is devoted to the brutalist reconstruction of Skopje featuring the work of Kenzo Tange with Janko Konstantinov, a graduate of Yale. While female architects like Milica Šterić, Melanija Marušić, and Svetlana Kana Radević did not get a separate booth, they were largely present in galleries and through an essay on gender in Yugoslav architecture published in the exhibition catalog, written by curatorial assistant Anna Kats and Theodossis Issaias. The show's curators, MoMA’s Martino Stierli and guest curator Vladimir Kulić, begin the show by asserting that this exhibition is a survey of architecture that has been all but absent from modern history. They also make clear that Yugoslavia was expelled from the Soviet bloc in 1948, removing it from Stalin’s grip on spatial esthetics. The country had a need to search for its collective identity elsewhere. As Vladimir Kulić states, the architecture from Yugoslav socialism is an adaptation rather than copy, giving the work a quality of enhanced interpretation. The work exhibited draws a range of inspiration from U.S. postwar corporate architecture, brutalism on the global stage, most notably from Paul Rudolph and Kenzo Tange, Scandinavia’s organic volumetrics, Alvar Aalto’s sensibility towards nature, and playful forms in concrete relating to Oscar Niemeyer’s Brazilian freeing of form to allow expression of permeability and elegance. MoMA’s exhibit suggests that socialist architecture in Yugoslavia was a success of its own time. Its unique adaptation of late modernism was complementary with other grand narratives of modern architecture worldwide. To someone like me who lived in the architecture of Yugoslavia on display at MoMA, the success of the exhibit is two-fold. First, thanks to daring curatorial decisions to organize the material in topics rather than chronologically or as a fixed narrative, the exhibit avoids the nostalgia that surrounds avant-garde Soviet architecture. And second, these Yugoslav examples are cast as success stories from the recent socialist past, with a post-avant-garde afterlife increasingly relevant to contemporary times. As Stierli points out, a majority of the architecture presented in the exhibition is still in use today. Included in the exhibit are two outstanding works, namely the excerpts from Mila Turajlić’s video arrangement Living Space/Loving Space (2018), and Jasmina Čibić’s mesmerizing video entitled Nada: Act 1 (2016), which turned Richter’s model for the Yugoslav Pavilion at Expo 1958 in Brussels into a string musical instrument. At the entrance to the galleries, visitors will find a legendary pan-Yugoslav kiosk K67 by Saša Mächtig of Slovenia doing precisely what the kiosk was meant for: providing information. Barry Bergdoll noted in a follow-up event at the AIA Center for Architecture that this exhibition celebrates an architecture that came out of a now superseded political system, and the show suggests that Yugoslavia's socialism was perhaps not that nefarious after all. Toward a Concrete Utopia is an extraordinary exhibition that is opening doors for research on the subject. Expanding scholarship was reportedly an ambition of Stierli from the beginning of planning for the exhibit. This widening will help bring to view Yugoslav architecture beyond MoMA’s selection. According to the warm reception, architecture from socialist Yugoslavia is on its way to being secured in the legacy of global modernism. Including a single shelf with topical books published thus far would have helped augment the high quality of the exhibition. Such an insertion would have also offset possible critiques of a neo-colonial approach, seemingly the only possible approach while addressing the highly diverse modern design heritage of today’s balkanized countries as a single Yugoslavia, under the roof of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Hidden no more. Srdjan Jovanovic Weiss, PhD grew up in socialist Yugoslavia and is now a research architect based in New York. He is the author of Socialist Architecture: The Vanishing Act (JRP Ringier, Zuerich) and Socialist Architecture: The Reappearing Act. He is currently faculty at CUNY’s CCNY Spitzer School of Architecture and founder of NAO.NYC.
