We’re coming up on five months since the West Seattle Bridge closed, and it’s anyone’s guess whether it will be fixed up, altered in some way, or knocked down and replaced with something else. The only thing that’s clear, and agreed upon by everyone, is that it is disgusting.
A barren concrete wasteland, reserved mostly for air-choking, street-destroying, human-killing private cars, the bridge is a traffic-sewage monster whose soul escaped from Hell (Los Angeles). Now we’re blessed with an opportunity, or an excuse, or an excuseortunity, to finally destroy the evil and replace it with something good, and gentle, and pure, and Pacific-Northwestern.
Which brings me to the art project that’s being proposed to take the bridge’s place.
It’s called “Duwamish Crossing,” and it’s the work of local architecture firm Wittman Estes, which designs buildings for people who like to be surrounded by nature while also being extremely wealthy. I have to admit, I find their work quite gorgeous — they design homes and occasionally apartment buildings with nice crisp geometric lines intersected by organic living shapes formed from carefully-selected plant life. I would certainly enjoy spending time in any of their buildings, almost as much as I would enjoy being extremely wealthy.
The company’s latest project is an entry into the Seattle Design Festival, and it’s an attempt to re-imagine the way in which we cross the river between West Seattle and Actual Seattle. Their Duwamish Crossing concept involves bulldozing the existing bridge, which scientists agree is hideous, and replacing it with three lovely crossings: An “Urban Air Filter” that connects the green areas on either side; an “Oxbow Crossing” that connects historically significant sites; and a “Georgetown Crossing” that has the least amount of descriptive text right now but we can probably assume is for the bulk of the annoying car traffic.
If you want any further specifics, you’ll have to read between the lines of the accompanying philosophical musings: “How can we currently connect with the river and surrounding nature and what are the opportunities to extend those connections, environmentally and responsibly?” Yes, good question. That’s the sort of thing that a designer or architect might try to, you know, attempt to answer?
And as cynical as I am about this endeavor, and indeed virtually everything I encounter in my life, I have to say I don’t hate what they’re cooking up here. Their hearts are clearly in the right place, noting that the old bridge was hostile to most modes of transit and was disrespectful to the Duwamish, and that everyone ought to be able to cross the river easily.
I am also deeply charmed by the descriptive document that they made available, which I have to assume was not supposed to contain the revision-notes that somebody at the company made in Word. (“I deleted Plan,” some unidentified Wittman-Estes employee commented on the doc. “The question is, is it a vision or a plan. Right now it is a vision. A vision plan is what you use to get eyeglasses.”)
Ultimately, that note gets to the heart of why this proposal seems not-quite-ready for prime time. I think it’s generous even to call it a vision! The main illustration they have of whatever they’re picturing is a crayon-style scrawl that could maybe be interpreted as a 200-foot-long pedestrian bridge over the river, or alternately as a series of croquet hoops placed over a puddle of soda.
I’m all for conquering the old monstrosity (and as I type those words, I realize that the bridge is, in fact, younger than I am) and replacing it with something green and lovely. Make it something that people actually like to cross, and that is a place where the Duwamish can exercise their treaty rights, and that provides better options than forcing everyone in West Seattle to rely on a car. Yes. Good. That.
Wittman Estes does very attractive work, and I’m a fan. They’ve made some vaguely pleasant suggestions. Now what?