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2002 University Heights




University Heights Community Center is located in Seattle’s University District on the corner of University Way and 50th Street. The historic school, now functioning as a community center, sought to develop a 10,000 square foot open space on the building’s south side.

The program elements included: expanding the P-patch by 12 plots, providing a gathering plaza/amphitheater, providing 1 or 2 storage facilities, enhancing and identifying the building entrance, establishing space for the green market, developing a rainwater cycling system, incorporating ADA accessibility and creating a low maintenance landscape. The client groups for the project were: Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, Seattle School Department, Community Center Board, Seattle P-Patch, Landmarks Review Board, and UW Community Relations Board.

There is an impressive user group for this site. In the community center there are over a dozen tenants ranging from an art academy to a children’s center. Outside the building users include the U District Farmers Market, street folks, sports enthusiasts, and P-patch gardeners. Being one of the few open spaces in a densely populated urban setting, creating a safe and welcoming environment is important to the community.

This 10 week interdisciplinary studio brought together students from Visual Arts, Sculpture, Industrial Design, Architecture, and Landscape Architecture. In the process of creating a community park and garden, we learned more about our disciplines, relating to other fields, and the public process of community development. Community meetings directed the design process. A design review committee selected one final conceptual design from five team presentations.

Two themes emerged, “old schools still teach” and “cycles”, that helped guide the final design. Through design details we wanted to “teach” the concept of cycles. The food cycle is expressed in the fence detailing, in the plaza (through tiles designed by local school children), and in several bronze sculptures. The water cycle is revealed in a 4,500-gallon rainwater harvesting system, designed and built to supply irrigation water for the community garden. The sheet and pipe flow is conveyed to a “French” drain and into the sub-soils. Storm runoff from the roof no longer enters the city storm water system. The plantings were substantially limited to drought-tolerant species and “ecoturf” (a drought-tolerant mix of grasses and perennials). The water cycle is conveyed in the seat caps (through the moon cycle) and the custom welded metal fence depicting the region’s hydrological cycle.