City Chooses James Corner Field Operations For Waterfront Redesign


I was really pushing for GGN, but having reviewed the Field Op team and presentation I think this is really a pretty awesome choice. James Corner himself is a visionary with some good international credentials as you've outlined, but he has also brought on some of the best local talent for landscape architecture and environmental consulting: Mithun, Berger Partnership, Herrara, and Jason Toft are all incredibly talented and knowledgeably players in the Seattle area and are all doing very innovative stuff with environmental urbanism.

Personally, if he uses the concepts from that Chinese project for some waterways from downtown to the waterfront, that would be really amazing and unique. With the bluff there, Seattle could be the first city with an urban waterfall!

I hope his project is better than his godforsaken turd of a website. I can't find the "Qianhai Water City" on it anywhere. I googled it, but still can't find much besides some pretty pictures. I hate pretty pictures.

@1, what you're talking about is called a "fountain". This isn't China, and he's not designing a whole new city from scratch. Where's this water going to come from? If you're suggesting reopening an stream through the heart of downtown, and I think you are, I hope you never get to touch any part of my city. If you want to save Puget Sound, you don't start downtown, you start at the edges where the new damage is taking place. What you're talking about is as vacuous as the joke that took place with Thornton Creek up at Northgate.

The High Line is similarly not applicable, since it's NOT DOWNTOWN. Maybe if he left the viaduct standing and worked it into the design, but that's not going to happen. That looks like what he is doing with Hudson Yards, though again it's hard to tell with the pretty pictures -- which are designed to obfuscate, not reveal.

Whatever genius this guy can come up with will certainly be destroyed by the public input phase. The vocal public mostly just wants a place for its many dogs to shit.

Bagshaw's "connections from the stadiums to the sculpture park" makes me want to vomit on her. Connections my ass; there's nothing stopping you from walking there now, except ludicrous distance. But if she gets what her pea brain is imagining, that trip will be a tenth as lifeless as it is now.

Anyone who thinks this process is going to have anything to do with life or vibrancy should take a look at how the city is "helping" the real grassroots effort at injecting life into the city down in Georgetown.
Mary and Rebecca know their stuff.
@2: One of, if not the, biggest contributors to pollution in Puget Sound is run-off from Seattle. From the Capitol Hill/First Hill ridge, its one giant slope down to the waterfront and Elliott Bay. Using the magic of gravity, there is already ample water running through pipes down to the waterfront. We now have the opportunity to clean that water down at the waterfront through natural processes, as well as daylight it and illustrate to people that at one point the downtown Seattle bluff included many little ravines with creeks that ran directly into the Sound.

This redesign all depends on The Tunnel, right?

If so, where are all the sloggers spraying spittle in my face as they bellow about the lies and the overruns and the carbon emissions and the backroom deals and the downtown cartel?
@4, "at one point", yes. BEFORE THERE WAS A CITY THERE. Cities create pollution; that's one of the things about being a city. If a city concentrates its polluting activities to the central core of the place where it is, instead of spreading that pollution over 16,000 square miles like we're heading towards at lightning speed, watersheds can be saved. They CANNOT be saved by pretending that the city isn't there.

The ultimate result of efforts like you describe is to drive all 600,000 city residents out into the suburbs. You should instead be trying to draw them in, to densify as much as possible and protect those outlying areas.

Trying to make the center green is a pipe dream. It won't work. It can't work. Every dollar spent on "saving salmon" in the center of the city would save a hundred times more if spent on a regional sound preservation plan.

John Lombard, author of "Saving Puget Sound: A Conservation Strategy for the 21st Century" understands this. If you want to make downtown a forest with streams, you're making a decision to destroy Puget Sound. It's anti-green. It doesn't matter how pretty the trees are in your new park-slash-dog toilet-slash homeless encampment.
7 looks like it was designed to sell snake oil to bumpkins. Guess it worked.
@5 correct. The Billionaires Tunnel is a massive carbon debt that will sink our county beneath its weight. And you'll end up paying $10,000 per Seattle household with the new citywide taxing district they created just now to rip you off.

