By Grace Kramer, UW News Lab / Special to CHS
The Volunteer Park amphitheater renovation project is drawing closer to approval and residents gathered Thursday night to discuss the proposed designs.
Owen Richards Architects and the Volunteer Park Trust invited the community for an open house on the proposed designs for the Volunteer Park amphitheater and there were lots of opinions, especially about another Volunteer Park renovation project, the Seattle Asian Art Museum expansion.
“It’s the first design I’ve seen in Seattle recently that’s actually an improvement,” said Marge Mackinnon, a Capitol Hill resident, about the new amphitheater.
The SAAM expansion, on the other hand?
“There are lots of art museums in Seattle,” said Mackinnon, “To destroy part of the park sucks.”
This isn’t the first time that the public has had a chance to see the amphitheater’s proposed designs. ORA Architects and the Volunteer Park Trust, as part of the terms of their funding grant from the Neighborhood Matching Fund, have been required to keep the design process transparent. They’ve done many public meetings and open houses so that the community can provide feedback on their designs.
Owen Richards, founder and principal architect with ORA, has worked on other projects like Chihuly Garden and Glass. He said that when he holds public events for buildings and structures he’s nervous because changes in a neighborhood are typically emotionally charged, but he doesn’t feel that way about the Volunteer Park amphitheater.
“At this point we’ve talked so much with the public it doesn’t feel controversial,” he said.
That sentiment was echoed around the open house that night as most people were enthusiastic about the new amphitheater.
That enthusiasm is a contrast to another planned project within the park, the proposed Seattle Asian Art Museum renovation and expansion that will add about 3,600 square feet to the back of the 84-year-old museum building. The proposed changes to the amphitheater have been developing since 2014. The amphitheater renovation is planned to cost $3 to $4 million, and will relocate the amphitheater as well as add a roof, handrails for accessibility and updated bathrooms. Both the amphitheater and SAAM expansion are a part of a longer initiative to renovate the landmark Volunteer Park.
David James, who has lived in Capitol Hill for over 35 years, said he loves the new design of the amphitheater – especially the roof.
“It’s got curvature to it and yet it has direction and shape,” said James.
“Someone actually came up to us and told us it looked like a retail awning!” said Emily Perchlik, an architect on the project. “But he was nice about it.”
Thursday, the Seattle Asian Art Museum expansion received far less praise.
“I don’t have a backyard,” said Jill Passmore, a 20-year Capitol Hill resident, “and one foot of this park lost is too much for me.” Passmore refers to herself as proudly NIMBY about this issue.
Charles Ragen, who has lived across the street from Volunteer Park since he was a child, is skeptical about the SAAM project.
“I think a lot of it was done behind closed doors,” he said. “I’m all for the renovation but it feels like the expansion is a violation of public trust.”
The proposed addition would trade the museum’s prior art deco style for a more modern look that would allow museum visitors to overlook the park through huge panes of glass, which some said would be a problem for birds flying through the 48-acre park.
“I think it’s an invitation to trouble. I’m not a hippie or a bird lover, but I’m worried about birds flying into the new facade,” said Ragen.
Even people more positive on the expansion of SAAM felt it wasn’t communicated well to residents and frequenters of the park.
“I don’t think they were trying to pull a quickie, they wanted to have something ready when they revealed it to the public,” said Doug Bayley, who is on the committee for both projects and a former member of the Volunteer Park Trust.
Others in the trust agree. They say the difference in the reception to the two renovation projects is due to the different ways they were presented to the public. Brian Giddens, current chair of the Volunteer Park Trust steering committee, said that because of grants the amphitheater received early on, they were required to present their ideas to the public more than the SAAM.
“Overall, it’s been a very iterative project,” said Giddens. He says this public interaction positively impacted the design.
James, who supports the expansion, says the other reason for the public reaction to the projects is because of the sheer space involved.
“The Asian Art Museum proposed addition is much more intrusive than this little amphitheater is,” James said. “That’s why most of the people who oppose it don’t like it.”
A lot of people at Thursday’s open house were more focused on how the museum would impact the landscape of the park. Audrey Van Horne, a 60-year Capitol Hill resident who was an architect on the previous renovation for the Volunteer Park Conservatory in the mid-90s, focused more on what both renovations could offer to park goers, calling both projects a benefit to the public.
“The museum gives young people a chance to express themselves,” she said, “and now they’ll have more room for that.” The trick for the SAAM to get more support, she said, is for the museum to build a community of people who want to see the park continue to change and thrive.
If you have any feedback about the amphitheater renovation, you can call or text ORA Architects at (206) 899-0121. You can also submit feedback to the Seattle Asian Art Museum on their proposed expansion at http://seattleartmuseum.org/inspire.