Downtown Seattle is changing. From the investment and redevelopment of South Lake Union, to the approval of the Seattle Waterfront project and reconstruction of the seawall, to the construction of family-friendly housing units from the International District to Capitol Hill, to the ongoing expansion of the bus, rail, and pedestrian networks needed to fuse them into a cohesive whole, the city is undergoing its greatest physical and demographic shift in a generation.
As the number of businesses, green spaces, and cultural amenities in the urban core have grown, countless individuals and, increasingly, families have begun to embrace Seattle’s downtown as a vibrant place not only to work and visit but also to live. With the influx of new residents has come a renewed focus on the quality of life in downtown for families of all sizes, ages, and economic backgrounds. While the city center provides an incredible concentration of services and activities to attract individuals and families, ironically, it often lacks the elements that make it possible for them to stay over the long term.
Amid this groundswell of recent change, The Forum for a Family Friendly Downtown, sponsored by AIA Seattle, attempted last week to view downtown holistically by asking two primary questions: What does a vibrant, flourishing life downtown for people of all ages and backgrounds look like? What additions or changes to existing services and/or the built environment might help encourage and accelerate that development?
In response, myriad speakers including city officials, child psychologists, architects, developers, researchers, and urban planners discussed an array of strategies that are either already underway or are proposed to make downtown a more inviting place for families of various backgrounds and income levels to visit and live. The initiatives discussed ranged from changes at the city scale like those being undertaken in the Waterfront Seattle project or the Bicycle Master Plan, to the scale of individual “festival” streets that can be shut down periodically for people to gather throughout the year, to individual businesses who have reclaimed a single parking space on the street for bike corals and public seating.
In each case, the benefits and challenges of downtown life was assessed through the lens of making Seattle an attractive and safe place to live, especially for seniors and parents with young children. Particular attention was paid to retaining those families who are already living in the urban core. For while many of the same young professionals or couples who move to the city prior to starting a family would like to remain after having children, they are often forced to move away from downtown as their needs and focus shift to those services that children require. Of the numerous factors contributing to the loss of families from the downtown, none eclipsed the need for larger, more affordable living spaces and, above all, schools.
As was noted by numerous speakers and parents involved in the discussion throughout the day, schools form an undeniable center around which the life of families with young children revolves. For many, the best aspects of urban life – short commute times, engagement with a diverse community, and easy access to services – were negated by the absence of a public school downtown, for it often resulted in a reverse commute to neighborhoods outside of the urban core. Recognizing this need, the Seattle School Board has included a feasibility study for a downtown school as part of the upcoming levy program for Seattle’s K-12 schools. However, the absence of any city-owned property of sufficient size for a school means that a great deal of effort and additional study will be needed in a short time frame if the desire to re-establish a school downtown is to keep pace with the surge of new residents.
Finally, the changes to Seattle’s downtown to make it a more welcoming place for families and seniors are a good thing for everyone. A central thread running through the forum was how designing spaces in which families in general, and children and seniors in particular, feel comfortable contributes to the overall sense of safety of comfort with the urban experience for people of all ages. From better bike lanes to safer, more dynamic parks, placing families at the center of the design and planning process helps build into the very foundation of the city an infrastructure for improving health through simple embedded and free activities like walking, biking, or just playing at a playground, as well as an opportunity for spending more time in community, with our neighbors, families, and children.
[Note: This article was originally published on the Daily Journal of Commerce's SeattleScape blog.]
One of the things that struck me when I arrived in Seattle over thirty years ago was the engagement of architects in advocating for the quality of the built environment. I wasn’t aware of the fact that we are one of the largest communities of design professionals in the nation, among the top ten in the country in the number of AIA members. That, combined with the activist nature of our urban culture, creates an environment for involvement and advocacy.
In the early 1980s two organizations played a key role in creating opportunities for engagement, Blueprint: for Architecture and ARCADE. Blueprint sponsored exhibitions, lectures and competitions, meeting the need in a city hungry for design ideas that stretched the imagination. ARCADE is still going strong, publishing a quarterly magazine that addresses a broad range of multi-disciplinary design issues from architecture to landscape architecture, urban planning, industrial design, graphic design and fine art. Their launch parties bring the design community together to celebrate the publication of each issue and provide an opportunity for dialogue.
AIA Seattle plays a central role in engaging people and design. It gave birth to the Seattle Architecture Foundation, a private, non-profit organization that connects people to the architecture, design and the history of Seattle through workshops, tours, educational seminars and advocacy. SAF’s annual model show puts the latest work of the architectural community on display for everyone to see.