Toward a Concrete Utopia: Architecture in Yugoslavia, 1948-1980 is the first major exhibition in the United States to display the compelling portfolio of architecture from the former Yugoslavia. The exhibition will be on view at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) from July 15, 2018–January 13, 2019, and will include more than 400 visual documents from Yugoslavia’s prominent architects during the 45 years of the country’s existence. The architecture ranges from both soaring International Style skyscrapers and Brutalist structures of concrete geometric forms, representing the postwar style Yugoslavia’s architects developed in response to conflicting influences from both “the capitalist East and the socialist West,” according to a statement from the MoMA. Yugoslavia avoided the Cold War, instead became a leading figure in the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961. At the same time, the government built extensively in the hopes of modernizing and stimulating the economy to improve the lives of their citizens. The state also expanded its political influence in other Non-Aligned countries in Africa and the Middle East by building in and urbanizing those countries. Many memorials and monuments can be seen in the exhibition, showcasing Yugoslavia’s socialist ambition. Important architects such as Bogdan Bogdanović, Juraj Neidhardt, Svetlana Kana Radević, Edvard Ravnikar, Vjenceslav Richter, and Milica Šterić are featured in the exhibition. Check out this link for further details.
When one hears of a piece of architecture by Alison and Peter Smithson being altered, the worst comes to mind, particularly when developer Tishman Speyer promises a "wholesale re-imagining." With demolition photographs of the architects' Robin Hood Gardens splayed across every design publication and blog, this protective instinct is more than justified. Now, London firm Deborah Saunt David Hills Architects (DSDHA) has completed Phase One of such a "re-imagining" of the Smithsons' Economist Plaza. And if evidence of this first phase is a precedent for the rest, then we can breathe a momentary sigh of relief, for the project is in safe hands. Comprising a trio of buildings, all varying in height, the Economist Plaza off St James's Street is a quiet enclave in the city, a welcome respite a stone's throw away from the tourist throbbing bustle of Piccadilly Circus. It was designed by Peter and Alison Smithson for the Economist magazine and finished in 1964, a decade after the Smithsons first took to the architectural stage with the Hunstanton Secondary Modern School. Tishman Speyer's decision to employ DSDHA reflects a sensitivity to the project, something it is well-versed in through its management of other 20th century icons like New York's Chrysler Building and Rockefeller Center. Its decision to rename the complex to "Smithson Plaza" in the original architects' honor embodies this ethos. The Smithsons' contribution to architecture is enormous. As teachers, writers and academics, they were prolific. But as architects? Not so, and today, their eponymous plaza is their last remaining work in London. DSDHA has refurbished the tallest tower, renamed "Smithson Tower," which rises to 15 stories and was once owned and fully occupied by The Economist. Here, the lobby has had a facelift and the tower has new elevators, double-glazed windows, insulation and services, replacing the Smithsons' unorthodox and outdated ventilation system. A new, 1,500-square-foot public cafe (yet to be finished) has been installed on the tower's ground floor. However, this, combined with a reinstated public art program on for the plaza, heralds the danger of the plaza losing its tranquillity as it becomes both visually and programmatically busier. "We found that many people didn't even know this was a public space," Deborah Saunt, co-founder of DSDHA, told The Architect's Newspaper. Inside the upper six floors of the tower, renovation work has created 21,500 square feet of office space. Who will inhabit that remains to be seen. To its previous tenants, the vistas were a source of empowerment. "Perhaps our height also gives us greater confidence in handing down Olympian judgments on world affairs," the Economist wrote in a 2016 farewell letter after it had sold the premises for $170 million. The tower's facade has also been cleaned to reveal its pitted Portland Stone and Roach Bed stone. On the ground, the plaza has been resurfaced with granite, a material which has been allowed to flow into the new lobby where it replaces what was once concrete flooring. If you ignore the impending planters, the plaza has since become a much lighter space in a show of pure materiality. And when washed in sunlight, the tower's almost gleaning beveled edges are as tactile as any imported verdure. Only now do Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's (SOM's) 