Hark, the Park

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I had a chance last week to spend a couple of days going over the wonderfully intricate new Olympic Sculpture Park that Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi of Weiss/Manfredi designed for the Seattle Art Museum. The park, which slopes down to the waters of Elliott Bay, is actually located about seven blocks from the museum, which in May will also debut a sizeable new addition by the Portland-based architect Brad Cloepfil. This is a park that uses some fascinating stratagems to engage its site, its purpose and its moment in history. In this week’s Time I try to put it into the context of some other parks in the U.S. and Germany that don’t settle for ordinary notions of parkland. You can find a lot of good pictures at this Flickr.com page, but here’s the panorama we run this week in the magazine:

Photo by Paul Warchol

Weiss/Manfredi were dealing with a difficult site, a sloping nine acres cut by a four-lane road and a railway line. But they turned whatever disadvantages into spectacular opportunities with a dynamic Z-shaped path that makes sure you understand that this is a work of human ingenuity, not a make-believe meadow. That path also recruits the road and the railway into it’s design scheme, as additional dueling scars across a space that thrives on them. And in the age of Daniel Libeskind and Zaha Hadid, architects who understand that dynamic lines can be both true — meaning that, in the 21st century, they get to the bottom of the things that surround them — and a pleasure, the Seattle park demonstrates that landscape can be deconstructed just like architectural space. And just as pleasurably. Meaning that it’s a lot of complicated fun.

But it wasn’t until I saw the picture in my own magazine that I realized — here comes another of those deja vu moments — what the design reminded me of. It’s like a horizontal rendition of The Monument to the March Dead, the 1922 monument to nine workers killed in a right wing attempt to overthrow Germany’s Weimar Republic, an episode that was a prelude to the Nazi take over. It’s by Walter Gropius — the monument, not the coup attempt — the one time director of the Bauhaus, the German art and design institute that was the forcing ground for much of what we think of as the modern world.


When I went searching for it on line I came across a wonderful correspondence with an image in Fritz Lang’s silent film Metropolis — I’ll let you search for that — but also, and much more unexpectedly, with this painting by the great master of 19th century German Romanticism Caspar David Friedrich:

The Sea of Ice, 1824

So nature, meaning the fractured ice field, gets filtered through art, meaning the Friedrich painting, which gets remembered by Gropius, who is trying to find a jagged form for painful memories, and through all those lenses gets remembered again, either explicitly or indirectly, by Weiss/Manfredi, who are trying to signify all the complexities of nature and civilization in the same place. Looks good to me.