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As part of an ongoing effort to make content more accessible, LAM will be making select stories available to readers in Spanish. For a full list of translated articles, please click here.

BY RANDY GRAGG

FROM THE MARCH 2018 ISSUE OF LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE MAGAZINE.

 

A city of hilltops and lakes bracketed by two mountain ranges, Seattle owns a surplus of views. But none quite matches the grandness of the Rainier Vista. John Charles Olmsted captured it in his plan for the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, guiding the era’s standard, plaster-and-wood City Beautiful architecture to frame Mount Rainier in a compressed perspective sliced through the thick forest. As the University of Washington, the site’s owner, grew, it kept the vista as a front yard, building its early collegiate gothic edifices to bracket the burly 14,400-foot volcano. Take that, Ivy League.

But then came the era of the auto and midcentury campus planning.

Olmsted shaped the grand axis as the exposition’s entrance from railroad and ferry stops at its foot. But he sketched nothing beyond the great fair’s grounds. Thus the view’s foreground became a visual ellipsis petering out in the forest and marshes beyond. That lower terminus (known as the Montlake Triangle) and its surroundings sprouted a clutter of buildings and infrastructure: widening roads, giant underground pipes for steam and sewage, and a barely buried parking garage. As UW’s medical research arm grew into one of the country’s most muscular, a second campus of beige, Lego-set buildings rose at the vista’s end. And as the UW Huskies became a Pac-12 football powerhouse, their stadium surged to the east with 70,000 seats and home-game Saturdays that clog the surrounding roads for miles. Meantime, the onetime Burlington Northern Railroad at the vista’s foot in 1978 became one of the country’s first and busiest rail-to-trail paths, the Burke-Gilman Trail. But the university plowed a service road down the vista’s midsection.

“The surroundings became the boring-edge, white-space infrastructure area, a surplus space,” says Shannon Nichol, FASLA, a cofounder of GGN, the firm given the job to resuscitate Rainier Vista. “The view ended like a foggy distance in a painting rather than being really designed as valuable space. There was nothing interesting coming out of the land.” (more…)

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