1990s interventions, adding a canopy and extending the lobby into the colonnade with glass and travertine cladding, seem horribly hamfisted. DSDHA has done well to undo some of this work, replacing the travertine with Portland Stone, for example. With the lobby gaining a new concrete bench, akin to an original external seat and now sharing materiality with the plaza, the colonnade feels primed to realize its potential as the threshold it was originally intended to be. For the time being, however, the canopy and glass frontage, spaced awkwardly close to the colonnade, remain. More changes had been planned by SOM as well, with two further stories proposed for the plaza's tallest tower. On the 13th of June in 1988, though, the plaza and its buildings were hurriedly awarded Grade II listing (the equivalent of landmarking)—a move which makes you wonder, particularly in the aftermath of the Robin Hood Gardens demolition, where the spirit to preserve architecture has gone. The Smithsons, of course, were aware of change being around the corner. In 1965, they remarked that in 200 years' time, their work "may seem an error." "But in our situation," they continued, "there is no other course but to build and to demonstrate." Even DSDHA's proposals did not come without backlash when they were unveiled in 2016. "The Smithsons’ best and last remaining London building deserves better," wrote critic Ellis Woodman in February 2017, as other architects voiced their concern. Some of DSDHA's plans have been curtailed. A proposed spiral staircase will now be a much simpler slip stair, which will lead to a new gallery space—a conversion of the former car park. These changes are due to be made in later phases as part of the addition of 4,600 square feet of retail space.
One of Marcel Breuer's two New Haven, Connecticut buildings will be preserved and converted into a hotel. When it was finished in 1969, researchers and administrators at Armstrong Rubber worked out of the company's Pirelli Tire Building, a Brutalist structure whose office tower core is bisected by beguiling angled windows. The building—vacant since the 1990s—is now owned by IKEA and sits aside a store parking lot. IKEA is in talks with a developer to convert the I-95-adjacent concrete building into a hotel, the New Haven Independent reported. AN IKEA spokesperson told the paper that the company hasn't gone public with its plans for the structure yet. The conversion scheme were revealed at a meeting of the city's development commission. Breuer's work is enjoying a strong revival, thanks in part to renewed popular interest in Brutalism. In Atlanta, city officials are looking to revamp the Breuer-designed main library, while back in 2016, the Metropolitan Museum of Art restored the Whitney's former home and re-christened it the Met Breuer. (H/T NHVmod and Docomomo US)
Even as SOM bulldozes Lawrence Halprin's Los Angeles atrium (the only atrium he ever designed), officials 1,000 miles to the north are gearing up to preserve Freeway Park, the eminent landscape architect's highway-capping park in Seattle. Designed by Halprin and Angela Danadjieva and built in 1976, the Brutalist park had fallen into severe disrepair, and residents said that they avoid the somewhat isolated park for safety reasons. After initial, conceptual proposals for the National Register of Historic Places-eligible property provoked alarm, stakeholders said they are collaborating with landscape preservation and advocacy organizations like The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF) on any future changes.
The renovations are thus geared towards better lighting and wayfinding in the original segment of the park. On its website, TCLF cross-posted an excerpt from an agreement between public and private interests on the future of the park that stated renovations will follow "the Secretary of Interior’s Standards and Guidelines for the Treatment of Historic Properties, as well as specific guidance for parks found in the Secretary of Interior’s Guidelines for the Treatment of Cultural Landscapes," two nationally-codified standards for preservation practice.
As renovations kick into gear, the City of Seattle is collaborating with Freeway Park Association (FPA), the park's nonprofit stewards, to repair the park's facilities and infrastructure. Last summer FPA tapped Seattle's SiteWorkshop Landscape Architects to produce schematic designs and conceptual renderings for park improvements based on community feedback. Work may also include upgrades to lighting, wayfinding, and entrances, as well as restrooms and site furnishings. $1o million of the project cost is being financed by a public benefits package that stems from the expansion of the Washington State Convention Center (WSCC), a $1.7 billion project that the Seattle City Council has yet to approve. FPA has also received grant money to carry out the repairs.