Enjoy debt. Cause you're going to be in lots of it.
@6 sooner you move to Kent, sooner Seattle can move forward.
can't we all just get along?
Exciting, but let's hope their landscape and urban design skills are better than their website design skills.
Lower case fetishists are so kewt!! Even better when they throw in weird punctuations. Next time, maybe we can get cartman+broslovsky.
Curious... Every comment I have read elsewhere raved about GGN and one of the other teams. I wasn't at the presentations, so were others who attended surprised by this choice?
Seattle will always go with the trendy choice. Gehry, Koolhaas, and now "the guy who did the High Line".
Fnarf's generally valid points aside, I'm glad for this choice. Corner's presentation (that Cienna posted) and his High Line experience both show that he gets it -- it's about density of people and multiplicity of use, not about vacant "open space." It's about social interaction, not psychological detachment.

And although the High Line fails to serve a purpose as connective tissue -- it's too far west, and goes not quite far enough north or south -- it demonstrates Corner's ability to create a destination space that is a genuine lure. Furthermore, its runaway success has birthed an explosion of desirable, fully activated living, dining, and recreating space all around, over, and under it!

That said, we shouldn't be anticipating design choices quite as bold as those seen on the High Line -- those were all the work of Corner's collaborators Diller Scofidio + Renfro -- but to the extent that Corner seems to value human density, interaction, and scale, I'm satisfied.

(The other presentation about which Cienna raved, the one by GGN, was just horrible! It called for reconnecting the street grid, which is nice, but did it in the worst kind of flat, vacant, excessively "open" way. Theirs was the quintessential Seattle inward-looking "don't fix what is broken" approach that I couldn't be more thrilled to see rejected!)
This is an exciting time for the city and for all of us. I love Seattle, and while I am not a native, my heart lives here. Watching the jcfo team present thier vision made me realize what has been missing, for many of us. Fun. Fun has been missing. We spend so much time woring what not to do, whom not to offend, support from few may lose. We worry and anylize all the fun out of what we could have. The jcfo team presented a playground that we are all ready for. We can be kids agian.
This decision represents everything that is wrong with Seattle. Why are people constantly going after the newest/hottest; trend trying to be "like new york"? It makes me sad to see a rejection of a stellar local fir
(GGN) in leu of the arrogant asshole that is corner. "devoting 30-60% of his time to the project" is ridiculous! I want 60-100! You can't get that level of devotion from a starchitect.

Couple that with the fact that Seattle design is set back once again because we just had to have what's hot right now (see EMP, and public library).

I fear for our waterfront and hope people fight this.
@elenchos /#7 i agree...the sad thing is people buy into that guys' crap - the worst part is that his particular brand of crap is like all of the other crap out there. JCFO (along with mvva and wrt) shoveled the same generic shit out and people bought it. I had high hopes that our city would go for a new vision - something different. Instead they bought into the imported, banana republic bullshit that is in every other city.

Why couldn't we go with the proposal that flipped everything on its head? Gustafson Guthrie Nichols presentation was so much more about people, health, and the city! And the idea of using the bay - making that our central park - it was genius! We SHOULD fight this thing - im tired of importing people in and having them design for us, why don't we design for ourselves?!?
I generally agree with fnarf, but with this one, dear fnarf, you have jumped the boundaries of your expertise and planted your head firmly up your ass. You state that Seattle always takes the trendy choice (Gehry, Koolhaas) yet you rail against the machine that would turn the waterfront into the dreaded 2 miles of grass.
Both Gehry and Koolhaas gave us buildings that kicked us in the civic ass.
Yes, the EMP was a private vanity project, but it is also a technical achievement beyond precedent. The building could not have been build 10 years earlier. It was designed with aerospace CADD technology. There are no two panels alike on the whole surface. Both the design and construction are major innovations.
The library, much as you hate the shape for being different (eek! no corinthian columns) is also a significant contribution to library design. The spiral book stacks is an ingenious way to accomodate the ebbs and flows in the collection (e.g. the dewey decimal system didn't have a category for computer related information).