More recently, AIA Seattle helped to found Design in Public, which is dedicated to growing a city that embraces design to create a healthier, more livable community. Their programs include lectures, exhibits, research, and case studies. Their annual Seattle Design Festival is the largest interdisciplinary design event in the Puget Sound region, offering more than 40 events, including tours, films, speakers, installations, and family programs — all aimed at a public audience.
AIA Seattle’s Public Policy Board plays an active role in advocating for the quality of design and the environment in our region. Growing out of the successful campaign to tear down the Viaduct and encourage the development of an accessible waterfront, the Public Policy Board continues to advocate for policies that promote livable cities, from State energy codes to urban design guidelines. To this end, the Board has hosted candidate forums for City Council candidates in Seattle and the State Legislature on the Eastside. Later this year, it will host a candidate forum for Seattle’s mayoral candidates. Stay tuned, this is an important year for an engaged design community to play a role in making sure that our leaders are focused on achieving the City’s potential.
Schacht Aslani Architects is pleased to announce that Principal Walter Schacht has been elected to the American Institute of Architect’s (AIA) College of Fellows, in the category of design. This honor recognizes the standard of excellence represented by his distinguished body of work, his notable contributions to the profession and the community, and the positive impact of his practice at a national level.
Walter has devoted his career to projects that enhance the quality of civic life from libraries and places of worship to fire stations and community colleges. He founded Schacht Aslani Architects with architect Cima Malek-Aslani in 1996. Walter is recognized for creating strong, modern buildings that transform places and institutions, and for promoting public policies that advance the community. He is an advocate for design excellence and the public policies that support it. His firm’s work is published internationally and has won numerous awards for clear planning, innovative use of materials and classic modernism.
Among AIA’s total membership of over 83,000, just over 3,100 are distinguished with the honor of fellowship and honorary fellowship. Walter, along with the other 2013 Fellows, will be honored at an investiture ceremony on June 21 at the 2013 National AIA Convention and Design Exposition in Denver.
All this good design sense can be blinding, breed complacency, etc., especially here in the Northwest, where even government buildings – libraries, fire stations, city halls – once the bastion of the bland, are so dedicated to graceful, progressive monumentality, that it is hard to keep in mind that there is nothing “natural” about these choices, that it wasn’t always this way, that, as the poet Jane Kenyon writes, “It might have been / otherwise.”
We also noticed a familiar fire station floating around between “The Outer Realm of Nothings” and “Things Semi-Real” in the illustration by Ryan Diaz.
Expanding on last week’s post about the Nama Instrument, here are two more generative music projects that I find completely fascinating, pushing the boundaries between art and technology.
An Instrument for the Sonification of Everyday Things by Dennis P Paul
This is a serious musical instrument. It rotates everyday things, scans their surfaces, and transforms them into audible frequencies. A variety of everyday objects can be mounted into the instrument. Their silhouettes define loops, melodies and rhythms. Thus mundane things are reinterpreted as musical notation. Playing the instrument is a mixture of practice, anticipation, and serendipity. The instrument was built from aluminum tubes, white POM, black acrylic glass, a high precision distance measuring laser ( with the kind support of Micro-Epsilon ), a stepper motor, and a few bits and bobs.
A custom programmed translator and controller module, written in processing, transforms the measured distance values into audible frequencies, notes, and scales. It also precisely controlls the stepper-motor’s speed to sync with other instruments and musicians.
Firewall by Aaron Sherwood & Mike Allison
A stretched sheet of spandex acts as a membrane interface sensitive to depth that people can push into and create fire-like visuals and expressively play music. The piece was made using Processing, Max/MSP, Arduino and a Kinect. The Kinect measures the average depth of the spandex from the frame it is mounted on. If the spandex is not being pressed into nothing happens. When someone presses into it the visuals react around where the person presses, and the music is triggered. An algorithm created with Max allows the music to speed up and slow down and get louder and softer, based on the depth. This provides a very expressive musical playing experience, even for people who have never played music before. A switch is built into the frame which toggles between two modes. The second mode is a little more aggressive than the first.
This combination of a soft interface, motion-sensing hardware and generative music software is incredible.
The Instrument is a textile interface for movement. An open source hardware that has open purpose and usage, being able to be freely folded, twisted, tightened and manipulated in various contexts to generate real time digital data of its movement.
The current setup of the interface has a single Lilypad Arduino, 5 Lilypad Accelerometers, one Xbee Module, and a Lipo battery sewed altogether manually with conductive thread. The interface was originally created to be part of the interactive installation of Nama (vimeo.com/57115948), however through the online documentation and open software created it is possible to adapt the interface’s setup to multiple other contexts.