On April 12, Boston’s Pinkcomma Gallery is opening its Brutal Destruction exhibition. In the context of contemporary demolitions of Brutalist buildings and complexes, such as Paul Rudolph’s Shoreline Apartments and Orange County Government Center, Brutal Destruction joins the growing reappraisal of maligned Brutalism as architecture worthy of historic preservation. Curated by Chris Grimley, of the Boston-based interdisciplinary practice over,under, Brutal Destruction is a collection of photographs of concrete architecture undergoing the process of demolition. By examining the widespread dismantling of Brutalist structure, the exhibit seeks to stir up debate regarding their disfigurement and society’s seeming incapacity to repurpose these half-century old architectural works. Grimley frames Brutalism within the larger narrative of the architectural conservation movement. Similar to Brutalism, historicist and classical styles such as the Victorian or Second Empire faced similar rhetorical and public attacks and were cast as outmoded and outdated forms. Grimley suggests that just as we regret the mass demolition of historic buildings in the mid-twentieth century, we should pause to properly assess America's concrete heritage before wiping it out entirely. The exhibition is part of the ongoing Heroic Project, a book and advocacy web archive cataloging Boston’s substantial Brutalist legacy.
Designing for friends has its advantages. More trusting than an anonymous client, a friend will often let you get away with a lot when it comes to pushing creative boundaries. This was the case when Sean Griffiths started work on the Hearn Hill House in South London. Griffiths, head of London-based Modern Architect, and once a member of the now-disbanded FAT, has been taking such opportunities to work out what exactly it means to run a post-FAT firm—experimenting with color, geometry, materials, and illusion. Despite its limited scope—a small ground-floor kitchen expansion—the project immediately faced strict building restrictions due to its location in a conservation area. The area’s restrictive code prevented the addition from wrapping around the rear to the side of the building, but did allow for extensions out from both faces separately. Rather than fighting this condition, Griffiths opted to take the code quite literally and make two glazed extensions, achieving needed natural lighting, maximizing floor space, and exploring some spatial ideas. “With this project I was aiming at a kind of realism. That partly has to do with the way planning constraints shape a project like this; there are certain structural issues and a sense of materiality,” explained Griffiths. “So in the first instance, the plan is almost completely (and absurdly) determined by planning rules. This led to structural and spatial issues that resulted in the odd placement of the column (which also made it interesting) and the use of mirrors to resolve the spatial problems in the largely predetermined plan.” In order to rationalize the kitchen’s new, slightly awkward footprint, Griffiths deployed a number material and graphic techniques. Drawing on a time-honored trick, two floor-to-ceiling mirrors double the perceived size and brightness of the room. The mirrors also produce a visual symmetry, negating the effect of the code-determined floor plan. Columns in the space are pebble-dashed, a nod to Brutalism, as well as the facade of next-door neighbor’s home, visible from the space. “The client wanted something Brutalist, but we couldn’t afford that so we pebble-dashed the column. In the UK this is thought of as a tacky finish that poor people with no taste apply to their houses and that middle-class people spend a lot of money on having removed when they buy houses covered in it.” With limited budget and space, color and pattern would have a significant impact on the project. Undeniably, the most striking feature of the room are two large designs painted on the floor, wall, and ceiling. Continuing the geometric motif of the columns, these graphics produce a forced perspective, which once again challenges the shape and size of the room. Distorted from all but one angle, when the viewer is properly positioned the shapes snap into perspectival alignment, appearing to be 3-D. For color, a rich green and a series of grays were pulled from Andreas Gursky’s photograph Rhein II, which is one of the most expensive photographs ever sold, and a favorite of the clients. With the Hearn Hill House addition, Griffiths takes the project’s challenges, legal limits, and limited budget, and turns them to his advantage. A play on representation and reality, flatness and form, the space realizes ideas far beyond its humble programming.
