Locations: 2101 N Northlake Way, Seattle, WA, 98103
Official Opening Date: 1975
Gas Works Park is one of the best known and beloved post-industrial landscape projects in North America. The seminal project of landscape architect Richard Haag’s career, this iconic park was awarded the ASLA Presidential Award for Design Excellence.
Opened to the public in the 1970s, a period that oversaw the growth of the environmental movement, the adaptation of a toxic industrial site into a public park was highly controversial, particularly so because of Haag’s inclusion of the aging gas refinery as part of the design. Today, however, Gas Works Park is praised as a progressive example of adaptive reuse and has become one of the most popular recreation facilities in the Seattle area today with a panoramic view of downtown Seattle.
The history of the site dates back to 1906, when the Seattle Gas Company constructed a plant on the shores of Lake Union to extract gas from coal. Seattle’s early development was strongly fueled by its lucrative coal exports and in the late 19th century, coal bunkers lined the waterfront. When the Seattle Gas Company plant was shut down in 1956, the refinery towers were left in place and the area fenced off due to heavy ground contamination. Seven years later, as the city of Seattle was in the process of making payments to acquire the land for a park, “Haag submitted the site as a design problem in a national competition in landscape architecture for undergraduate students. The fact that not one of the 130 proposed designs involved saving the plant’s old towers reflects the prevailing mindset at that time: everyone assumed the structures would be demolished and the site restored to a conventional, “natural” state.”
Haag, however, managed to successfully convince the city to preserve the existing structures. He was also commended for the development of a bioremediation method to detoxify the topsoil on-site, rather than removing and importing new soil.
Along with the industrial relics of the former coal gasification plant—Richard Haag referred to “’thinning the forest’ to describe how he edited the conglomeration of industrial towers, stacks, pipes, and sheds”—the 19 acre park also features a large play barn, sundial, Great Earth Mound summit (constructed from on-site excavated material), and the beautiful panoramic view of downtown Seattle.