Features Nov 18, 2010 at 4:00 am

Seattle is one of the most outrageous land sculptures in American history. No wonder Seattle artists respond to the earth so distinctly.


There's footage of thsoe regrades, too

Here's a news flash ... Lake Union didn't look the way it does now and almost everything you see here is glacial till anyway, that was moved here from somewhere else by giant glaciers and volcanic mud flows.


Other than making tunnels that are gold-plated vanity projects for billionaires outrageously risky and ultra-expensive, it's not THAT bad.
Many, maybe most, American coastal cities have huge areas that have been filled, or regraded -- Boston, New York, San Francisco; maybe not as much regrading as us, but still, many square miles of filled land at least. I was talking about this with my Spanish teacher, who was flabbergasted -- she'd never heard of such a thing, either regrading or filling coastal areas. Which led me to wonder, are we the only country that does this? Well, clearly not the ONLY one, because a good portion of Mexico City is filled land; but are there others? Are there any European examples? I guess you could count the built-over rivers that used to stream through London. But has there ever been anything remotely like the Regrade(s) anywhere in Europe?

What an odd choice of words to describe a grading project in a major urban area covered ass to elbow in concrete, asphalt, cobblestone and steel, its ancient till soaked in frying oil and soap, every inch packed hard under the feet of armies of lawyers and butchers and beagles and rats.

Chicago's drained swamps, a deception. Venice, raw chicanery. And Holland, a baldfaced lie.

What we have here is a perspective skewed into absurdity.
@ Fnarf

Much of the Netherlands is below sea level. The land was reclaimed from beneath the sea by building dikes and slowly moving them farther and farther out.

Much of Tokyo's land is from filling the bay with all manner of construction material, rock, and cement and then building atop (much like NYC).

China has done many projects similar to this.

With damming, nearly every country in the world has recreated its landscape by filling in valleys with water, erasing what was once there.

The US is not the only country.
The accelerating erosion of the coastlines of Europe have brought some new focus on how to update the centuries-old practices there of filling and duning and diking. Of course there is a European Union commission on it:
Since diking was sometimes impractical, some Europeans did the opposite of Seattle, building artificial hills to live on.

It is indeed ridiculous to think that the US, much less Seattle, is the only place where shit like this has gone on, even at this scale.
Fuck. "Has". Damn liquid lunch.
Checkout the Waterlines Project website for some views of Seattle's changing landscapes

Checkout the Waterlines Project website for some views of Seattle's changing landscapes

Neat article.
@2 Newsflash, you're an idiot
People have been moving earth around for thousands of years to suit our needs. There's no reason to write a million word, mostly art school bullshit yammering about it.

The land isn't 'false' simply because we moved it around.
People have been moving earth around for thousands of years to suit our needs. There's no reason to write a million word, mostly art school bullshit yammering about it.

The land isn't 'false' simply because we moved it around.
The Lightening Field sounds pretty interesting. But I would want to see some voltage.

I wonder if the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo TX counts as land art.
Nicely done. As a Kansas boy I have to ask, do you know of Stan Herd's land art works?


More paintings with crops, grass, and soil than anything else, pretty awesome in scale.

Like Paddy Mac up there, I don't understand this author's use of the words, "fake" and, "artifice" to describe Seattle's landscape. These words suggest a form of deception. They imply that the land is attempting to pass itself off as something that it is not, never was, and never could be.

Tropical plants? Indoor ski hills? Replicas of Egyptian pyramids? Those things might be properly called "fake".

People modifying their landscape for the practical purpose of building a place to live and work upon it? This might be many things: destructive, bizarre, tragic, beautiful... but certainly not fake.

The article is interesting, but I wish the author had taken a better look at her surroundings before passing her misguided judgment upon it.
And the terraced hillsides that dominate millions of acres in ancient farmed lands in South America and Asia -- complete lies! Damn lies, I tell you! I AM OUTRAGED! OUTRAGED!
Hello, Hong Kong, Dubai, etc. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm_Island…
Couple responses: Maybe "false" would be a better word than "fake" in the sentence where I say Seattle is magnificently fake. See headline: False. I mean false in the sense of "falsies," and as in artificial, constructed.

On the contrary to one commenter's idea that I "pass judgment" on Seattle in the negative—if you read the piece, it expresses throughout that I'm deeply in love with what can happen once we let go of the idea that something is "natural" and begin to see it as a construction that might be read, interpreted, and built upon again.

Also, what's the matter with artifice? What's with the attachment to classifying something as "natural"?
I hardly know Seattle anymore, and I was born here way back when. Sigh.
As a energy practioner (polarity/cranial sacral/reflexology) I feel alot of things in the earth..like animals...I was born and raised in w.seattle..so were my moms side of family...as I got older and would frequent downtown clubs to dance to electronic music...I was gripped with very very sensitive" feelings" in some of the basement clubs.....and I used to say...something doesn't feel "natural" when im downtown...what I felt wasFEAR..pain.hurt.and cries of what has been of the" land" ..meaning ENERGY..is in everything..can not be" stopped" just transferred or transmuted"...so anything and everything that has happened on that land the entire history of the earth..WILL be held in something of density..unless it is released....
in the beginning there was sound...so if u think of that...u have clubs playing music..djs..people drinking..using drugs..and carrying all their energy into the club with them....sound creates from the energies of the people in downtown! And" spirits""energies" easily attach to something to someone that is not gonna" shed" it off