Few buildings are as quintessentially British and Brutalist as Robin Hood Gardens, a London housing estate designed by Alison and Peter Smithson in the late 1960s. And now, remnants of the complex are heading to Italy, where the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) will present a facade section of the demolished icon as part of the Venice Biennale. (It's actually a return to Venice for the late architects, who displayed billboard-sized images of the under-construction buildings at the Biennale in 1976.) The Robin Hood Gardens housing block has never been far from the center of the debate of social housing since the Smithsons first unveiled plans for a concrete mass of residences linked by "streets in the sky." And now that it's being demolished to make way for a new development—all while cities around the globe struggle to house growing populations—that controversy is more in the news than ever. Though Peter Smithson himself expressed his regrets about the failures of the design, Robin Hood Gardens found a legion of supporters, if not strictly for its Brutalist design, then for its place within the conversation about urbanism. In fact, an all-star lineup of contemporary architects including Richard Rogers, Robert Venturi, Toyo Ito, and the late Zaha Hadid, came together to protest the buildings' demolition. When it became clear that plans would move forward, the V&A stepped in—on the urging of London firm Muf architecture/art—to acquire a nearly 29-foot high by 18-foot-wide by 26-foot-deep cross-section of the housing complex. The museum will be presenting a fragment from the estate at the Pavilion of Applied Arts in the Sale d’Armi in the Arsenale, from May 26 to November 25, 2018. The segment will be displayed on a scaffolding system designed by Arup, the firm that engineered the original Robin Hood Gardens, while a film by artist Do Ho Suh will document the structure. Additional documents and interviews will give context to the social history of the complex. ‘The case of Robin Hood Gardens is arresting because it embodied such a bold vision for housing provision yet less than 50 years after its completion, it is being torn down," said pavilion curators Christopher Turner and Olivia Horsfall Turner in a joint statement. "Out of the ruins of Robin Hood Gardens, we want to look again at the Smithsons’ original ideals and ask how they can inform and inspire current thinking about social housing."
Demolition of the Paul Rudolph-designed Shoreline Apartments in Buffalo, New York, has accelerated, and the full destruction of the housing complex is being stalled by a single tenant. John Schmidt has refused to leave his unit in what remains of the brutalist buildings, despite having received an eviction notice, over what he feels are strong-arm tactics from developer Norstar Development Corporation. Finished in 1974, the waterfront development held 426 affordable units and was part of Paul Rudolph’s unrealized master plan for a revitalized Buffalo waterfront. Featuring sharp angles made of concrete and mono-pitched roofs made of heavy, serrated metal, the complex’s design was unmistakably Rudolph’s. Norstar, a private company, purchased the site with the intention of demolishing the state-built homes and overhauling the complex. The first phase of demolition and redevelopment began in 2015, and has already replaced five of Rudolph’s cascading buildings with seven townhouses and a short apartment block, for a total of 48 new affordable housing units. While the final phase of the project was slated to begin this spring, Schmidt’s unwillingness to leave has held up the rest of the process. His defiance is understandable, as Norstar had previously promised Shoreline residents that they would have time to relocate, before advancing the demolition timetable without warning. While Schmidt is now the last resident in what remains of his 300-unit complex, his reason for staying isn’t driven entirely by preservation. Schmidt is demanding an apology from Norstar for displacing the 222 families who have been forced to relocate, as they were told that the buildings had fallen into an unlivable condition. The local community has disagreed, and argues that the apartments are still structurally sound. Norstar has dismissed these claims, and reiterated that no one has been forced to move under false pretenses. “We are pleased that we can bring people very nice, new affordable housing in the downtown business corridor. We do have to relocate these people to rebuild housing, people will be able to come back, but they do have to qualify under that state's section 42 low income housing regulations. But at this point, all of our residents are income qualified,” Norstar representatives said in a statement. Many of Rudolph’s buildings have met ignoble ends in recent years, despite outcry from preservationists and architects. Earlier last year, one third of Rudolph’s Orange County Government Center was partially demolished and replaced with a more modern-styled annex. Judging from the type of buildings that have emerged from the first phase of the Shoreline’s replacement, the same process is repeating itself in Buffalo.
