UW News

August 30, 2016

UW student partners with WSECU for temporary art exhibit in the University District

UW News

A view from above the site during the open house

An open house was held during the exhibit’s one-week life span.Britton Shepard

Most landscape architecture projects conjure up an image of a permanent structure meant to be experienced indefinitely. But for Britton Shepard, a 2016 graduate of the University of Washington’s landscape architecture master’s program, it means exploring the temporary nature of urban terrains.

Earlier this year, Shepard brought life back to a vacant and demolished lot in the University District — although it was only a short-lived endeavor.

Shepard’s thesis project “Site 1121: Field Notes” centered around a Washington State Employee Credit Union-owned site, once home to Clark’s Restaurant decades ago.

Historic photo of Clarks Restaurant from 1939

Decades ago, Site 1121 was home to Clark’s Restaurant.Puget Sound Regional Archives

WSECU will soon use the site, located at 1121 NE 45th Street, for its new building. But for one week in March, it was part art exhibit, part archeological dig and part garden.

While studying landscape architecture at the UW, Shepard said his work focused on revelatory design, an approach that reveals hidden ecological, cultural or material qualities in a site.

“I started to look at urban sites in transition — margins, cleared sites, vacant lots awaiting new construction — and began to understand them as fallow sites, places where a new kind of interaction could emerge to reveal the landscape’s genius loci,” Shepard said.

Once completed, passersby were encouraged to walk through Site 1121 along the prefabricated boardwalks and examine the artifacts that were uncovered, which were laid out on work tables.

A spoon found at Site 1121. Photo by Britton Shepard

A copper fitting found at Site 1121. Photo by Britton Shepard

A copper valve found at Site 1121. Photo by Britton Shepard

Oil tank valve found at Site 1121. Photo by Britton Shepard

Shepard said the short-term nature of the installation was a key to its success.

“People really connected to the opportunity to ‘hit pause’ and observe the changing forms in the urban landscape,” he said. “Each visitor had to grasp the fact that Site 1121 would only last for a week, and that soon a new building would occupy the site.”

Related: Seattle Sketcher visits Site 1121

This approach, he added, could be done at various sites throughout the city.

“The fabric of the city is changing so much and so fast, we can be looking for ways to prioritize more culturally and environmentally activated places,” Shepard said. “I have presented this idea to the Seattle Parks Department as a way of curating some of the many land-banked sites they are responsible for. I also think the university could follow this design approach to improve the livability and urban integration of the campus ecosystem as it grows.”