Seattle to the World: Olympic Sculpture Park

An Inspired Solution for Restoration, Culture and Public Space


The story:
The Olympic Sculpture Park is a triumph for Seattle for several reasons. The beautiful waterfront trail, free to the public all year round, gives pedestrians and cyclists a relaxed and open place for recreation within steps of downtown. It offers access to contemporary art as well as gorgeous views of Elliott Bay, Puget Sound, the working waterfront, the Olympic mountains, and even Mt. Rainier.

The park's history, however, is another lesson to the world. Born out of a collaboration between the Seattle Art Museum and the Trust for Public Land, the Sculpture Park is a wonderful example of the revitalization of an urban brownfield.

The process for creating the park involved a comprehensive restoration of the land with long-term goals in mind. Landscape designers recreated the original topography to encourage native species to return, and a specially engineered layer of soil was laid to filter rainwater, reduce runoff and support the re-growth of carefully chosen native plants. Restoration of the shoreline provided a habitat that nurtures salmon while strengthening the seawall. (Read more about the history, view interactive maps and more on this excellent resource from The Seattle Times.)

And the Olympic Sculpture Park continues to promote sustainability for Puget Sound in a variety of ways. In partnership with Seattle Public Utilities and the King Conservation District, and with the support of several other local environmental and academic institutions, the SAM continues to monitor the beach restoration. And by hosting discussions and events as well as regular volunteer cleanup days and other opportunities for enjoying, learning and taking action, the Olympic Sculpture Park has become a living testament to the reasons for protecting the Sound, and the very real possibilities of doing so.

Why it's Worldchanging:
There are many ways to use previously contaminated or developed lands – for new industrial space, or even for residential infill projects. But by restoring the land with a public resource that seamlessly blends the built environment of downtown with a healthy and meticulously maintained natural environment, the Olympic Sculpture Park shows that urban life and the natural world can be mutually respectful and even complementary. The park brings necessary environmental education to the public, while providing free psychological nourishment in the form of art and natural views. And the SAM's leadership in crafting such an elegant solution is admirable, showcasing the opportunity – and the need -- for cultural institutions to invest in our planet's future, whether their mission is science, art, education or otherwise. The Olympic Sculpture Park is an example of our treasured waterfront at its very best, and we hope to see more thoughtful development like it in the future.

The site before the park was built. Photo credit: The Seattle Times

Scenes from the park today. Photo credit: Benjamin Benshneider Photography, courtesy of the Seattle Art Museum

Photo credit: Benjamin Benshneider Photography, courtesy of the Seattle Art Museum

Photo credit: flickr/C4Chaos, Creative Commons license

Photo credit: Benjamin Benshneider Photography, courtesy of the Seattle Art Museum

Photo credit: flickr/C4Chaos, Creative Commons license


This post is part of the series, "Seattle to the World: 100 Best Innovations from the Emerald City."


Please post the names of the sculptors.

Posted by: s on October 8, 2008 7:12 PM

Sculptors whose work is part of the OSP permanent collection include Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder, Anthony Caro, Mark di Suvero, Mark Dion, Teresita Fernández, Ellsworth Kelly, Roy McMakin, Louise Nevelson, Claes Oldenburb and Coosje van Bruggen, Roxy Paine, Beverly Pepper, Richard Serra and Tony Smith. Read more detailed information on the artists and the sculptures here.

Posted by: Julia Levitt on October 9, 2008 10:33 AM

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