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Wednesday, September 12, 1990 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Tunnel Visions -- Bus Labyrinth Beneath Seattle Spawns Gallery

CUTLINE: TILES CRAFTED BY ELEMENTARY-SCHOOL STUDENTS DECORATE THE NORTH END OF THE INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT STATION. MOTIFS ARE AS VARIED AS A BROWN HORSE ON A BLUE FIELD, OR A PICTURE OF THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA.

CUTLINE: TOM MARKS / SEATTLE TIMES: ENTRANCE TO THE PIONEER SQUARE STATION AT THE PREFONTAINE PLACE PARK IS THROUGH THE WHIMSICAL STEEL-GRILLWORK GATES OF ARTIST GARTH EDWARDS.

CUTLINE: SEATTLE TIMES: BUS TUNNEL STATIONS (MAP NOT IN ELECTRONIC VERSION).

CUTLINE: BUTCH CIDBECK, TUNNEL-OPERATIONS ENGINEER, CHECKS THE PIONEER SQUARE STATION CLOCK MADE FROM TUNNEL-CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS AND TOOLS DONATED BY THE WORKERS.

When Metro opens its multimillion-dollar tunnel Saturday, bus riders will find what are, in effect, underground art exhibits that reflect the character of the city overhead.

With a budget of $1.5 million, teams of artists, engineers, architects and administrators have cooperated in the five-year effort to make the underground environment a place for people as well as buses. From the International District at the southern end of the 1.3-mile tunnel, through the Convention Place station in the north, here's an introductory guide to the largest public-artworks project in the history of the Pacific Northwest.

INTERNATIONAL DISTRICT

STATION

(Fifth Avenue South and

South Jackson Street)

Nearly two dozen ethnic groups participate in the lively Asian scene of the International District. Often drawing on the ideas of local residents, lead artists Alice Adams and Sonya Ishii and station architect Gary Hartnett created a station that could grow into part of the community at festival times as well as with everyday use. On the upper level a raised wooden platform invites impromptu picnics; it also can function as a stage. A roofed market arcade at the east is designed someday to provide a sheltered spot for dim sum sellers and craft booths.

Poetry by Laureen Mar - displayed along supports for a long trellis - honors Japanese and Chinese immigrants who built the surrounding railroads,

and refers to how diverse cultures, like tendrils of ivy, can grow and entwine. The colors of the station are soft, rich and contemplative, including a rich teal and a pure rose - both found in Asian art.

Chinese zodiac signs are inset into the paving of a sunny plaza at the station's south end. At the north, 200 tiles crafted by students at Seattle's Gatzert and Beacon Hill elementary schools flank a stairwell. On the wall of the boarding platform, Ishii refers to Asian decorative tradition with huge ``folding'' origami sculptures.

If the International District station functions as its creators hope, it will serve as a gathering place as well as a transitional point. Natural elements are on an intimate scale, including beds of well-established miniature rose bushes. Overall, the station has an air of both tranquility and expectancy.

PIONEER SQUARE STATION

(Between Jefferson and Cherry streets, under Third Avenue.)

As anyone knows who's taken an underground tour, Seattle has some of the most unusual ``roots'' of any city. The Pioneer Square station evokes the days when merchants beside the mud flats of Elliott Bay decided to rise above the tides by constructing buildings with dual ``ground floors,'' eventually raising street surfaces to the second level. From granite facing to clock faces, the station is full of what might be called social archaeology.

Let's enter at Prefontaine Place Park through the whimsical steel grillwork of Garth Edwards, who calls his lineup of elongated human figures ``a cross between patron saints and curious commuters, welcoming you to underground mass transit.'' Along the stairwell, artist Laura Sindell has installed a ceramic mural to serve as an urban canyon wall - a dugout canoe, swatches of pioneer patchwork, Salish Indian basket patterns and other elements are arranged in a core sampling of the site's history.

The aboveground local government architecture has its parallel in the station below, for which Jerry McDevitt was principal architect and Kate Ericson was lead artist. At the south end, the granite walls are gray like the King County Courthouse not far away. At the north end, the prevailing tone comes from pink granite, resembling the surface of the nearby Public Safety Building. Beneath an arching roof that echoes a common visual element in Pioneer Square, horizontal lines of pink and gray step downward from level to level like geologic strata, to converge at the midstation boarding area.

Clocks designed by Ericson with artist Mel Ziegler hang above the tunnel mouths, as direct visual links to Seattle's past, present and future. Behind the hands, the southern clock face is composed of chunks of masonry unearthed during the digging of the tunnel; its mate at the north is made of scraps from the new transit project. ``Numerals'' on the clocks are actual tools, collected on site and including everything from a handsaw to an industrial-size tape measure.

Leaving Pioneer Square via the tucked-away James Street entrance, the traveler passes beneath a twisting ``beam'' of granite. Do not be alarmed. This is another piece of art. Sculptor Brian Goldbloom is reminding us that even the grandest work of public architecture is not permanent. Like the tectonic plates of the Earth, it remains under constant strain, constantly in transit.

UNIVERSITY STREET STATION

(Between Union and Seneca streets, under Third Avenue)

This station is now. It's wow. It's both high tech and high touch. The central section of Metro's tunnel passes beneath the financial core of downtown Seattle, so the active artwork here reflects the bustling, modern world.

