Seattle Artists Redesign the Waterfront
With Glass-Bottomed Pools, Submarine Shuttles, Mini Forests, Lights for Scared Fish, and Arches Made of Viaduct Ruins
The designer of New York's popular High Line, James Corner, is heading up the remake of Seattle's waterfront. For his art team, he selected artist Mark Dion (creator of Neukom Vivarium at the Olympic Sculpture Park), Seattle curator Eric Fredericksen (of Western Bridge), and innovative New York–based public art organizer Creative Time. But their plan is still in its formative stages. No specific artists or works have been commissioned yet. The early drafts identify only locations for art (Pier 48 in Pioneer Square, for one) and conceptual priorities (artists actually working on the already-working waterfront, in addition to large and permanent pieces).
While we wait to see more specifics, we asked Seattle artists what they would do with the waterfront. Here are the best of their drawings, writings, pragmatic habitat restoration proposals, and wild and poetic ideas.
JED DUNKERLEY drawer/mastermind
My retractable-roof boardwalk idea will now get the serious consideration it has deserved the whole time. The charm of Venice Beach with the convenience of Safeco Field. Heat- and sunlamps, so you CAN go to the beach on a NW winter day. I just know that once they see it (Figure 1), the whole redesign committee and the general public will unite behind it. The devil's in the details, like how I plan to power the retractable roof using generators attached to the workout machines at the "Muscle Beach" pavilion.
GENE GENTRY MACMAHON painter
I want to see a mini forest of tall trees. Douglas fir and spruce butting up to that new beach they are proposing on South Washington Street. Perhaps one block square in size, maybe even smaller—a mini replica of what the shoreline was like when that area was home to the Duwamish Tribe. Love the contrast of this chunk of real nature against the backdrop of high-rises and high-end real estate, and if it blocks some views, so be it! It doesn't "do" anything except clean a little patch of air around it.
JOHN BOYLAN organizer of Art Conversations
A floating replica of Seattle at anchor offshore, so we can gaze longingly at our mirror image.
JOEY VELTKAMP painter
I find the biggest cure for any sadness I have these days is swimming in the water, under the watchful eye of Mount Rainier. I would love to see us pull from Europe and install a long, heated saltwater pool on the waterfront. Not for swimming, just for quiet contemplation and watching the mountains. One that is big, full of perimeter seating, and open till 10 p.m.
SARAH BERGMANN artist/naturalist
The waterfront should, as the last tier before the water, be the basis for a very, very excellent filtration system for the city core's runoff. Pollution from runoff contains some of the worst pollutants in Puget Sound. There are lots of methods out there—swales are what come to mind, or at least a mix of materials that can filter water.
GEORGE RODRIGUEZ ceramic sculptor
I think there should be a large fountain at the waterfront. Something large and decorative that can also be peaceful and enjoyable. I could sit and write on the postcard that I just bought from the man a half block down and tell my family in Texas how wonderful Seattle is. It could also be great to have the water mimic the sound of waves crashing against the beach.
LAURA HADDAD artist on the seawall design team
Apparently, fish are afraid of the dark, which limits their migration along the seawall under the piers. We're hoping for a light artist to work on the project, but it sounds like the Department of Fish & Wildlife doesn't want anything that wasn't there naturally, so it may involve using reflections of sunlight and prisms—but we're not going to give up yet on the powered light. This picture is of aquarium lights (Figure 2). Each one is a different shade to simulate a natural environment, like coral.
NATASHA MARIN performance/installation artist
Seattle-style Tweet Flags (a different take on the Tibetan prayer flag): Step one is to establish a Twitter account for the Seattle waterfront where locals can post tweets related to their thoughts and experiences. Step two: Using local companies (mom & pop) and sustainable materials, create brightly colored Tweet Flags that can be strung along the waterfront. Step three: Invite local artists, writers, and performers to take turns curating the submissions that come in from Twitter. Used, old, or outworn flags can be reused, recycled, and reincorporated into other works. Stylistically, these are meant to fade, tatter, and disappear into the wind and rain and be replaced with bright new fresh flags.
KEITH TILFORD artist
Take a section of the to-be-demolished viaduct and move it out to the western edge of Pier 48, turning it into an accessible observation point with a second-level cafe, complete with a garden below containing architectural relics from its demolition (Figure 3).
KAT LARSON artist
Permanent moorage of the Kalakala ferry for art performances!! (It could perhaps be dedicated to Princess Angeline.) Floating barge/saltwater pool with glass bottom! Yoko Ono's light show! Underwater glass tunnels!
JEFFRY MITCHELL artist
A glass-bottomed garden. A magnificent public pool. An aboriginal cultural center. A human-powered fountain, bikes rigged to power the water. A band shell dedicated to high-school productions like dance-offs, jazz competitions, and cheerleading exhibitions! Public toilets designed by the winners of a design-student competition. A public bicycle repair and exchange shop. A wishing well—proceeds go to...? A food truck center with picnic tables. Large civic gestures: There should be an opportunity for aboriginal artists, at least, to create civic sculpture. A mix of corporate touristic spectacular and real hometown local modest public stuff.
RODRIGO VALENZUELA artist
One: A just-for-tourists restaurant/sushi bar that serves only Duwamish River fish (caught by local fishermen). Two: A shuttle submarine from Queen Anne to Pioneer Square through storm-water pipes.
JACK MACKIE artist
L'Arc d'University Street: For the better part of the last 75 years, Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct has dominated the central waterfront. Now Seattle will simply clear-cut the viaduct from the waterfront in an attempted exorcism from the city's living memory. Or, we can selectively retain portions of the viaduct as urban sculptural artifacts, as ready-made lay relics of the fading industrial revolution (Figure 4). One of these ready-mades stands waiting at the foot of University Street, where a three-inch gap separates adjoining 200-foot-long roadway segments. By carefully demolishing the viaduct north and south of the four gap-abutting columns, a simple double arch is created.