Since the genesis of cities, public space has acted as a social incubator for human exchange. These plazas, squares, and parks have not only given people an area for recreation and leisure but have also set the stage for revolutions, demonstrations, memorials, and celebrations. With the age of telecommunication, the world has been able to witness historic events taking place in large public spaces - for instance, the television coverage of the unity between soldiers and civilians in Red Square during the fall of the Soviet Union. Most recently through social media, the world has seen a new and immediate type of information exchange. It arguably facilitated the rise of the Arab Spring, the physical manifestation of which played out at Tahrir Square for all to see and indeed, to virtually participate. To paraphrase the famous saying, the revolution has not only been televised, it will in future be interactive.
The paradox of technological advancement has been that while we may now connect instantaneously with people all over the globe, there has been a corresponding decline in the use of public space for this and other forms of social interaction. Use of social media and the web takes place mostly in the private domain. We see the potential for public space to regain its meaning as social incubator, embracing the new virtual technologies of communication while maintaining the traditional personal connection which comes from gathering on common ground.
Our proposal for Seattle Center is inspired by its history as first, a sacred clearing in the forest for the gathering of Native Americans; second, as a place where in 1962 the future of communication was imagined at the World’s Fair; and third, as a place of encounter at the heart of a city renowned for its progressive ideals. We envision a new interface through which people experience the city of Seattle and its connection to the world. We see the park as a portal for seeing out and for looking in, recognizing the notion that in the 21st century, public space in a city contains a small bit of the public space of every other.
Existing anchors in the immediate and larger site symbolize both the paradox and the opportunity. Our proposal weaves the adjacent urban fabric into the green, merging the edge with the space contained and beginning to suggest a new network of connection, physical and virtual, for Seattle, the country, and the world. We have programmed a system of three layers to achieve this:
- A network of pedestrian paths which traverse the site and unify the campus buildings. This consists of diagonal paths providing direct local links as well as meandering walkways extending far beyond the park boundaries to capture pedestrians from elsewhere in the city.
- A three-dimensional ribbon forming sculptural frames and counterpoints to the iconic Space Needle and the natural phenomenon of Mount Rainier in the distance. The ribbon changes on its trajectory through the park to become roof and wall, continuously streaming news and information.
- A grouping of small circular micro-plazas where the paths and ribbons converge. Here, interactive devices communicate with other parks and plazas in Seattle and with similar modules in international capitals. Through a series of sensors, an abstract expression of activity taking place in the city is broadcast on LED monitors. Where the ribbons touch the ground, a gigantic faceted tactile Wall surface becomes the portal to the world, undulating at the touch of a fingertip and amplifying the motion to its counterpart across the globe. People can literally shake hands across an ocean.
The Century 21 masterplan was taken as the point of departure for addressing the park’s future goals while allowing for a new concept to be implemented throughout the area. Parking is located below grade allowing for both bus and automobile access. The football stadium has been reconfigured to create a backdrop for the new composition. The open park design allows for various uses and configurations from football and soccer games to festivals, political speeches, rallies, celebrations, picnics, and leisure activities.