The Rainier Vista was originally designed by the Olmsted Brothers as the spine of the 1904 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition fairgrounds. Linking the existing campus oval plan to the view of Mount Rainier, the vista quickly became the iconic representation of the university’s connection to the surrounding landscape. Urban growth and infrastructural expansion led to the eventual blurring of the campus edge into a largely vacant, vehicle-dominated place. The expansion of Seattle’s light rail system presented an opportunity to clarify and strengthen the Lower Rainier Vista’s role as a campus gateway, while also making it a more inviting place for the thousands of people who would cross through the space daily on the network of bus routes, arterial streets, regional bike trail, and new light rail networks. A complex scope and a tight budget required the design team to focus on big, essential design moves. Starting with a strong design vision for reclaiming the vista’s axis, the design team used this primary element to weave together the complex spatial and political priorities of the many stakeholders.
The land bridge form is inspired by the Gothic Revival archways of campus buildings. The narrowing at the waist of the land bridge gracefully slims the width of the axis as it crosses the lowered road. This reduced cost by building less bridge. Further, it limited the extents and depth of roadway lowering required for the buses and trolleys to have clearance. The shape utilized a simple, post-tensioned structural system while maintaining the complex, curvilinear form of the bridge. The project accomplishments include building an iconic land bridge that spans a roadway lowered 17 feet; reconstructing a regional bike trail; raising the grade over an existing, below-grade parking structure; seismic upgrades to the parking structure; protecting and replacing existing utilities; new overhead trolley power lines; new and restored tree shrub and lawn planting; new irrigation integrated into existing campus systems; and new lighting.
The Seattle Bike Blog wrote, “The completely redesigned Rainier Vista area has a much grander, people-focused feel with wide pathways, sprawling lawns and park benches. … it’s a simple, comfortable place to just enjoy being in Seattle.”
GGN; also KPFF; Sellen/Merlino JV; Shannon & Wilson; AEI/Pivotal; LTK Engineering Services