The Olympic Sculpture Park was designed by Weiss/Manfredi Architects as the result of an international competition, and opened in 2007 and constructed both as a new urban landscape connecting the city and the water as well an outdoor art gallery for the Seattle Art Museum. The development includes gallery pavilion, public terrace amphitheatre numerous permanent and transitional artworks and 3 distinct gardens.
The Olympic Sculpture Park is a very large park comprising of 3 staggered landforms that zig-zag their way from the urban city on the north side (12m up), over both rail line and major road down to the waterside of Elliot Bay . The park essentially forms a green oasis in what is still a largely industrial part of Seattle forging a continuous pedestrian and cycle path from the urban centre to the formerly inaccessible waterfront. In doing so the park has to deal with a significant level change and relate to urbanity, infrastructure and water.
Weiss/Manfredi Architects tackled this challenge by creating an engineered landscape to gradually wend its way down to the waterfront via a zig-zag path, bridging the road and rail, but not enclosing them completely, giving both the pedestrian's drivers and passengers an awareness of the other.
A transparent pavilion with angled grassed roof is located on the high point of the site in, flagging the main urban connection point from the city and transitioning people from the urban built environment to the constructed landscape of the park.
The site in this instance was 3 brownfields sites, previously an oil manufacturing and storage plant, and so no significant natural vegetation existed on the site.
The park incorporates three gardens of distinct character that reflect the native vegetation of the area. A dense evergreen forest in the northwest, a transitional deciduous forest and the large terraced garden of aquatic plants on the waterfront incorporating a new salmon habitat are connected via sloping lawns, providing a nature lesson as visitors make their way down to the waterfront. The journey culminates in a small carefully sheltered beach at the northern end of the park providing a focus and destination, and a very physical interaction with the water, which previously has only been visual.
The park also enhances the public's access to the larger natural context in providing a dynamic location from which vistas of Olympic Mountain and Puget Sound are highly visible.
Movement and Connections
The main gravel zig-zag path is defined by the sloping topography as it negotiates the various urban infrastructure in it's journey down to the waterfront. Secondary smaller grain paths meandering paths across the grassy slopes, displaying the artwork within as well as transitioning the visitors through the three main gardens and connecting the road and train line to the park itself.
Order and Objects
The site challenges in negotiating the level change and various infrastructure clearly determines the layout and arrangement of the landscape, so in this instance the urban and natural context are overwhelmingly the drivers of the larger order of the park.
The premise of this park as an art gallery determines the manner in which objects, here artworks, some permanent, others transitory, are placed within the landscape. Placed in order to display each artwork to best advantage as opposed to creating pockets of space.
Manipulation of the ground plane occurs on a grand scale within the Olympic Sculpture park in part due to it's vast expanse and the various urban connections that is makes, to the museum, road, rail and shore. The extent of the earthwork in this project is beyond to notion of a bit of cut and fill, with the park essentially being a completely engineered landscape raised up to mediate the level change between the urban city and the water front. This practicality could have been achieved via bridges or other connectors but the creation of this new landscape provides a continuous landscape which not only provides better public amenity but allows topography to define the edges and character of the areas rather than physical boundaries.
Light, Colour Texture
The change in the topography and the subsequent creation of valleys and peaks makes for a more apparent changes in light quality to the different zones of the park, with these changes reliant on the changes over the day with the suns movement.
Materials used in the general landscaping are kept to a minimum, primary concrete, gravel and grass, allowing the individual gardens to make more of a statement not to mention the artworks themselves, which utilise much more bold vibrant colours, in particular the rusted steel of Richard Serra's 'Wake' and the bright red of Alexander Calder's 'Eagle.'
Water is a key player in the Olympic Sculpture park most obviously since it fills the predominant expansive view from just about all location within the park, but it also is the forms the destination at the end of the meandering journey down the zig-zag path, not in the form of a pier or look out but a simple unassuming beach sheltered and protected from erosion. This beach contrasts significantly with the drama and scale of the whole landscape yet communicates what the driving force of the project, to connect people living within the urban city to the waterfront that occurs so simply and naturally on their doorstep.
The vast range of contextual levels of the city the water and the infrastructure are reminiscent of the context of Bank street with the water, the cliff with high rise residential and the Anzac bridge above. The Olympic Sculpture Park responds to these with big sweeping gestures within the ground plane, which suggests that Bank Street Boat Park, needs to be bold in making a statement within it's context.
The culmination of the Olympic Sculpture Park journey in the small beach also reflects the humble fact that nature in its true form has a beauty and perfection that cannot be manufactured and this too needs to be reflected within the Bank Street Boat Park.