The Seattle design professional with the biggest reputation outside the Northwest is someone you may never have heard of. Kathryn Gustafson is best known locally for her promenade outside McCaw Hall (with the sheet of water on the floor) and the terraced watercourse descending through the new Civic Center (pictured). In Europe, however, where she spent most of her career before returning to Washington in 1997, she's famous for the Princess Diana Memorial outside London, among other works in France, England, and Beirut. In Chicago, she's constructing a vast garden, with seating for 7,000, around a new Frank Gehry edifice. She established a local partnership, Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, in 2000 (she has another in London), and her profile is only likely to rise here with her involvement with the new Gates Foundation headquarters east of the Seattle Center. Phase II of the Civic Center is also in the offing, and a lucky few private homeowners have also employed her services here.
The Yakima native today resides primarily on Vashon Island, where her family also has roots. Since she usually commutes by boat and works on the waterfront, she finds in Seattle "the virtue of pure space. To look out and see a horizon. There are no horizon lines in big cities. Here you have this fantastic thing, that you sit on this bay. And you have this amazing panorama. You can't go anywhere in this city without crossing a bridge. The topography is fascinating. The thing that really drew me back outside of family . . . was the air quality. It was also wonderful to be in a place where plants wanted to grow."
She also sees a city in transition and takes a keen interest in the various plans for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct: "Seattle has a waterfront. You don't have one in Minnesota, OK? That's what makes this city unusual. And having a big hunking piece of concrete sitting up in front of it, creating pollution and creating noise, is one of the things . . . you don't need to drive 60 miles per hour through the center of a city. What's more important is how you live in the city."
For her, that should mean more density, and more parks—small ones, too, reclaimed from old uses—to help connect neighborhoods. She continues, "There are areas on the waterfront, like right across from the stadiums, where I would like to see the development move down there. It would be lovely to have a park there. So your waterfront would have the Olympic Sculpture Park to the north end and another park on the south end, and a wonderful promenade between the two. If you were able to get a park down there, you might be able to get more housing and living in Pioneer Square. You need more amenities. Basically, you need more downtown supermarkets. You need more things that say, 'Yes, you can live here.' Mixed use. It's not European, it just makes good sense with population [growth]. Basic living needs should be around where you live. You shouldn't have to get in a car to go someplace. It shouldn't be an obligation. I'd rather see the city densify where it is but keep the industrial area alive. I'd rather ride light rail than get in a car."
With her Gates Foundation project ahead and Lake Union to the north of it, it's no surprise when she says, "The area that I'm watching now is that whole Commons area." Gustafson Guthrie Nichol, Ltd., Pier 55, 206-903-6802, www.ggnltd.com.
Kathryn Gustafson'S Picks
Best Things About being Back in the Northwest:
"I love the smell of summer here. The mixture of the evergreen smell and the dust. In the winter, everything's always green. You're not sitting here with these blackened twigs. The sky is changing constantly. It's always moving. There's always something going on."
Best Seattle Viewpoints:
From Vashon Island, "the passenger ferry is probably one of the best views you can get in Seattle. I still love going over the West Seattle Bridge and having [the view of] Mount Rainier."
Best Architectural Tour Destinations:
Steven Holl's Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle University, the Central Library, and Volunteer Park. "There's really good architecture here. I like people to see the Seattle Center. It's good to see that period architecture, which I love. It's almost like that was the Jetsons era and we thought that was our future. There's a dream about it, which I think is wonderful. It's a jewel."
Best Road Trips:
Highway 97 south of Yakima, Highway 101 south of Aberdeen. The Skagit Valley, Highway 20 over to the Methow Valley and Winthrop. "I love the [Olympic] Peninsula. Anything near the water. I love herons. I love Index and that whole area" around Highway 2, and Highway 9 north.
Best Sources for Cooking:
"Living in France for several years, I'm a fairly good cook. Sur La Table [Pike Place Market] is wonderful if you're a cook. [There] are a lot of organic growers on Vashon who have a farmers market on Saturdays at the island commons." Also: DeLaurenti and Market Spice (also in the Market) and the Vashon Thriftway.
Best Places to Eat Out:
Campagne (Pike Place Market) and Rover's (Madison Valley); "I like the Pink Door" in the Market, especially on the terrace. Chez Dominique (downtown) for lunch. Bob's Bakery on Vashon, for the all-veggie Bob's Burger.
Market Optical, where she had some sunglasses converted into cool reading glasses.