Liquid lands: investigating the estuaries of the Salish Sea

graphic banner of a city plan with street layouts and rivers in red and orange shades and the title Cartographic Imaginations

Course Instructor

Ken Yocom

Course Date

Academic Year
2018–19

Course Type

LARCH 598 + 702
Capstone Studio

Liquid Lands is a project of design, science, and communication that builds on and consolidates emerging methods in design research and representation practices across a broad range of disciplines accessing approaches and epistemological frameworks from landscape architecture, critical cartography, art, geography, and museology. It communicates the complex research of the Salish Sea to the geographic locations of the most substantive inputs into the ecosystem, riverine estuaries. While extensive, the scope is grounded in place, excavating and reassembling the nature of these watery lands to bring new light, perspective, and questions to how we understand nature and our role within it.

Learn more about the liquid lands studio and the rest of the Cartographic Imaginations studio series at imaginations.hive.be.uw.edu.

Continuity and Change: Urban Transitions, Public Life for 15th Avenue East

Course Instructor

Nancy Rottle

Course Date

Autumn 2018

Course Type

Scan Design Master Studio

How can a neighborhood retain its “soul” while also accommodating growth and change?  How can design of a commercial street invite public use and the cultivation of a more vibrant “public life” culture?  As a neighborhood in a rapidly-growing city transitions, how can its history, current strengths and beloved qualities be preserved, while also accommodating and promoting the kind of change that will cultivate a more socially just, economically robust and environmentally regenerative urban node?

These are questions we explored throughout the 2018 studio, using the 15th Ave. East commercial node as a case study for our analyses, urban theory-based investigations, planning and design explorations. Our work was grounded in the expressed wishes of the local neighborhood residential and commercial community, garnered through a workshop in Spring of 2018 that was sponsored and documented by the local interdisciplinary planning and design firms of Board and Vellum, and Environmental Works.  The workshop asked, “What are your best ideas for the future of 15th Ave. East? Participants addressed safety, green space, small businesses, job development and thoughtful density and also drew their ideas on overlays of existing street elevations.

Our studio explored how we can address these desires, and bring our own sensibilities, research and design talents to propose policies, plans, designs and guidelines for improvements to the street and public realm, and to the possibilities for transitioning sites located along this current commercial stretch.  Inspired by our experiences in Copenhagen and Malmo, we considered how to apply the Gehl and Schulze + Grassov methods for studying public space; to design invitations that build vibrant neighborhood social life by encouraging staying in the public realm of streets, plazas, parks and leftover spaces; and to innovate exemplary design that is equitable, ecological, and climate-resilient.  Throughout the term, we worked with professionals from Board and Vellum and Environmental Works, as well as residents, business owners, city staff, and local architects and landscape architects.

Project Website
Studio Book

City / Nature for Urban Resilience: Greener Belltown, Bluer Sound

Course Instructor

Nancy Rottle

Course Date

Autumn 2017

Course Type

Scan Design Master Studio

How can the infusion of a healthy “Nature,” and approaches that integrate multi-functional natural processes, help to create vibrant, healthful, climate-change resilient urban districts while also helping to restore downstream environments? How might Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood integrate green infrastructure to eliminate combined sewer overflows into Elliott Bay, in ways that also help to regenerate a healthy urban nature and equitably provide the renewing benefits that contact with nature can afford? How can such an integrative design approach help to create and sustain a democratic, just, public life, and foster a vibrant, creative urban neighborhood culture?

Inspired by our experiences of Copenhagen’s and Malmö’s planning policies and design trials for sustainable and climate resilient cities, the 2017 Scan|Design Master Studio worked with the Seattle 2030 District and the Belltown Community to begin to answer these questions.  We explored district planning frameworks that could be useful in integrating these questions into their planning processes. We developed design ideas and typologies to inspire retrofit of streets, urban spaces and buildings that employ natural processes to create a more liveable district, while solving the basin’s stormwater issues and considering future City water and wastewater demands. We had the unique opportunity to work directly with people engaged in ongoing initiatives for Belltown: with a diverse array of community stakeholders and professionals who have been engaged in neighborhood planning processes over past months and years, and with urban habitat and green stormwater proponents; with Seattle Public Utilities at the beginning of their process investigating solutions to the basin’s combined sewer overflows; and with the 2030 District’s visionary goals and progress for reducing peak stormwater discharge and potable water use.

Guided by principles developed by Gehl Architects and Schulze + Grassov, we devised approaches to cultivate and enrich public life — both moving through, and staying in, the public realm of streets, plazas, parks and leftover spaces of the Belltown project area.  Additionally, we worked at district, site and detail scales to use urban design to address climate change impacts through:

  1. exploring opportunities to insert urban nature for biodiversity resilience and human health
  2. addressing social and cultural needs and amenities to cultivate social resilience
  3. artfully integrating water into the cityscape for hydraulic performance, urban nature and human delight

Project Website
Studio Book

Cultivating the Community Commons: Climate, Culture, Craft

Course Instructor

Nancy Rottle

Course Date

Autumn 2015

Course Type

Scan Design Master Studio

The International Living Futures Institute’s (ILFI) new Living Community Challenge sets the standard for a Living Community that is “socially just, culturally rich, and ecologically restorative” through the metrics of place, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity, and beauty. Such a metric system incorporates the Quality Criteria for public space used by Gehl Architects and expands them to incorporate environmental and social equity aspirations.

During our 2015 studio, we worked with ILFI’s framework and the organization’s designated First Hill Living Community. We applied the framework to a subdistrict and site that is adjacent to Bailey Gatzert Elementary School, and at the nexus of several diverse urban communities: the Squire Park Neighborhood, Little Saigon, Yesler Terrace, a substantial homeless population, Seattle University, and numerous ethnic populations. Our ScanlDesign Master Studio was inspired by Copenhagen’s approach to neighborhood “lifting” by providing arts and cultural facilities in every neighborhood for all ages, and the city’s approach to conjoin climate resilience with cultivation of a good and equitable city. We applied site program ideas from our travels, including inspiration from Copenhagen’s children’s arts centers,  vertical schools, urban productive gardens, and “cloudburst” parks. The studio’s project site and surrounding neighborhood in the First Hill district is destined to change in the next decades as the neighborhood intensifies, with streets already beginning to accommodate bicycles, pedestrians, and trolley transit, and the studio therefore considered the public life — both moving through and staying in — in the public realm of streets, parks and leftover spaces. The final studio work included design at all scales and show detailed and integrated resolution at the levels of district, site, and building.

Our studio had a unique opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration, and  students from various disciplines worked together to analyze, conceptualize, and develop integrated and comprehensive designs throughout the term. During the term, our Master Studio benefited from the involvement of Bianca Hermansen, formerly with Gehl Architects and now with her own firm, Cititek. Throughout the quarter, we built on our Copenhagen study tour by referencing examples from our travels and employing and expanding on Gehl’s public life/public space principles. We also benefited from the interaction with ILFI staff, professionals and community interests.

Project Website
Studio Book