By the time you’ve climbed the gentle slope of Seattle’s Olympic Sculpture Park, you’ve passed through four classic Northwest landscapes—–valley, forest, meadow, and beach—–and been treated to staggering views of Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains, and the city’s impressive skyline. Oh, yeah, and some pretty good sculptures by Alexander Calder and Richard Serra vie for your attention along the way.
Dramatic as the park is today, the site didn’t look very promising in 2001 when architects Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi were hired to unite three disconnected parcels on the edge of downtown into a new setting for the Seattle Art Museum’s outdoor sculpture collection. Not only were the strips of land separated by a four-lane road and a railroad line, the drop between the residential neighbor-hood at the top and the waterfront down below was a daunting 40 feet.
Rather than try to link the three levels with stairs or bridges, the New York–based architects made the connecting structure into the park itself. A broad, continuous ramp slaloms across the nine-acre site, effortlessly unifying the three parcels and making you forget about that annoying auto and rail traffic under your feet. As with all good parks, people can enter from several different places.
Many U.S. cities are struggling with the very same problem Seattle faced: how to reconnect their downtowns to historic waterfronts cut off long ago by highways. The zigzagging Olympic Sculpture Park shows them the path to a most elegant solution.