Seattle Art Museum: Olympic Sculpture Park
Designed by: Weiss/Manfredi
Located: Western Ave, Seattle, Washington
In 1910 UNOCOL (Union Oil Company of California) owned pieces of land on the shoreline of Elliot Bay in Seattle, Washington. By 1999 UNOCOL stopped operations and had cleaned up the site. Soon after SAM (Seattle Art Museum) and the Trust for Public Land raised enough money to buy the site from them. In 2001 Weiss/Mandredi, based in New York, were selected as the Lead Designers for the soon to be Park. This piece of land was separated into 3 different parcels making up close to 9-acres. It required an innovative design to pull together these various pieces. In 2007 the Olympic Sculpture Park along Elliot Bay waterfront opened for the public. It’s a nine-acre linear, semi-elevated sculpture park that bridges over rail road lines and a highway. Shaped in a “z” formation the park is dotted with famous sculptures, an amphitheater, and wonderful plantings mimicking the climate.
The neighborhood of Belltown in downtown Seattle had little green open space nearby and readily accessible. Several members that sat on the board of Trustees at SAM had a vision for a sculpture park somewhere in the Puget Sound Region. UNOCOL was trying to sell their land along Elliot Bay in Belltown. The combination of these things drove the project; by the turn of the century the park was on its way to becoming real. Because the site was separated by busy streets and a train line the Designers had to figure out a way to create a unified space that was inviting. This was one of the largest obstacles to overcome. Weiss and Manfredi came up with an innovative and beautiful way to unite these parcels- a 2,200 ft zig-zag path that had forty feet of overall grade change. As seen in the picture below they used a cut up piece of paper to help visualize their idea. The “bridges” over the street/railroad don’t seem like bridges at all, but rather just a park on a hill. A paper visual of their idea along with the finished product. Before and after picture of the site
Olympic Sculpture Park encompasses art, views of the city, and a dramatic backdrop of the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains. The sharp linear elevated paths of the park mimic the shape of the mountains in the background. At the height of the park is a large red sculpture called The Eagle; it is made out of steel, is 38 feet tall and weighs around 6 tons. This sculpture acts as the focus point of the park- against the grey overcast sky or even the rare clear blue sky, the red causes a sharp contrast that you can’t help but notice it.
The designers of this space are architects; which affected the landscape design and layout. It has a structured feel to it with its angular lines and precise layout. It feels like outdoor rooms. Starting from the glass pavilion you exit out onto a terrace that descends into an amphitheater overlooking a gravel valley. The valley is surrounded with evergreen trees- mimicking the surrounding landscape. To exit the valley you can follow a sloping path up to the next level. Along the way is a thin forest of Aspen trees, mosses and ferns. Once you reach the top of the path you are graced with a long stretch of grass and large sculptures (The Eagle and Bunyon’s chess). These sculptures draw your towards the highest point of the park- also the convergence of two paths which forms a sharp triangular point.
This space works. It’s different and almost out of place- but upon exploring and walking through the park it grows on you and makes sense. The sculpture fit in with the landscape, the paths are convenient and bring you closer to the waters edge. It’s modern, a little quirky, and beautiful- perfect for Seattle.
 Spiess, Daniel M. Public Participation in Brownfields Cleanup and Redevelopment: The Role of Community Organizations
 Groundswell: Constructing the Contemporary Landscape, Peter Reed