Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Walking Tour: Seattle

I'll begin this walking tour of Seattle, Washington in the, uh, car. My recent trip to the Pacific Northwest began with a wedding in Seattle. We flew into Portland and hitched a ride with friends on the north I-5. Along the way, our carmate pointed out this roadside gem: Buck a Scoop Chinese Food.

Entering the city we hit some major rush hour traffic (what about all this public transit I keep hearing about? When I posed that question to the guy who checked us into our hotel, he complained that the transit in downtown is great, but it doesn't connect to the rest of the city in any real way). Stuck in a clog of cars we saw some interesting things:

This was spraypainted on decorative rocks in a residential neighborhood.

Our hotel was near the famous Pike Place Market. While the market is definitely overrun by tourists—many snapping a photo of themselves outside the original Starbucks—you could also see plenty of residents buying produce and products from local vendors. It's not quite as Disney-fied as I imagined it.

From here we walked along the waterfront.

Looking out onto Elliott Bay and the Puget Sound

Looking east, toward the city.

Just over the edge of the waterfront promenade is the Alaskan Way Viaduct. A friend who lives nearby in Olympia told me that Popular Mechanics named the roadway one of the Top 10 pieces of infrastructure that needs to be fixed. Here's an excerpt from that May 2008 issue:

"After an earthquake in 2001 damaged the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a traffic artery in Seattle, inspectors found that some supports had subsided 5 in., weakening the structure. Options included fixing the elevated roadway and replacing it with a tunnel or improved surface roads. There's still no decision. Meanwhile, as many as 110,000 vehicles travel on the compromised structure each day."

As my friend explained the dire state of this road, some sort of fire started and emitted plumes of noxious smoke. We moved on.

Walking back up the steep incline to our hotel on 2nd Avenue, I noticed this:

Another interesting infrastructure note—several of the manhole covers in downtown were designed by local artists.

The next day we continued the tour, heading to the Rem Koolhaas public library. This is my first time to Seattle and one of the things I observed about their downtown is that the city's grid maintains views of the bay. Each time you cross a city street, you have an unfettered siteline to the water; structures stay tucked within their block (something I've been noticing more now that my own city of Baltimore has failed so miserably to protect vistas of the water). Koolhaas's Seattle Public Library is an exception—its glass and steel facade juts out over the street on one side, just enough, so that when you look up the steep hill, you can see the form from several blocks away.

Lots has been written about the collaboration between Koolhass and the librarians and about the unique color coding system for the interior. I was curious about how this mammoth space would function from a user's perspective. I suspect noise absorption can be an issue with all the expansive, hard surfaces (especially when you have a husband who likes to play drums on the steel banisters).

The central skylight.

Type embedded into the floors.

The Children's Reading Room.

Walking through the stacks. A wall of glass looks down onto staff offices:

Looking through a sculptural hole onto the bright yellow escalator.

(I took a video in the famous all-red room of the library. You can view it at the end of the post)

After the library, we walked to Pioneer Square, the one area that survived the Seattle fire of 1889. There are several nice examples of Victorian Romanesque architecture

Smith Tower (above) was the tallest building outside Manhattan when it opened in 1914. Later in the weekend, I found a historic image of it in a Seattle museum.

I also found this excellent image of women protesting work conditions. Check out the word "janitresses."

Heading back to our hotel, I noticed this highrise. It's kind of hard to tell from this picture, but the delicate steel structural work running through its center reminded me of the spine of a fish (perhaps its all that Pacific Salmon in the market impacting my perspective)

Spotted on the way back to the hotel:

And here's a video I shot inside the red room of the Koolhaas library, featuring my friends Kerry and Mary Alice and my husband Matt. (I think they thought I was shooting still photos). The video's a touch blurry, but you can hear the way sound bounces off of the walls.