So go ahead and vilify the choice for the waterfront project, the firm that proposes to be the one that shakes up the status quo and offers an alternative.
Fnarf, until you get on the design commission or planning commision or otherwise demonstrate your urban planning/design/construction bonafides, I will take your manifestos with a grain of salt (although salt does increase my blood pressure).
Licensed artchitect with 32 years of managing both public and private projects.

19: ARCHITECT!! You'd think if I were licensed that I'd know how to spell it. That wasn't on the licensing exam.
GGN defenders:


- A 20-minute recitation of vague hippie clich├ęs strung together at random.
- Precisely one diagram (from afar, seemingly sketched in five minutes in colored pencil).
- Rhetoric about the small scale with no small scale examples.
- A sole concrete design idea that essentially amounted to alternating piers and trenches, would have made many areas difficult to traverse, and would without any doubt have been mooted by the need to preserve Alaskan way as a through-route with some degree of capacity.
- She actually said that Seattle's P-Patches "bring people together through accrued individualism!" What the fuck does that mean?

You wanted to leave the future of this city's urban identity to them?
@19, innovation does not equal utility. It all too frequently equals the opposite.

The EMP is a waste of space, and a waste of time to talk about. Gehry's stuff is hit and miss even to his greatest admirers, and the EMP is all miss. Yes, "no two panels are alike" (I knew a construction guy who helped fit those panels) but that's not what architecture is about. The space is wasted, but considering what it's used for it's not that big a loss, unless you think of what else the lot could have had on it.

But cities are terrible places to work out your computer design problems.

As for the library, I'll give you the spiral, which is indeed a great innovation (has anyone else used it since?) But the building as a whole suffers from terrible, terrible design AS A BUILDING. Just starting with the color scheme, which was dated the day it opened and now already looks hopelessly dingy and beat. Worse, the lack of any way to move between floors EXCEPT the spiral, particularly the lack of any way to get OUT, betrays a design that was largely created to satisfy professional curiosity about various engineering solutions but never bothered to even think about the utility of the thing. Many of the large spaces are ludicrously wasteful, and the entrances and lobbies are ridiculous. And you can hear a dropped pencil all over the entire building. It's not a disaster, and its obviously something of a tourist attraction in its own right (to people who don't read, and have no interest in books) but it's so much less than it could have been, for ten times the money it could have cost.

One good thing about it is that it exposed the appalling state of the SPL collection, as all those books were taken out of storage and put on shelves, where they shamed the city with their paucity. Books cost money, though, and city leaders and head librarians both agree that capital expenditure is far more important than books. Books don't have anyplace for that brass plaque.
Oh, and I forgot the most egregious offense of both buildings: they turn their backs on the street. They hate the street, they hate the city, the hate the people in the city walking by.
Thank goodness they got it right on this one! James Corner Field Operations clearly blew away the competition at last week's event. Their cohesive presentation hit on all aspects of the city's needs and the vast scope of their previous work used as references were fantastic.
Likewise, their enthusiasm could not be matched by the other groups that struggled through various flow charts with no clear direction, using example work that seemed completely out-of-sync with whatever points they were trying to convey.
I would say MVVA was a distant 2nd and could have been closer in contention, but as its lead designer stated up front, the intro for him (from a former city councilman) clearly created his obituary... geez.
As for the GGN group, I don't think #21 comment (above) could have stated it any better in reference to their presentation.
to anyone who deems that James Corner is not qualified for a project of this nature, please research what he has planned for the Fresh Kills Landfill. Our 'esteemed' Robert Moses gave birth to this monster with his ego and his clout and left us to fix it. Also, whomever commented on the High Line not being 'downtown', please state what your definition of downtown is. How would YOU have dealt with this iron behemoth that was once the life-line of the Eastern Coast? This is an area that was formerly the 'Meat Packing District' and many people have inhabited this area for it's lower height buildings and character that used to be present in a lot of cities. Do not criticize if you can not offer a better solution. How many people live in Seattle? Do you know how many people live in NYC and love The High Line in the little over a year it's been open?
p.s. their website does suck. I was getting nauseous and dizzy. But all we can do is to let them know what a disservice it is to their firm.