Blue Crow Media, a publishing group that publishes architectural guides for cities worldwide, just released a map glorifying concrete structures across New York City—titled, appropriately, Concrete New York. Among the structures highlighted by the map, many will be familiar to AN's readers. Eero Saarinen's TWA Terminal at JFK airport, currently being renovated into a 505-room hotel, is listed, as is the Marcel Breuer–designed granite and concrete monolith now home to the Met Breuer. Perhaps less visited is Breuer's Begrisch Hall on the Bronx Community College campus or I.M. Pei's Silver Towers at NYU. Concrete infrastructure also gets its due: the Cleft Ridge Span at Prospect Park (completed in 1872) is featured as well as the more recent Dattner Architects and WXY Studio-designed Spring Street Salt Shed (completed in 2015). In Greenwich Village, New Yorkers will recognize New Orleans architect Albert Ledner's Curran/O'Toole Building, unmistakable with its double cantilevered, scallop-edged facade, formerly serving as St. Vincent's Hospital (a landmark institution for victims of the HIV/AIDS crisis). The guide also points out historic works by Paul Rudolph, Frank Lloyd Wright, Edward Durell Stone, and many others. The map was edited by Allison Meier, a Brooklyn-based writer. The next guide will look at the use of concrete in Tokyo, and will be available next month. Previous maps by Blue Crow Media have examined modernism in Berlin and Belgrade, art deco in London, and constructivism in Moscow, although Brutalism remains their favorite topic to date, with maps on the subject for Boston, London, Paris, Sydney, and Washington, D.C.
The Robin Hood Gardens public housing complex in East London has finally met the wrecking ball. After years of protests from locals, architects, and critics, local authorities at the Tower Hamlets council chose to ignore pleas for the Peter and Alison Smithson–designed project and demolish it to make way for a new development. Built in 1972, Robin Hood Gardens was the realization of the illustrious pair's "streets in the sky" concept. A Brutalist icon, its demolition was protested by architects Richard Rogers, the late Zaha Hadid, Robert Venturi, and Toyo Ito, as well as numerous critics including Jonathan Glancey who argued that the building should be turned into student housing. The Twentieth Century Society, too, also campaigned tirelessly for its listing which Heritage England rejected on the grounds that it was not architecturally significant. Situated by East India Quays, the housing complex was just a stone's throw from Canary Wharf, London's financial hub. In many ways, it was a fitting counter, stylistically and programmatically, and was a symbol of resistance. From inside the Robin Hood Gardens' green space—located between the two concrete blocks—the glass towers of Canary Wharf (such as One Canada Square ) could be seen poking over the housing units. Financial capital was seemingly stopped short of knocking down social housing. Except it did. Developer Swan Housing Association will be building Phase Three of "Blackwall Reach," a new housing complex that will see 1,575 new homes added. Three firms—Haworth Tompkins, who won the 2012 RIBA Stirling Prize, Metropolitan Workshop, and CF Møller—are involved. The new scheme will keep the grassy mound that defined the previous project and the new units will be "affordable" dwellings. In the U.K., however, "affordable" is a loose and often redundant term as it means units can be priced at up to 80 percent of the market rate. This means some apartments can cost $1,855 per month. Instead of destroying the Smithson's work, a better option would have been to emulate what Urban Splash did to Park Hill Estate, another Brutalist social housing icon in Sheffield. Here, units were spruced-up and drastically improved, while the local area maintained its post-war heritage. Alas, it is too late. Robin Hood Gardens is no more, and with it goes another icon of the egalitarian post-war principles that shaped Britain and London.