The mezzanine level is where much of the action occurs. At the north, Bill Bell has set two dozen ``lightsticks'' in vertical display. Flashing red lights gradually imprint on the retina, the brain starts to process the images, and voila: You've started seeing dollar signs. The opposite mezzanine features animated electronic light boxes by Robert Teeple. Running buffalo, astrological signs and a host of other images appear with simultaneous four-word Spanish and English phrases.

One recent morning, the constantly evolving word patterns in Teeple's light boxes spelled out ``bright humans arouse lively cities,'' and a few moments later, ``serene concepts create elegant moods.'' Both phrases are apt for the work of the station's lead artist Vicki Scuri with lead project design architect Mark Spitzer. Scuri's integration of wall and floor elements, called ``the Beltway,'' is carried out with black and white granite sandblasted into inviting block patterns.

As elsewhere in the system, Metro has provided benches for weary commuters. Notice how the Beltway loops the eye around these three-dimensional objects so that they become part of one enormous sculpture. The overall patterning leads feet as well as eyes in a ``weave,'' adding to the diversity of the experience, while the up-close texture of the walls gives a craftlike ``hand'' to the walls.

The stairs climbing to the exit at Third Avenue and Seneca Street have this sentence engraved, a few words at a time, on their risers: ``I have been on a strange and unusual trip, and there are many ways in which I could talk about it.''

WESTLAKE STATION

(Between Fourth and Sixth avenues under Pine Street)

Integrated on its upper levels with the Westlake Mall and several major department stores, the Westlake Station is an extension of Seattle's urban marketplace. It's the largest station - big enough to hold a Trident submarine - and is expected to be by far the busiest along the tunnel route. The upcoming holiday season, the first when the multilayer space is home to both bus commuters and shoppers, may represent the real test of the Westlake station's role in city life.

In the meantime, even before carolers take up positions on the mezzanine and the seasonal decorations go into place, the year-round elements of the station offer a colorful alternative to any gray days above. The biggest and the brightest of all are porcelain enamel murals by Fay Jones, Roger Shimomura and Gene Gentry McMahon, hung on either side of the bus boarding area. Jones celebrates Seattle's role as a waterfront city, Shimomura honors its cultural diversity, and McMahon refers to the glamorous images of nearby retailing.

Brent Carlson was lead architect for Westlake, with Jack Mackie working as lead artist. Scuri was also closely involved with bringing a ``garment district'' flavor to the whole. Some references to the world above are huge, such as Mackie's tumbling garden of terra-cotta blooms on the south wall beneath Westlake Park, and others are tucked away like clues, such as pieces of ``fabric'' casually tossed along bench seating by a sandblasting hand.

Scuri produced a sequence of 40 subtle, low-relief tile designs which have been duplicated for installation along the escalators and stairs between the levels. Some are inspired by terra-cotta decorations on nearby buildings; others repeat lines of Japanese wedding-dress patterns - a sly reference to Westlake's reputation as the ``wedding cake'' of the system.

In terms of a marriage between mass transit and mercantile, Westlake has already had its honeymoon - pedestrians have been able to roam the mezzanine walkways for a number of months. Now real life begins, and the cantilevered platforms will become viewpoints for streams of buses and people, all the hustle and bustle of daily living in the city.

CONVENTION CENTER

STATION

(Ninth Avenue and Pine Street)

The Metro tunnel returns to the surface beside a Seattle landmark, the Paramount Theatre. Lead artist Alice Adams (her co-leader was Jack Mackie) honors the connection with a pair of white-pipe-and-neon entrance marquees - so that a pedestrian almost expects to look up and see ``coming soon to a bus tunnel near you'' shining above.

Like the Westlake Station, but for different reasons, the Convention Center may be especially attractive with the return of winter. On dark afternoons the built-in light show will be especially welcome. The architecture by Bob Jones and Bob Hoshide, which plays up the openness of the site while protecting commuters with translucent escalator roofs, will catch all available daylight.

However, as with its International District counterpart at the southern terminus, the station is also designed to be a gathering place, a spot for resting and enjoying some fresh air. A pocket park at the entrance is home to comfortable benches and a number of planters - count the pine trees and you'll catch one of Mackie's private puns for this location.

Four of the plaza's planters were designed by Maren Hassinger of New York, who has formed links to the surroundings in both art and horticultural language. A tiny Asian rock-and-moss garden nestles in a rectangular planter with granite detailing over concrete. Another planter rounds intriguingly to its base - a good example of art influenced by environment, since Hassinger stayed for a while at the nearby Camlin Hotel and found herself admiring the curvaceous elevator button marked ``Cloud Room.''

Does it matter if commuters never know such details? Probably not. They may not care how Mackie came up with the idea for the curving ``waterwall'' forming a natural sound and sight line along Pine Street. They might not guess that the artist (who is scared of heights) suggested a pop-out platform for looking down the falling stream and over the stepping stones below, in order to enhance how people interact with the space.

But they'll appreciate it, they'll remember it, and perhaps they'll return with pleasure and a sense of place. And that's all the engineers, the architects and the artists of Metro's Downtown Seattle Transit Project could ever ask.

Copyright (c) 1990 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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