I haunted the buildings and let the spirit of the place enjoin me. I began seeing what I liked, then I liked what I saw – new eyes for old. Permanent oil slicks became plain without croppings of concrete, industrial middens were drumlins, the towers were ferro-forests and the brooding presence became the most sacred of symbols.
For fifty years, the Seattle Gas Works churned and belched smoke on the north shore of Lake Union, extracting gas from coal to heat the city’s homes and businesses. As a growing city moved from coal to electric, Seattle shut down the plant in 1956.
UW architect Richard Haag began thinking about the site of the old Seattle Gas Works Plant in 1961. In 1970, city leaders commissioned landscape architect and UW faculty member Richard Haag to develop a park on the site of the old gas plant. Unlike any of the other proposed designs, Haag decided the former structures of the plant should become centerpieces of the new park.
In preserving many of the structures of the old gas plant, Haag designed one of the first postindustrial parks commemorating the industrial past. As Haag advocated his vision for the park, the public slowly came to appreciate the towers of the plant as modern sculptures. Landscape architects around the world recognize Gas Works Park as a precedent-setting project for postindustrial parks.
Maintaining the industrial landscape of Gas Works Park required detoxifying the contaminated soil. Haag developed a method for detoxifying the soil on-site by adding oil-degrading enzymes and organic material to the soil. Haag’s detoxification method succeeded in breaking down toxins in the park’s topsoil, though not without controversy. Ultimately, however, this strategy was more environmentally friendly and cost the city significantly less than extracting the toxins from the soil. The most toxic soil was compiled, covered in clay and fresh topsoil, forming the park’s Great Mound. These bioremediation methods are now commonplace in landscape architecture and ecological design programs, though not without controversy, as tar continues to occasionally bubble up from deep below the surface of the park.
Haag won an award from the American Society of Landscape Architects for the design of Gas Works Park. The park continues to be a popular attraction in Seattle today both for its location on a peninsula on Lake Union’s north shore and for the aesthetics of the old gas plant structures. On January 2, 2013, Gas Works Park was listed the National Registry of Historic Places. While Haag was recognized as leading the development of Gas Works Park, he had many students, employees, and colleagues as collaborators.