The best piece of 2016 Seattle architecture is located near Lake Union and is, according to former Seattle Times architecture critic, Mark Hinshaw, writing for Crosscut, “a total dump.”
He’s talking of course about the new replacement transfer station on North 34th Street in Wallingford, a place that since 1966 people took their hard-to-dispose-of trash.
The new transfer station didn’t appear to be an architectural winner right away. It sort of came from behind, a long shot if you will. But when completed it showed itself as “sleek, serene and sophisticated,… it would make a foreign embassy envious,” writes Hinshaw, and it hasn’t lost its utilitarian mission looking like “a cross between a diplomatic compound in Eastern Europe and a border entry into Canada.”
Unlike Hinshaw, I have rather fond memories of the old transfer station, not that it would be my first choice of destination. It was a chore having to go there and boring waiting in line, but if felt cathartic, throwing things into the pits once we arrived, watching living rooms unfold and disappear before your eyes. A couch, a chair, a lamp, a rug, even TVs back then, and the scene would disappear, churning, as more items poured in. I’m not so sure the new transfer station will offer quite that same experience…
It was closed the day we visited, New Year’s Day. “Let’s go see 2016’s best architecture,” I suggested to my husband. But even closed there was a lot to see – a bright new playground across the street with half a dozen kids running through the treehouse/slide; an adult playground, so to speak, around the parameter of the station, made up of about seven exercise stations that are part of the landscape; a basketball court; and a court yard with benches directly across the street from Essential Bakery, on Woodlawn, creating additional outdoor seating for the cafe. Then along 34th toward Stoneway more benches, this time designed into the building, accenting the sidewalk with views of both inside the building and the street. And to top it all off there is the public artwork, RECLAIMED by Jean Shin, made from the rebar of the old structure and capturing the soul of the place as its plaque describes, “….RECLAIMED highlights the potential of waste material to be reimagined into a vibrant second life within the community, and echoes the sustainable principle of reuse at the transfer station….”
The new building “may not be truly ‘civic’ but it is entirely civil to its neighbors,” writes Hinshaw.
It’s much less of a chore to come to, which is probably just what the designers, Mahlum, had in mind, and more of a treat.