Circuits Beneath the Freeway

[flow lines of ramps, berms, drops and various home-spun earth retaining systems beneath the I-5 freeway]

While in Seattle this past weekend I had the chance to make a brief stop by the city’s Colonnade Park.  Given it’s size, I managed to cover about half of the accentuated terrain (on foot) built into the underbelly of the I-5.

The  brilliance of the park’s siting becomes obvious when you are immersed in it: the steep and jumbled topography; the formerly barren and listless ground in the shadow of the overpass; the industrial cathedral that serves as ready-made shelter for the 9-out-of-12 soggy months of the Northwest climate; and perhaps the most critical factor – the challenges and indifference towards such spaces – which allowed for it to be co-opted into something else equally unique and unpolished.

[storage shed built into a ramp and elevated planks]

It hard not to be enamored by the successful and improvised gestalt of the whole thing, in both program and materials.  Much of what it is made of was donated or recycled from demolition projects around the city.  And typical off-the-shelf items, like permeable waffle pavers (above), have been retooled as robust and removable cellular confinement systems.  All the pieces of the circuits have this hand-made, custom quality that is site + multiple user specific.

One comes away with the impression that the park will keep remaking itself incrementally, over and over again.  Pieces and segments will be modified as they wear out, with new experiments being plugged in as desired.  It seems that the builders and volunteers that have constructed it might actually be a little forlorn if the park were ever fully finished.


  1. This is brilliant! I imagine San Francisco’s riders would love to see something like this here. I hope the city encourages them (or at least ignores them).

  2. nice reporting, brett. love it.
    the good thing about this landscape, and the cultural practice that creates it, is i don’t even feel the need to go see and it; I’m just glad it’s out there, like Sam Elliot says of The Dude.

  3. Pamela Zwehl-Burke · ·

    Your picturing this astonishing “amateur” design is poetic and stunning. I don’t NEED to see it in situ, but O what an amazing find. You’ve collaborated to bring it into view — thanks!

  4. What everyone else said. I also think there’s a really instructive contrast to be drawn between this and, say, the High Line, in terms of the ability to enter a messy urban space and amplify rather than parody or imitate the qualities that make the landscape so appealing.

  5. What you said.

  6. namhenderson · ·

    My curiosity would be given that you write One comes away with the impression that the park will keep remaking itself incrementally, over and over again. how this park was and is continuously developed. Clicking on the link leads me to believe the park is designed, run and managed by an all volunteer force? OR is it more directly supported/managed by the city. I am wondering how issues like liability were (or aren’t addressed). Is this totally ad hoc?

  7. The liability question is an interesting one. It seems atypical parks like these, which entail bodily risk (similar to Portland’s skate park beneath the Burnside Bridge) only come about because of a praoctive constituency that takes ownership (a sort of citizen eminent domain, if you will) of a derilect space that the city has largely ignored. I don’t know the details of how this park came to be, but I did hear it was a struggle to make it happen. What I find particularly interesting is that the main challenge in manifesting new programs for public space lies in getting them started (i.e. cutting through the red tape, ordinances, liability, etc.). Once they get past that hurdle, they usually seem to build themselves and operate remarkably well.

  8. This could be done under the Northern State Pkwy by Alley Pond Park in Queens, NY.

  9. under the scajaquada expressway in buffalo would be purrrrfect !!

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