My point is...I said all of this 4/5 years ago...sensing all that had happended in seattle. The forced way that seattle was created...the police remember the street names downtown by" jesus christ made seattle under pressure" that is from james/jackson to pike/pine...but doubled...there is more to seattle than most would ever know
Holy crap "lovepeacenrg," that's a whole pile of crazy you just tried to peddle onto us! I found it to be indistinguishable from horsehit.
i didn't particularly like this piece (something about a city girl writing about how nature is artificial too?--was that even the point? what was the point?--just rubs me the wrong way), but it did make me think of teufelsberg in west berlin. it's an 80 m (~260 ft) tall hill made up of rubble from WWII. other than the fact that there aren't really any natural hills in the area, you'd have a hard time telling today that it was made from rubble--it's covered in trees and seems just like the rest of the large forest in which it's located. but it's even better. since it was the only high place in west berlin, the US built a huge spy station there (although abandoned, it's still there, and people have conveniently cut holes in the surrounding fence so you can access it). but wait, there's more! the spies noticed they got better reception during one time of the year and realized that it coincided with a nearby fair that brought in a ferris wheel. so they made the neighborhood keep the ferris wheel up until the cold war was over (and long after the ferris wheel had ceased to be fun). and yes, these facts had exactly as much to do with seattle's regrading as "the lighting field."
I enjoyed reading this article. I'm glad someone finally wrote about Seattle's outrageous earthwork, the Denny Regrade.

I'm wondering why you didn't extend your critique to include the gaping tunnel Seattle that developers and shippers want to dig. This project has been roundly criticized elsewhere, and deserves it.

Do you suppose the preposterously expensive and unnecessary tunnel will be dug, completed (eventually) and accepted as just another architectural whimsy, like the other insane and arrogant nature management territorial imperative projects of the NW?
I really enjoyed this piece. Most of the complainers seem like they read this very superficially.

I don't want to make Jen's point for her, especially since she's already clarified some, but the "falseness" has to do, among other things, with obscured history, with landscape that presents itself as always having been the way it is, suggesting that the changes that have occurred to it have had nothing to do with human intervention. The fact that people are upset about it being called false just proves her point.
Beautiful and fascinating piece, Jen. Parts of my own city are artifice as well. Land where there once was water, sandy beaches that were once rocky, some of the best farming land in the province hidden under concrete and steel.

You are quite a writer. I feel like I'm thinking of my home and the world in a different way.
Well done, Jen. It's nice to see you write a piece accessible to someone who doesn't care much for art, and to tell the story so well. (Sorry...)

There are two responses that I wish to echo.

@26 wonders about the tunnel, which is literally at the center of your project.

@24 and his German spy center, I also didn't care too much to read an extended treatment about the lightning field.
This article only scratches the tip of the Seattle Regrading Projects that occurred. I have yet to find a comprehensive source, complete with before/after pics that show all of the regrading projects done. Closest thing is MOHI, but even it doesn't show the Yesler Regrade, or much of the Harbor Island project.
Another feature article, Jen? and thanks!

I'm not sure what impression it is that you're getting, or where on earth you're getting it from. Were you shocked when you learned that the trees in Freeway Park were planted by humans? Did you think the Ballard Locks were created in the last ice age? Were you aware that Gas Works Park wasn't always a grassy knoll? Exactly what part of this CITY do you believe presents itself as having "had nothing to do with human intervention"?

glad i got u thinking:P
do u know of anything past ur human physical body?
do u know of the energy that IS u?
ur perception of "horseshit" is obviously just the kind u stepped in to leave such a "judging" comment

seek within ur self to know more..not just what uve been taught
exactly my point of
most have no idea what seattle really was created for

superficial is how most humans view everything

notice the "Seattle,pittsburgh and boston" places this has been done

also take into consideration of ley lines of the earth (ENERGY)

open ur mind and thoughts to what u have been hidden from with ur eyes open
There's this very interesting phenomenon in linguistics. There are very few indigenous languages that have a concept of "wilderness," as in, "a place free of the manipulations and influence of humans." They simply don't understand the concept.

Indeed, the closer we look at ancient indigenous cultures, supposedly those closest to a "natural state," we find they were INTENSELY managing their landscapes: Favoring specific species of useful plants or animals, burning, clearing, damming, moving soil, capturing runoff, moving rock and other useful materials from place to place, etc.

I think the choice of the word "fake" implies that there is a "real" version of the world that is not managed or molded by the conscious efforts of humans. Which is a bit odd, since if you take humans out of the mix, there is a long list of animals also consciously manipulating the landscape: Beavers, burrowing animals, woodpeckers... there's a species of bird of paradise in New Guinea that will literally remove every errant twig and leaf from its mating-dance-area, going so far as to SCRUB THE BRANCHES to remove moss and lichen before dancing to attract a mate.

Point is, maybe the "real" world is the one we make, and the concept of a "fake" world, the result of conscious human intervention, is an Eden that exists only in our minds.

We mold our surroundings every day, some of us more successfully than others. The earth is not carved into "real" and "fake" parts. We manipulate everything, whether it is the melting of a high snowfield 2 weeks earlier than "normal" due to climate change, or whether we're tilling a tiny portion of our urban garden to plant a flower.
For an article about earth moving in Seattle and it's local impact on art, very little of this article is about Seattle or Seattle artists.

To the list of overlooked cities also built in this way you can also look to downtown Los Angeles and the leveling of Bunker Hill in the 50's.
"Also, what's the matter with artifice?"

It should be obvious to anyone who reads this piece...
@38: Can you explain? It is not obvious to me.
Nice piece Jen. Have you seen Rebecca Solnit's "Infinite City, a San Francisco Atlas"? Seals with that same sort of layering of the urban cultural space.
Can't figure what this article is about. And it's spreading: now you've given the virus to Knute Berger.

Please wait...

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