Freeway Park, Seattle

I had the opportunity to visit Jim Ellis Freeway Park in downtown Seattle last June – an iconic public space designed by landscape architects Lawrence Halprin & Angela Danadjieva. It was the first park built over a freeway, and was conceived as a means of re-connecting neighborhoods that were severed from the downtown when Interstate 5 was built. The original section of the park was opened on July 4, 1976 – the nation’s bicentennial.

The park’s structures were designed in the brutalist style that was in vogue at the time, including board-formed concrete walls, planters, and fountain elements. Also, Halprin envisioned the character of this space as “freeway vernacular” (hence the emphasis on concrete), while representing the region’s mountain ranges with the various heights and shapes of the fountain structures. Waterfalls were a large part of the fountains during the early years of the park, and effectively masked the noise from vehicular traffic on the freeway below. However, due to maintenance and safety concerns, some of the fountains were shut off in more recent years. When I visited, no water was running, and I don’t know whether the fountains are turned on at all during the summer.

Plantings throughout the park were also designed to help mask freeway noise and to reduce vehicular pollution. The plant communities represent those typically found in the natural areas of the nearby mountains, and include many mature trees and broadleaf evergreen shrubs.

Urban parks built in this style in the decades following World War II have often suffered from neglect in recent years, but this space seems to be relatively well-maintained and appreciated, at least for now. I hope the interest and support for Freeway Park will persist into the future.


Main fountain structure in Freeway Park


Typical zig-zag walkway with seating


One of several park entrances


Smaller fountain structure next to one of the park’s plazas


Typical seating design


Main fountain structure, sans water

Photos by Alice Webb

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Mimicking Nature

I have been fascinated by the Fibonacci ratio, particularly since this pattern occurs so frequently in the natural world. Its proportions can be seen in the spacing of joints in the human fingers, the arrangement of seeds in a sunflower, and the spiral of a nautilus shell, for example. The numerical sequence begins with 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, and continues indefinitely – each number is the sum of the two previous numbers (as illustrated in the first image below). It can be theorized that many of these patterns have evolved for efficiency: to maximize the number of leaves, seeds, etc., that are exposed to sunlight. This ratio is also very pleasing to the eye, and has therefore been used in various types of design.
 
Landscape architects sometimes incorporate Fibonacci proportions in their projects through a variety of means, such as with pavement design, scaling of spaces, and object/plant groupings. In many cases, these designs have focused on numbers and rectilinear shapes, although the spiral has also been used in artistic ways. A couple examples of the rectilinear usage of this ratio include Dan Kiley’s design for NationsBank Plaza in Tampa, Florida; and Lawrence Halprin’s scheme of structural spaces at Riverbank Park, in Flint, Michigan. An example of a spiral design in the landscape is shown below (last image).

1 - Fibonacci sequence
The Fibonacci ratio and associated spiral

2 - Ammi visnaga or majus
A beautiful example of Fibonacci spirals in False Queen Anne’s Lace

3 - peacock
The “eyes” of the peafowl’s feathers spiral in toward the bird in Fibonacci proportions.

4 - Aloe polyphylla Schönland ex Pillans
Aloe polyphylla – Photo credit: J. Brew

5 - weaving - fibonacci sequence
Fibonacci numbers were used in this woven scarf to create a transition from one color to the next.

6 - handrail - fibonacci spiral
Fibonacci spiral in a railing detail

7 - The Core - Eden Project
The Core education center, Eden Project, in Cornwall, U.K., was designed using Fibonacci proportions and spirals. Photo credit: Pauline Eccles

8 - Spiral Fountain, Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia
Spiral Fountain in Darling Harbour, Sydney, Australia – Photo credit: Greg O’Beirne
 
All photos and images not credited otherwise were taken/created by Alice Webb. Photos by others were obtained from Wikimedia Commons.

Halprin Parks of Portland

Lawrence Halprin (1916-2009) was a prominent American landscape architect who designed many modernist parks, plazas, fountains, and other projects, primarily in the 1960s and 1970s. Many of his works feature poured-in-place concrete forms and running water that represent natural elements and processes. In Portland, Oregon, Halprin’s firm designed a series of three public spaces, which I visited in May of this year. The water in the fountains had been turned off at that time, but presumably would be back on during the summer months, since the fountains are meant to be accessible.

Sadly, some notable modernist landscapes have been poorly-maintained and at risk of demolition and re-design. Several of Halprin’s works have been threatened in this manner, but The Cultural Landscape Foundation has brought attention to these and other endangered landscapes through its Landslide education campaign. So far, Halprin’s Portland parks have not been considered at-risk.


Keller Fountain Park: The design of the Ira Keller Fountain (water turned off at time of photo) was inspired by the waterfalls of the Colombia River Gorge.


Keller Fountain Park: The fountain was designed to be accessible and therefore has 36” safety barriers along the edges.


Pettygrove Park includes this sculpture called “The Dreamer” by Manuel Izquierdo. In summer the pool surrounding the sculpture is filled with water.


Pettygrove Park features circular and curvilinear forms, and includes numerous grass mounds.


Lovejoy Fountain Park: Fountain and “stepping stones” (water turned off)


Lovejoy Fountain Park: The lower pool of the fountain is in foreground, with modernist-style buildings lining the east edge of the park.


Pleasant pedestrian walkways connect the Halprin parks in Portland.

Photos by Alice Webb