(Click image to view the photo album)
The Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle is a beautiful place. The 8.5 acre park sits alongside Elliott Bay, overlooking the Puget Sound, islands and the Olympic Mountains to the west, downtown Seattle to the south and the Space Needle to the east. The site is divided by a major street, railroad tracks and a bike path and yet appears seamlessly connected. The nearly nine acres brilliantly blend art, landscaping, views and native plant gardens by connecting a variety of landscapes. It’s a unique park, free and open to the public, but it’s owned and managed by the Seattle Art Museum (SAM).
The site has an interesting history starting in 1910 with Union Oil of California establishing a transfer facility as well as fuel storage. After years of use the site suffered from contaminated soil and ground water and had to go through a large cleanup effort headed by the Washington Department of Ecology, which began in the 1990′s and lasted 10 years. During the cleanup effort, 120,000 tons of contaminated soil were removed. A layer of engineered soil, three-feet thick, was added to the site. This soil slows down runoff, more-so than normal soil would, and allows the water more time to infiltrate in an attempt to replicate the site prior to development. The tree canopy as well as the dense undergrowth also aids in slowing the rainwater runoff by retaining it on the leaves and giving time for evaporation. If you’re interested in what the site looked like over time, the Seattle Times has a great feature on their website going back as far as the 1850′s.
SAM and the Trust for Public Land worked together in a partnership to acquire the site despite negotiations already underway for condominiums. Through a variety of donors, some large and some having never donated to the art museum, $16.5 million was raised in public funding for the site by 1999. The New York Times has a fascinating, in-depth article about the early stages, including fundraising in their article, Where Money’s No Object, Space Is No Problem. In 2001 SAM hired Weiss/Manfredi, an interdisciplinary design firm based in New York City, to design the park. Construction started in 2005 and in January of 2007 the park opened to the public. Continue reading »