Slow place making in Seattle
To me, architecture is very much about making places more than spaces and technology (yes, despite this blog’s focus on architectural technology). I'd like to share a great article about a remarkable place, the Collonade Bike Park project in Seattle. A landscape developed over years in a leftover, urban space, the deeply-shaded underbelly of an elevated section of Seattle’s I-5 freeway. It is user-driven slow architecture and the authors compares its becoming with Baroque gardening that happens over centuries.
The project is the slow development of a bike park, built by volunteers and using only scrap materials collected bit by bit (or load by load). - The park has taken four years to build and is on-going.
About this ‘Future Baroque’, the authors Rob Holmes and Brett Milligan, write:
“But, as appealing as it is, the lo-fi aesthetic of these pragmatic and hand-made constructions is not the most important lesson of the Park. What Colonnade Park suggests is a re-orientation of the practice of landscape architecture away from faceless capital and towards creative and vested labor; away from design elitism and towards the participation of the users of a landscape in its construction; and away from standardization and mechanization towards difference, variability and the instantiated volition of the individual laborer.”
As examples of aspects for a successful future baroque (user-involved) project, the authors name three factors that made the Bike Project possible:
- Someone had to recognize the latent potential of those couple of abandoned acres beneath I-5. In this case, that someone was a local bike shop owner and used the place anyway, sheltered from the Seattle weather.
- The site had no commercial value - in fact, the shadowed space was considered a safety hazard by the future park’s neighbors. The mere increase in safety for the neighbors was thus considered a benefit and aided the project to come through.
- The volunteers were specialists: the volunteers are experienced bikers who wanted to ride in the future park themselves. They possessed an innate and specific understanding of the physical geometry of the future uses of the park.
Baroque fabric-formed architecture
I constantly deal with a paradox when discussing the future of fabric formwork for concrete. On one hand, the craftsmanship involved in the process of construction is what shows as the direct relation between principles, techniques, and material, on the other hand, this slow and low-tech architecture is simply too exclusive in its slowness and thus too expensive for conventional and industrialized construction, at least in the context of Northern Europe’s high cost labor. The issue of scale and time is at stake.
Meanwhile there are important and parallel investigations in construction, making things happening using community labor as well as scrap materials. In our reality in which raw materials are becoming scarce, dealing with waste is becoming gold - the economy of recycled or reused material is immense and, at least in the Bike Park project, its pragmatic aesthetics is wonderful on a number of levels because it is so closely connected to its place-making abilities and the result of something more.
As the article suggests: "the labor of knowledgeable and motivated ecological hobbyists could transform gardening from an individualistic and primarily ornamental practice into a communal effort, cultivating whole and diversified cities. Labor, which like the volunteer labor that built Colonnade Park, is uniquely motivated, local, and capable of imbuing its work with creative intent, falls outside the typical boundaries of landscape architecture as ‘professionally practiced’. And as these vested pools of labor fuse user, designer and builder they are more invested and broadly knowledgeable of its future use and how it will be occupied than the wage laborers of capital projects, opening diverse realms of possibility for the design of urban landscapes." via
[By the way, Yay – this is my blogpost number 100]