Designed by: Weiss/Manfredi
Located: Western Ave, Seattle, Washington
Purpose: To provide a public sculpture park that makes use of a brownfield site
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. (seattleartmuseum.org) 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 to 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 surrounding area.
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. (Daniel M. Spiess) 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. (Peter Reed) 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.
Design principles used in this landscape are geometry, hierarchy of spaces, and scale.The lines that make up the pathways and green space are angular and precise which creates lots of triangular and rectangular spaces. There is also a clear sense of hierarchy between these spaces. Stairs serve as the transition between the primary and secondary spaces; the Pavilion and The Eagle sculpture are primary while the Valley and the path along the water seem more secondary. Each space is kept separate and serves its own purpose creating outdoor formal rooms. The scale of the park is large and with the addition of no hard borders there is a feeling of vastness; the valley and amphitheater area is the one spot where there are walls surrounding you- the feeling of being enclosed brings the space down to a human scale. The designers of this space, Weiss/Manfredi, are architects which brings to light the reason why the park has a very geometric and angular layout.
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. (seattleartmuseum.org) 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 Eagle is the center of the site, to get there you can enter the park from the glass pavilion at the corner of the site. From there 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 you up to the highest point of the park- also the convergence of two paths which forms a sharp triangular meeting point. After this large open green area and center point are grand steep steps that empty out onto a path that runs along the water’s edge.
This space works. It’s different and at first glance seems out of place- but upon exploring and walking through the park it grows on you and makes sense. It’s a place of leisure, relaxation, and enjoyment. The sculptures fit in with the landscape while bringing art to the public, the paths are convenient and bring you closer to the water’s edge, and there is outdoor seating for performances and parties to take place. It’s modern, a little quirky, and beautiful- perfect for Seattle.
Peter Reed, Groundswell: Constructing the Contemporary Landscape (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2005), 116-123.
Daniel M. Spiess, Public Participation in Brownfields Cleanup and Redevelopment: The Role of Community Organizations (Dissertation 2008), 96-112 (108).
Olympic Sculpture Park. http://www.seattleartmuseum.org/visit/osp/AboutOSP/default.asp.
Seattle Art Museum: Olympic Sculpture Park. http://www.weissmanfredi.com/project/seattle-art-museum-olympic-sculpture-park.