Reforesting Seattle: The In-Closure Urban Intervention

This year, the Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Architects challenged designers to conceive a fresh vision of environmental, social, and economic opportunities on and beyond a nine-acre site at the heart of Seattle Center. Now the winner of the competition, known as Urban Intervention: The Howard S. Wright Design Ideas Competition for Public Space, have been announced.

The top-scoring project, In-Closure, by Paris-based ABF-lab (Paul Azzopardi, urban engineer; Noé Basch, climate engineer; Etienne Feher, architect) essentially calls for reforesting this little slice of the city in a way that encourages flexible, adaptable human use.

Seattle Urban Intervention, In-Closure

image via Archpaper

“Traditional urban planning methods are reaching the limit,” the firm stated in their brief. “You can plan an urban project; it will be obsolete even before seeing the light. How can we thus produce . . . a dematerialized urbanism?” This issue present in major urban areas everywhere is especially pronounced in Seattle, a city notorious for its slow political procedures. By focusing on simple, organic design solutions for a city, In-Closure aims to get beyond that red tape by, in a sense, getting back to basics.

“We began with the most basic and ancient forms of human connectivity—gathering around a campfire,” ABF-lab explained at the public presentations, according to Archpaper.

The winning design centers on foresting the existing playing field within the site and enclosing the whole nine acres with 33-by-13-foot movable event “boxes” that could house market stalls, cafes, greenhouses, micro theaters, and even mini libraries.

Seattle Urban Intervention, In-Closure

image via Archpaper

The modular structures are composed of stacked local timber, mirrored facades, and — perhaps most uniquely — a running track incorporating piezoelectric panels that would generate electricity through movement. The team reports a loose sort of inspiration stemming from Seattle’s vibrant outdoor market at Pike Place Market, but we see this design as very much in line with another recent competition winner, the New Addington’s  Village Green proposal by  Jeffrey Adjei, which recently won the United Kingdom‘s Designing for Adaptable Futures competition.

Both proposals are built around the idea of ultra-adaptable bits of city infrastructure, combining old-fashioned concepts like open air markets and the village green with smart, modern thinking regarding modular structures. Both proposals focus on green materials, yes — but perhaps most significantly, both emphasize the concept of adaptability in public space as central to the longevity of the built environment. Which may be the green concept of all.

The designers behind the In-Closure proposal see these modular structures as highly portable, which would allow them to serve in other public spaces around the city as needed. As far as activities specifically for the incorporated spaces at the Seattle Center, ABF-lab sees tree-climbing, outdoor performances, and even campfires in the mix. Simple, low-tech solutions for a tech-forward city that loves to get outside — all of which place the human is at the center of the process.

The Urban Intervention competition was intended to inspire more broadly applicable solutions for major urban sites around the world, as well as contribute to a global dialogue about public space. It is is part of The Next Fifty, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair (also called Century 21 Exposition). Running April 21 – Oct 21, 2012, the celebration, like the 1962 Exposition, is intended to place the Pacific Northwest in the global spotlight.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.