Save the Viaduct! (Or At Least a Piece of It)


A DJC article published on July 1 considered the design of Seattle’s waterfront post-Viaduct. Its central premise is that the design of the public space should happen before the alignment of the surface road is determined. Makes sense. This is a rare opportunity to create a space that can take advantage of all the waterfront has to offer in creating a vibrant and interesting public space rather than just trying to fit something in the space that is leftover from road construction, as is often the case. It’s worth a read…

One thing mentioned in the article, and something that I’ve been thinking about lately, is retaining a portion of the to-be-demolished Viaduct as a historical reference and interesting sculptural feature. The article mentions that Buster Simpson, a public artist, and Jack Mackie, an architect, have proposed saving some columns and partial beams as an “urban ruin”. I would take this further and suggest preserving a section large enough to function as an elevated open space and viewing platform (think the NYC High Line, see below). Certainly tearing down the Viaduct has the potential to create an amazing waterfront public space, but the opportunities for increasing open views of the Sound and the mountains beyond are limited by the numerous privately held properties lining the waterfront. Having more elevated viewing opportunities mayhelp address this fact. Victor Steinbrueck Park, and a couple spots in the Market, are among the few elevated public areas where people can take in views of the Sound. As we all know from driving north on the Viaduct, it is high enough to provide some stunning views (I have to admit I will miss that).

Dan’s image of the Viaduct actually provides a good illustration of an ideal location to preserve a section of the Viaduct (doubtless there are others). Thus, I stole it and unsophisticatedly overlaid a green oval to indicate a section of Viaduct that could be retained – adjacent to a non-descript Public Storage building, which will undoubtedly go away as significant (re)development occurs along the waterfront. In addition to providing views out towards the Sound and Olympic Mountains, this location also would afford views north along what will hopefully be an inspiringly designed public space. There may also be opportunities to integrate a new building with the structure that would help provide access to the space, and maybe have uses that can take advantage of the views.  At street level any number of activities could occur that could complement the waterfront public space and take advantage of the shelter offered by the old vestige such as café seating, vendor spaces, and maybe a stage for performances. Abundant vegetation growing up the columns and draping from above could be juxtaposed with a jagged edge of rebar and concrete left by the wrecking ball to give the effect of an “urban ruin” being overtaken by nature.

Could be good. Any other imaginative ideas?


The High Line in NYC (Image by AMNP)

17 Responses to “Save the Viaduct! (Or At Least a Piece of It)”

  1. S Geiser

    Not to toot my own horn too much, but I proposed a very similar project as part of a recent UW/Seattle design studio. Although I referred to it as a relic instead of a ruin and located it a bit further South near Pioneer Square, I still think an elevated park would make for an iconic public amenity. It would also be a shame if the viaduct were completely wiped from the history of Seattle, as burdensome as it may currently be.

    My project is on pg28-29 of

  2. Chrispy

    This is a very cool idea. It would be even better if they could find a way to include just a bit of the upper deck as well. Perhaps a span or two, but with no public access, simply to show the scale of the behemoth.

  3. MJH

    @ 1
    very nice work! I think your proposed location and concept makes a lot of sense. how i miss those days when countless hours may be spent on a project (sigh)

  4. Adam Parast

    I don’t know how practical this is, I think it is somewhat out there, but it would be interesting to see if the existing structure could be paired down (to brighten up the space below it) but still maintain the continuous corridor and use it as a linear park or bicycle path. The city or allied arts should host a waterfront design competition to try to envision what this space should look like before it is too late.

  5. Matt the Engineer

    I love the idea. But access should be from 1st, and there should be stairs down. Make it a path instead of a destination to keep it active. I’d even love to see a downtown street exit (the one next to DJC?) kept as pedestrian access to it.

  6. Seattle Waterfront Homes

    Great idea. I will miss the viaduct, the Elliott Bay views travelling Northbound are the best commute you could ask for. A stairway up to a 2 story elevated platform would still provide great views of the Seattle waterfront and not impede the rest of the development.

  7. eldan

    It definitely needs to be a path. I walked the length of Paris’s Promenade Plantee last year, and it’s wonderful, but I think Matt the Engineer is absolutely right – spaces like this only work when enough people have a reason to pass through to (a) discover them serendipitously and (b) provide a baseline level of non-shady traffic.

    Done right, this could be wonderful.

  8. alexjonlin

    I like the idea of saving a little of it, but definitely not the whole length, like the High Line. We went to all this trouble to reclaim our Waterfront and I don’t want it to just stay the same, with a bike path instead of a freeway! Keep maybe a half-block of it for historical reference, and demolish the rest. Can’t wait til our waterfront is nice again!

  9. alexjonlin

    S Geiser,
    Those ideas are all awesome! I wish they could all be implemented. If they all were, Pioneer Square and the International District would be much nicer.

  10. old timer

    If the chunk that includes the Seneca St. exit could be saved, not only the great views but access to First Av. could be maintained.
    A bit of creative landscaping and a few surveillance cams, and – there’s a park!

  11. wes kirkman

    Could offer this idea to current property owners or hold a design competition to redevelop a neighboring parcel, working the structure into the features of the building.

  12. Saving a Piece of Ugly Something for Something Beautiful - Seattle Transit Blog

    […] to ensure the remove of the heinous waterfront Alaskan Way Viaduct, perhaps a piece of it should linger. For history. For a park. For a big, beautiful sculpture. For a multi-story illustration of the […]

  13. Adam Parast

    For those that aren’t familiar with The Highline here is a great video about the design.

  14. Alan

    The High Line has been almost universally well-received in New York City. It could work in Seattle as well!

  15. Jarrett at

    I recall several urbanists proposing this when the demolition of the Embarcadero Freeway in SF was being planned. The idea of making it a path was quickly dismissed, as this required saving too much of it, retaining too much of the obstructing qualities that people hated. So there was a last proposal to just keep one cross section: a pair of pillars with the crossbeams where the road was, with rebar and torn concrete sticking out of it. I think the intent was to horrify, rather like a war memorial.

    It didn’t happen. It would have been just too big, I think, and nobody is good at sifting very recent history to determine what’s heritage.

  16. Alex

    SAVE THE VIADUCT. I think this is an incredible idea, and I hope that politicians are listening to this idea…

  17. tylerinws

    Do it, do it, do it. It will look great and keep the the great history of the raised bridge.

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