Originally posted this morning and moved up.

Tonight from 7:00 to 10:00 p.m. at Benaroya Hall, four design teams will vie for the chance to shape nine acres of waterfront once the Viaduct is torn down in 2016. The event is free and you should go. The design team that is subsequently chosen to plan our waterfront will frame the discussion for Seattle's growth over the next decade, predicts Cary Moon, director of the People's Waterfront Coalition.

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"Redeveloping the waterfront is about more than creating a great urban park—it's about changing how we experience public life," says Moon. "We’ve never been good at playing together or socializing together in a daily way. We've never been good at urban parks. This is our chance to get it right."


Of course, everyone has their own definition of what "right" is when planning such a weird space—a space that is cut off from downtown (most streets terminate on 1st Avenue instead of extending to the waterfront), that allows you to see the water without ever touching it, and that has to function as a public space and a freight thoroughfare. Most great neighborhoods feel like they were inevitable, and evolved organically, but there's a lot of tension in making a new space in the lap of a well-developed city. There are people who want to pack the waterfront with private businesses (because shopping is energetic!) and purists who want it all left public and open, a veritable human rangeland.

The design teams will have to address these tensions as they present their body of work tonight, explain the challenges of launching a new waterfront as they see them, and outline their approach to the project. Aside from nine new acres of public space, the team will be tasked with designing the Alaskan Way street replacement, which will relocate the roadway under where the viaduct now stands in order to free up more waterfront space.

More importantly, this is the public's first chance to question the design teams. You can submit questions for the teams here.

"We need to make sure we're choosing a team that's designing for where we're headed—in other words, the kind of city we want to become," says Moon. "They can't do that without feedback."

So the big question of the night will be: Which of these design teams best understands where Seattle is headed?

A quick run-down of the teams after the jump.

Here are the teams that will be presenting tonight (.pdf):

Gustafson Guthrie Nichol: They're a Seattle landscape architecture firm with offices on the waterfront and they've been involved in the redesign process from the beginning. GGN is known for creating striking small parks and gardens (think North End Park in Boston). They're weak on urban planning and design, so they've teamed up with Foster + Partners, one of the top architecture firms in the world.

james corner field operations: James Corner is a landscape architect who knows how to usable space out of nothing special—one of his projects, Fresh Kills, is a 22,000 acre landfill he's turning into a public park. He's a deliberate thinker who knows how to use the ecology of a space to its best advantage. He's weird and exciting, the waterfront needs that, but he doesn't have as large of a finished portfolio as the other teams.

Wallace, Roberts & Todd: They're a larger, safer corporate firm that does it all—planning, urban design, architecture and landscape architecture. What makes them exciting is they've teamed up with a German firm, Atelier Dreiseitl, which specializes in designing superb waterscapes like Tanner Springs park in Portland. These people are the masters of water. They could make our water's edge really come alive.

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates: They have a record of making big, ambitious parks that tie together ecology, streets, and the economic development of an area. They could certainly handle the waterfront, but their parks (Brooklyn Bridge park, for example) are often cut off from the city they're in. They'll need to prove they have a cohesive vision for integrating the waterfront into the city.

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During tonight's presentations, an eight-member selection panel will evaluate the teams based on their qualifications, presentations, and ability to engage with the public. The panel will make their final recommendation to Peter Hahn, Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation, later this month.

Once the planning/design team is chosen, they'll be responsible for running an extensive public outreach process beginning in October. They'll hold community meetings throughout the city to find out how Seattle residents want to interact with the waterfront. Then they'll draft our waterfront design.

"We're finally at the point where we’ll be making decisions about what’s going to be built and how people will enjoy it," says Marshall Foster, Planning Director for Seattle's Department of Planning Development. "This is the exciting part, as far as public process goes."

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