What a treat it was last night to be in the audience at Benaroya Hall with the 1200 plus people watching presentations for the role of the lead designer for the central waterfront. Four teams, all with world class experience, gave compelling arguments as to why they should be chosen for this most coveted project. The DJC has a brief synopsis the presentations: http://djc.com/news/ae/12021755.html While all of the teams touched on similar themes -- east-west connectivity, ecological responsibility, and prioritizing pedestrians, transit, and bikes over the automobile -- there were certainly differences in the particularity of project approach and the resources they would apply to the work.
Wallace, Roberts and Todd have impressive experience with projects of similar scope and size, having done many waterfront projects in the United States and abroad. Of all the teams that presented, they had the strongest direct experience. Their sub-consultants were equally well qualified, and included the international landscape architecture office of Atelier Dreiseitl and the Seattle office of SRG. Dennis Haskell represented SRG, and his presence is welcome as he has dedicated much of his career to improving Seattle’s urban character.
James Corner Field Operations presented a forward-looking, almost avant-garde approach and vision. He deftly intermingled his impressive design portfolio in a way that showed how his past work gave him the relevant experience, but how his approach for Seattle would not be limited by his past approaches. Lee Copeland, perhaps Seattle’s most respected urbanist, would lead the Mithun team that would be supporting Field Operations.
Michael Van Valkenburgh installed confidence with his grasp of not only the design issues, but also the complexities of the future stewardship of the waterfront, and how to strategically leverage engineering, finance, and operations into a design would lead to a smart solution. A sample of his approach was the inclusion of Peter Steinbrueck on his team, former City Council member and architect who knows firsthand the politics and operational opportunities and limitations of Seattle’s public will.
Finally, the team of Gustafson Guthrie Nichol led by Shannon Nichol was the home town favorite. Their team was no less impressive than those that preceded them, and their approach was equally unique. Relating a methodology that is familiar to their work, there was an emphasis on the cultural and oftentimes intangible qualities of place making, and the role that historical memory can play in setting the foundation for building the future. Leslie Bain, of Weinstein A+U, is on the team. Along with Dennis Haskell, Lee Copeland, and Peter Steinbrueck, Leslie is a long time advocate and defender of urban design quality in Seattle.
Last night represented a watershed event in the history of Seattle, and was the culmination of many years of effort by hundreds of individuals to chart a new course for the city, and the Puget Sound. Whether or not one agrees with the particular transportation solution of replacing the viaduct with a tunnel, it is clear that our quality of life, ecology, and civic engagement is finally at the forefront of the publics’ and politicians’ concerns.
In an unprecedented move, the city will choose the design team first, who will then go on to aid in choosing the engineering team – a reversal in order for large infrastructure projects where it is the prime (engineer), leads the efforts and therefore chooses the design consultants. As someone who played a small role in this effort, I can only imagine the sheer joy and emotion that those who have led the efforts over the years – including those mentioned above and numerous others – felt when they participated in watching four well qualified teams, with distinct visions, share their visions for a better Seattle.