John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
Artists transform a highway ramp that over the years has welcomed skateboarders, divers, hermits, and marriage-seekers.
In Montlake, Seattle, there's an elevated section of highway jutting out of SR 520 that's abandoned and scrawled with graffiti. This is the "North Montlake Ramp," a lopped-off connector to the R.H. Thomson Expressway that was never built due to a strong neighborhood revolt (mirrored nationally) against highways in the '60s and '70s.
Over the decades the ramp could've just become another blah fixture in the city's roadscape. But this being Seattle, the community welcomed the odd structure with open arms, incorporating it into their lives and play. People transformed it into a dance floor, skateboard park, a swimming hole, and a kayaking course. Lovers got married under it. And an individual going by the name Captain Defect claims that among "other things, I built and lived in 'a house' inside that bridge."
It's good that Seattleites got in their quality time with the ramp, because sometime between this year and 2016 it's got a date with the wrecking ball. The city is scheduling $15 million to remove old, useless ramps as part of its larger renovation of 520. In this specific one's place will grow a new extension of the Washington Park Arboretum.
But a group of architects and designers calling themselves Re-Collective are not letting the structure disappear without a fitting tribute. Toward that end they've coated it with curved acrylic, like a fattening carnival mirror, that warps the surrounding water, lily pads, and floating garbage. They call it the "Gate to Nowhere," and through the fall it will stand in companionship with the ramp on its deathwatch.
Here's how Re-Collective explains the intervention:
for the public project, the architecture-artist group has wrapped a single support pier in acrylic mirror with stainless steel strapping to reflect images of water, trees and air against its brutalist form. the perceived effect is a distorted representation of the surroundings into abstract forms, varying dramatically in accordance with the amount of sunlight, weather conditions, and time of day. furthering the manipulation is the water below, whose constantly form ripples and undulates as animals, trees, and other forces of nature disrupt its condition. the designers encourage passage through the gate by means of a boat.
At the project's website, people have expressed appreciation over this artistic sendoff. "I really like the idea. I have many fond and chilling [??!] childhood memories there and will actually be sad to see it go," says one. Chimes in another: "Love it! Was married under the ramps and I’m sad to see them go. We should protect more of our unstructured spaces. This looks like it will be a beautiful, elegant tribute to the structures."
For folks who won't be in Seattle this year, here are a few scenes of the "Gate to Nowhere." See if you can spot what's wrong with the last one: