Dear Community Member,
I am deeply concerned about plans to expand the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park. I ask that you join me in advocating to protect Volunteer Park from this unsuitable proposal.
I do support voter-approved renovations for seismic safety and climate control of this City-owned building. Unfortunately the project has morphed to include expansion into protected park space. The proposed addition would obscure landscape views throughout the east side of the park, and spoil the character of the Olmsted Brothers’ 1909 design. The design process did not include the public participation required by city policy.
About the Park
Volunteer Park is a work of landscape art of the highest significance, listed in the National Register of Historic Places, and protected as a designated Seattle landmark. Its designers the Olmsted Brothers in 1910 expressed their opposition to erecting buildings in parks, for the reason that “The landscape ceases to be a naturalistic park landscape, and becomes a building landscape.”
About the Proposed Addition
The Seattle Art Museum’s (SAM) proposed east addition would be an imposing box 40 x 80 x 50 feet high, not a “modest” addition as SAM has repeatedly described it. It would become the tallest exterior wall of the building, intruding into and dominating a downward-sloping lawn, spoiling landscape views throughout the east side of Volunteer Park. Construction traffic would inevitably compress and damage the root systems of the exceptional trees for which Volunteer Park is known.
The Design Process Lacked the Required Public Involvement
Seattle Parks and Recreation has a Public Involvement Policy which stipulates “early and thorough notification of proposals and projects” and “When possible, to invite the community’s ideas… rather than to present a list of options or a proposed design”.
And yet, there were no mailings to neighborhood residents, or project signs to inform park users, until late October 2016, a full year after the design process began. Community meetings were run by SAM and promoted primarily to SAM’s constituency, disregarding the outreach requirements clearly stated in Parks’ policy. Despite Volunteer Park’s stature and the magnitude of potential impacts, Seattle Parks has actively participated in only one community meeting, which Parks co-hosted in November 2016. All of the meetings presented only a single design created by SAM’s architects.
The citizen’s group “Protect Volunteer Park” has spoken with hundreds of people in and around the park, the vast majority of whom knew nothing about the expansion and expressed immediate opposition. Nearly 400 people have signed a petition to Seattle Parks Department, asking that park land not be taken to enlarge the museum.
Alternatives Should be Considered
The need to expand has not been justified, and alternatives have not been provided. SAM has not expressed willingness to consider a reduced program that eliminates non-critical spaces like the Park Lobby and Conservation Lab. Substantial usable space within the building’s existing perimeter also has not been exploited. SAM has declined to consider using the 8 floors it owns in its building in downtown Seattle, which are currently leased out to a private company. The construction of this downtown property was financed by bonds guaranteed by the City and for which the City remains liable.
Given these serious omissions, I believe the Asian Art Museum additions must not go forward as currently designed. If SAM can fully document its need for more space there should be an entirely new process, complying with City policy and inviting the public to participate in evaluating that need and considering possible solutions that fully protect Volunteer Park.
I appreciate your taking the time to read my views.
A Park Supporter