Seattle's Freeway Park, a pioneering work of modernist landscape architecture by Lawrence Halprin and Angela Danadjieva that is widely recognized as the world’s first freeway cap park, is preparing to undergo a series of wayfinding-oriented renovations over coming months. The renovations are being undertaken by the Freeway Park Association (FPA)—a nonprofit organization created in 1993 “in response to the community’s demand for greater public safety in their aging neighborhood park.” The FPA recently completed a RFP for the project and hired Seattle-based landscape architects SiteWorkshop to perform the improvements and proposed alterations to the iconic Brutalist park. The 5.2-acre park opened on July 4, 1976, spanning over a depressed stretch of Interstate-5 in downtown Seattle. The park was expanded over the years, including the construction of a major addition in the 1980s and implementation of a tree canopy minimization plan in 2005; the original designers remained involved variously throughout these changes. When originally built, Danadjieva’s and Halprin’s designs symbolized the city’s effort to weave highway-adjacent areas back together following the route’s destructive beginnings. As a result, the park is organized as a web of stepped and zig-zagging walkways and terraces that surround a central walking path directly above the depressed highway. These walkways link the central path to formal park entrances, lawns, and plazas that are scattered on surrounding blocks and footholds. These areas are individually programmed to provide various types of leisure spaces. Architecturally-speaking, the park’s hardscapes are of their time and follow a Brutalist material palette. Throughout, the park features board-formed concrete surfaces—Halprin envisioned the park as a type of “freeway vernacular” that was inspired by and built from freeway-associated forms and materials—that become the retaining walls, planters, and knee walls that give the park its stark character. These terraces and planters are filled with broadleaf trees and shrubbery in mounds that rise and fall according to the surrounding natural and human-made geographies.
The park is also well-known for a magnificent cascading raw concrete fountain that originally emptied into a deep pool that park-goers used as a swimming hole. The fountain’s steep and angular surfaces are based on the abstracted geologic forms of western mountain ranges and the fountain bears much resemblance to the Ira Keller Fountain designed by Halprin and Danadjieva in Portland, Oregon. At the time of design and construction of Freeway Park, Danadjieva was a project manager at Halprin’s office; the scheme was carried out by the firm with assistance from Peterson Landscape Architects. One big issue with the contemporary park is a byproduct of its “freeway vernacular” aesthetic and site arrangement: many of the park’s formal entrances are located behind blind corners, at the feet of steep staircases, and without direct sightlines through the park’s interior spaces. Further, Halprin pursued a landscape-based narrative strategy for arranging the park’s interior rooms that has resulted in closed-off spaces, as well as picturesque arrangements. These former qualities are seen by FPA and some in the community as opportunities for crime. As a response, the design team has been tasked with not only increasing wayfinding strategies within the park to highlight paths but also with transforming each of the park’s 12 main entrances into urban beacons that use signage, pavement graphics, and other placemaking approaches. There are concerns regarding how far some of these changes might go and which aspects of the park are changeable, given its importance as a work of landscape architecture. At 41 years old, Freeway Park is too young to meet the 50-year age eligibility requirement for the National Register of Historic Places, though it does meet the City of Seattle’s age requirement for historic status. One note—Although Freeway Park is less than 50 years old, it might be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places due to individual and exceptional merit. Pershing Park in Washington, DC by M. Paul Friedberg is such an example. The park is described as “one of the most compelling treatises on post-war landscape architecture” by The Cultural Landscape Foundation (TCLF), an organization that raises awareness about historic landscapes around the United States. Charles Birnbaum, founder of TCLF, said the potential changes should bear in mind that Freeway Park is "not just as a National Register of Historic Places candidate but also a potential National Historic Landmark and UNESCO World Heritage Site." Halprin, always looking forward, was reportedly “enthusiastic and supportive” of upgrades performed to the park’s tree canopy in 2005, according to the Daily Journal of Commerce. Perhaps, the designers will take a page from Halprin himself and embrace some of the park’s rougher qualities, following a line from the designer’s 1966 book, Freeways, where he writes, "The trick is to perceive the old freeway as a part of the cityscape and tame it, rather than complain about it." For now, FPA is engaging in community outreach to ascertain which aspects of the park nearby residents want to see amplified and upgraded. The organizers held a public meeting last week, with more scheduled throughout the summer. For more information, see the FPA website. This post has been edited with updated information.