Richard Haag, who founded the UW Department of Landscape Architecture in 1964, designed and reinvented the Wallingford peninsula we now know as Gas Works Park.
THIS WEEK’S “THEN” photo appears on page 151 of author Thaisa Way’s new University of Washington Press book, “The Landscape Architecture of Richard Haag: From Modern Space to Urban Ecological Design.” Seattle’s Gas Works Park is Haag’s best-known victory for innovative urban design. Since 1964, when he founded the Department of Landscape Architecture at UW, Haag has gained a warranted admiration that Way has sharply surveyed and illustrated in her new book.
Way, an associate professor in the department Haag founded, dates our “then” photo taken by Haag to 1969. Haag then was scouting and studying for a proposal that one year later would bring him a commission to “prepare a site analysis, program and master plan” for a park on this Wallingford peninsula of 20½ acres and 1,900 feet of shoreline. Once he had the Seattle City Council’s unanimous approval, in 1972, Haag added the 45-foot-high green hillock we know and climb, Kite Hill.
In the book, Way explains, “Haag saw the dramatic site for the first time by rowboat on an autumn night and was immediately drawn to the somber black towers of the gas plant.”
She quotes from a Haag reminiscence that reads somewhat like reverie: “When I get a new site, I always want to know, figure out, what is the most sacred thing about the site? Well, this site, without the buildings, there was nothing sacred about it … So I decided that this big tower, the one right behind me, was the most sacred, the most iconic thing on this site, and that I would go down to the wire to save that structure. Then as I got into it more, I thought, ‘That’s kind of silly.’ Why wouldn’t you save the one behind it? You know, husband and wife?”
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Of course, Haag went on from there, preaching to and persuading Seattle to save almost the entire family of our “Iron Stonehenge.” And the consequences have been profound: Next spring, Gas Works will be featured in a PBS documentary as one of “Ten Parks that Changed America.”
Way describes it as “one of the first post-industrial landscapes to be transformed into a public place.” And with the activism of the Friends of Gas Works Park, the transformation continues. The Friends expect — and hope — to at last “free the towers,” which is to “take down that fence that surrounds them.”
The Friends, including Haag, also plan to install a camera obscura in the largest of the preserved generator towers and open an “interpretive center to bring recognition to the preserved structures as a collection of techno-artifacts unmatched in the world.”