Many precedents and projects from the around the globe, being slowly populated in the Resources section. These will all get some more in-depth attention, and starting it off locally, I wanted to highlight The Waterlines Project. The ability to ‘Discover and Explore Seattle’s Past Landscapes’ is hosted by the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, and offers a densely researched and vibrant picture of the historic cultural and ecology of Seattle prior to the significant engineering that has subsequently taken place.
“Founded on Indian ground by American settlers in 1851, Seattle is one of the most dramatically engineered cities in the United States. Its shorelines have been extended, lagoons filled, hills flattened and rivers re-routed. Built on an active geological fault near a large volcano, Seattle has also been jolted by huge earthquakes, washed by tsunamis, covered by volcanic mud and ash, fluted by glaciers and edged by rising seas.”
The project is historical in nature, using the shorelines as a datum for use and reconfiguration over time, which the creators offer as”an appropriate and compelling framework for viewing the city’s history–one that will engage public audiences and raise themes that are important in American history.” Synthesis of documentary info (maps, photos) alongside oral histories and other archaeological and geological study weaves a mosaic visual that is more accessible to the public.
The main product of the project is the large Waterlines Project Map, which available in a number of places around Seattle, as well as graphic and PDF download on the site. The front illustrates the mid-19th Century landscape, before settlement by non-native peoples, including keyed places that reference Coast Salish terms, many of which are evocative and descriptive of function, such as The Growing Place and Water Falling Over an Edge. The ecology is also evident, with a range of forest, prairie, wetland, rivers and creeks.
There’s also a very faint outline of the modern shoreline, which doesn’t dominate but gives a feel for the adjustment of these Waterlines the significant filling, straightening, and flattening that occurred. This is highly evident in the mouth of the Duwamish River seen below, with the creation of Harbor Island and industrial lands south of downtown, as well as the channelization of the previously bendy river.
The back side of the map shows more information in the form of tours of significant historical stories, such as the lakes, glaciation, and rivers, as well as the original settlement location in current Pioneer Square, which was also an indigenous village named The Crossing Over Place. There’s also a timeline of the most recent 20,000 years of geology and development for a bit of long context.
The background for the map is immense, drawing from the previous work of the the Puget Sound River History Project, and involves multiple disciplines. yet it’s simple and effective, somewhat similar to the Mannahatta 2D visuals. The site offers additional source materials, such as maps, photographs and links to resources. Some interesting juxtaposition occurs when paired with recent aerial photos at similar scale – both as a way to emphasis erasure and addition, but also to show traces of what still remains.
The iterations of time between the two time intervals above are indicative of the Seattle penchant for ‘making land’ (matched in intensity with ‘taking land’ perhaps). The story of the filling of the Duwamish and colonization of tideflats and water from 1875 through 2008 in the series below and reinforces the significant alteration that both radically shifted the ecology of Seattles only river, but also provided land to grow the city and industrial base.
The core team includes Peter Lape, Amir Sheikh, and Donald Fels, and a host of collaborators listed here. While referential, the focus is not on the buried streams and creeks, so my work is complementary and draws much in terms of inspiration and information from this project as well as possible collaborations and resources in Seattle.
For a bit more context surrounding the Little Crossing Over Place, this video made by the team shows the transformation of the Pioneer Square area of Seattle “a bird’s eye glimpse at some of the social, economic, and landscape histories of the neighborhood through time.”
# all images via Waterlines