Saturday, August 25, 2007

Cal Anderson Park

First of all, hats off to the Berger Partnership and the redesign of Cal Anderson Park. I did a little bit of web surfing trying to find significant parks of Seattle I should visit and Cal Anderson continually popped up. Cal Anderson park is rich in history. It was design by the Olmsted Bros. in 1904. It is that word palimpsest that comes to mind when describing Cal Anderson. A very modern or new-looking playground and ballfields are part of a historic water reservoir and traditional Olmstedian park, open un-programmed spaces with formal elements. The park is layered with previous design and yet it has a modern, vigorous infusion of art and architecture. The dominant feature of the park is Douglas Hollis's Water Works. It is delightful and has its own gravitational pull that is hard to deny. The fountain is big enough for many to enjoy. The sound of it masks the presence of the surrounding park-goers. I was drawn to the quiet end of the pool first. I walked around the antique water building and smiled and nodded to those sitting on its stone wall. As I was drawn towards the volcanic like structure with its tumbling water I couldn't help but notice the do-not-get-in-the-water sign that was clearly being ignored. One dad had a group of kids and was "filming a movie" of his kids enjoying the water as if it was a water park, and in short order I find Kerri with her pants rolled up following the kids up the cascading stream. Users?!

It is in Seattle that I start to believe that art is a critical component of public landscape. It is not that good Landscape Architecture can't stand on its own or is not art itself. It is that art adds another layer of meaning. Good landscape architecture should engage the user. It should jolt the user out of their typically passive experience of landscape to a level of active engagement. Art can spark active engagement. Art is bold, italics, underlines or quotes in the landscape. It stands out on the page and is not easy to ignore.

Art is a component of culture. Peirce F. Lewis writes in "Axioms for Reading the Landscape" The basic principle is this: that all human landscape has cultural meaning, no matter how ordinary that landscape may be. " Oklahoma City has been building a new park along the Oklahoma River. From the highway, the place Oklahoma has been designed to be viewed from, immense expanses of mowed lawn dwarf a paved running path. The lawn is at the scale of a freeway. I wonder what this new park reads? Culture? History? Cal Anderson speaks of a people that value art, culture and community. It invites the community to enter, to stroll, to sit, to play, to meditate. It engages with the user even when the user is lying down reading a book.

It is not possible to enjoy Cal Anderson park with out touching your level of cultural awareness. Water Works ask the park-user to participate in a dialog. And that starts with "What am I?", "What do I mean?", and "Am I valuable?". Cal Anderson reads "History is important." and "Culture is important." History and art are directly linked with Water Works.