Freeway Park

Designers: Lawrence Halprin | City: Seattle, WA | Project Type: highway, plazas, linear park, modernist
Date Visited: 12.30.12

Locations: 700 Seneca St Seattle, WA
Size: 5.2-acre
Official Opening Date: July 4, 1976

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The first park built over a highway, Freeway Park stretches over Interstate 5 in downtown Seattle. A distinctly Halprin-esque work, this 5.2 acre park is one of the most recognizable post-war landscape architecture works, notable for its concrete abstraction of natural landscapes. Opened to the public in 1976, Freeway Park is a largely collaborative work designed by Lawrence Halprin & Associates and Angela Danadjieva—they previously worked together on Portland’s Auditorium Forecourt—and seeks to create a ‘metaphoric landscape’ through a series of irregularly shaped concrete plazas.

Weaving over a garage and under a street, Freeway Park uses terracing to play with levels and is composed of three main areas: the Central Plaza, East Plaza, and West Plaza, each space connected by a common palette of concrete materials and broadleaf evergreen plantings. The park also features cascading waterfalls, moveable seating, and zig zag concrete pathways.

The concrete Canyon waterfall is my favorite part of the park. It’s also the defining feature that instantly brings Halprin’s name to mind. Though it was turned off for winter on my visit, when the fountain is on, 27,000 gallons of water recirculate each minute through the concrete structures, creating a dramatic waterfall that helps to mask the noise of surrounding traffic. Descending down the steps into the towering concrete canyon walls transported me back to the memory of hiking through the stepped canyons of Death Valley National Park. With the water off, I was able to climb atop the various concrete structures and examine the staggered geometry of the site: a bright, thin layer of moss coated shady concrete faces; the height of the walls led the eye up towards the sky and nearby skyscrapers; the feeling of enclosure heightened my spatial awareness. When the fountain is on, it’s likely you’d never notice a freeway actually ran beneath the park.

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