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Seattle Municipal Civic Center Master Plan
June 1999

Back To Table of Contents :: On To Section 2: Background

Section 1 - Introduction

Creating a vision for the Civic Center provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to bring to life a new heart for our city - a legacy for future generations that can inspire a physical and philosophical relationship between citizens and their government. A vision and a set of principles have been already agreed upon as a starting point for the plan, confirming that the Civic Center is based on a 100-year vision, that it optimizes public access to events and city services, and that it creates varied and comfortable public spaces belonging to the citizens of Seattle.

We begin with a dramatic site, stretching across multiple city blocks, to craft into a new landmark for public discourse and public celebration of our common life. To meet this challenge, we begin with fundamental assumptions that will direct the physical form of the space.

The Civic Center is primarily about public life.

While the Civic Center includes offices for elected officials and staff, the plan must emphasize the citizenry and access to government over bureaucratic function. The Civic Center should provide multiple spaces with multiple functions - inviting and active indoor and outdoor spaces, large scale gathering areas designed to encourage public speech, and intimate spaces for conversation. The Council Chambers should be visible and identifiable; community meeting spaces and reception areas should be inviting and easy to find. In all decisions regarding the design of the Civic Center, public space should be the highest priority.

Bring in the sun.

Maximizing light and sunshine in the open space and buildings is clearly a high priority in our climate.

Celebrate the slope.

The topography of downtown sets Seattle apart from nearly every other city. The drama of a seventy foot grade change over two blocks should be fully exploited in the design of the Civic Center. The slope should not be simply resolved by blank facades and garage entries, but shaped with amphitheater seating and terraced gardens, highlighted with cascading water, and accentuated with an interplay of angled topography and horizontal surfaces required for human inhabitation. Emphasizing the slope will do more than anything else to create a unique and truly regional Civic Center.

Activate the public space.

The amount, quality, and variety of activity in the public space will be the test of the Civic Centers success. We believe that it is critical that the open space be associated with buildings, forming and enlivening the edge where mutual benefit can occur between outdoor and indoor spaces. We believe that attachment to buildings is also necessary to an open space that functions well into the evening. Without this activation, the new public space will become a detriment rather than an asset to the city.

Views for the public have priority.

The views and vistas are highly valued in our city. The public spaces should have sweeping views over the open space out toward the water and the mountains. Oblique views from all offices are preferable to reserving western views for half of the offices.

Extend the urban edge of Cherry Street.

Striking historic facades line much of Cherry Street. We have chosen to continue the street line of these irreplaceable buildings, and challenge the architects of the Civic Center to match the quality of these facades and extend the quality of the urban streetscape.

Integrate the Municipal Courts into the composition.

The new Municipal Courts building has a special place as the highest portion of the slope, and should be included as an integral part of the campus.

Showcase sustainable design.

The Civic Center is an opportunity for the City of Seattle to set a new standard of sustainable design. Sustainable design joins the highest positive regard for our quality of life with the least ecological consequences to our environment, balancing economic, social, and environmental factors. Sustainability can and should be considered an opportunity for better design. In the Civic Center, sustainability should be integrated with all design decisions and readable in the architecture through visible concern for our regions resources and a high quality of life.

Make a positive gesture to a Government Center.

The design of the Civic Center should offer the opportunity for a broader government center to evolve, including the King County properties south of James Street. The placement of open spaces and buildings should encourage the evolution of a cordial physical relationship of City and County functions reflecting a spirit of cooperation in regional government. The County should be challenged to support the philosophical basis of the Civic Center design principles in their adjacent facilities by keeping active uses as street level and contributing to a well landscaped and accessible precinct.

The preferred scheme for the Master Plan has evolved from these assumptions, and are presented in this report for your consideration. We look forward to a spirited discussion that will lead us to a bold vision for the Civic Center.

Back To Table of Contents :: On To Section 2: Background