GSD Green Prize Lauds Seattle Sculpture Park

What do you get when you spend over 400 hours brainstorming, 1,000 hours of research and planning, and six years of hard labor and work on a unique Z-shaped, architectural project? How about a check for $50,000 from Harvard’s Urban Planning and Design Department? On Dec. 5, architects Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi were awarded this year’s Veronica Rudge Green Prize winner for their Seattle-based project, the Olympic Sculpture Park.

As Manfredi says, the project is “something radical.” The Graduate School of Design (GSD) is currently exhibiting material related to the project in the lobby of Gund Hall.

And something radical it is. It is a landscape built over existing infrastructure, including highways and train tracks, and the new, Z-shaped Olympic Sculpture Park brings together city and nature.

According to Manfredi, “One of the fantastic things about the site is that there are two primary views: one leg reminds you that this is a park in the city, the other leg—pointing North—reminds you of the fact that this a city in nature, and you get a spectacular view of the Olympic mountains and the Puget Sound.”

Marion Weiss, Manfredi’s design partner, expounded on the theme, saying, “The project turned out to be a wonderful acknowledgement of this particular site. We should celebrate two qualities, nature and culture.”

Weiss also notes the Olympic Sculpture Park’s unique capability to make art more visible. “When you think about what the sculpture park is, it’s a place for art and a place for the public to enjoy the art. It brings art to the public and public to the art,” she says.

While art buffs definitely visit the Park, Manfredi notes that others enjoy it for different reasons.

“We get people who come up to us and say, ‘I love to walk my dog’ or ‘what a great place to jog!’”

Weiss and Manfredi plan to use their prize money to educate budding artists and architects. According to Weiss, “It’s an opportunity for us to give back. We will be giving the money to a program for at-risk children to engage arts as part of their life.”

The GSD awards the prize every two years, and chose Weiss and Manfredi’s project out of 80 entries from around the world. “Olympic Sculpture Park” is the first winner located in the United States since the establishment of the prize in 1986.

“We are excited we found such an amazing project in North America,” says Rodolfo Machado, co-chair of Harvard’s Urban Planning and Design department.

Weiss emphasizes the inherent uncertainty in a venture like Olympic sculpture park.

“When you work on a project it’s very, very personal. It’s the kind of the thing where we kind of wondered if anyone would show up. When things are very close, it’s hard to think they are going to have such an impact.”

Despite her former preoccupations, even Weiss acknowledges the project’s success.

“We hear so many people who can’t remember what was there before. It has become a part of the public territory.”