When Interstate 5 was cut through Seattle’s hilly terrain, it created a chasm that physically divided the city’s downtown neighborhoods. Aware of Halprin’s 1966 book, Freeways, Seattle officials approached Halprin’s office to design a park that would reconnect the city. The design used air rights to develop a seven-block “lid” over the interstate.
The park contains a series of plazas that are unified through a design palette including board-formed concrete planters and evergreens. The plantings were selected to reconnect the city dweller with the regional forested landscape. The plazas are differentiated through varying water features, from a calm pool to a cascading “canyon” fountain. It is widely recognized as the first park to have been built over a freeway.
A decade ago the park was listed by TCLF as a Landslide site because of activation proposals that would have demolished several of the concrete retaining walls and removed or significantly altered two of the original fountains. This came on the heels of the steady erosion of several key design elements. Today the site’s future has improved and the Freeway Park Association, established in 1993 and operating in cooperation with Seattle Parks and Recreation, is helping build a broader base of support for the park as a key downtown open space. This year, the iconic Canyon Fountain's mechanical system will be rehabilitated. A tour organized this year as part of TCLF’s What’s Out There Weekend program will become an annual event.
Moving forward, Seattle Parks and Recreation, working with the Freeway Park Association, should build their capacity to recognize, honor and steward Halprin’s groundbreaking authorship of Freeway Park. In addition, as the first capped park over a freeway, this is likely not only eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, but following that recognition, this is a possible National Historic Landmark (NHL) candidate, and as a progenitor of a landscape typology and the work of a master, future pursuit of a World Heritage Site should not be out of the question.
Leitz is a Seattle, Washington-based photographer specializing in architecture and interiors. His clients include a growing number of the West Coast’s leading design firms, and his work has been featured in a wide range of publications including Interiors Magazine, Luxe Interiors and Design, The Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times.