by David Cole
During the 20th century, it wasn’t uncommon for prominent architects to put forth bold visions for the future of cities. Frank Lloyd Wright presented his initial ideas for Broadacre City in 1932 and continued refining them until his death in 1959. During the postwar era, Buckminster Fuller proposed enclosing part of Manhattan under a geodesic dome, and Paul Rudolph famously proposed a Brutalist megastructure over the Lower Manhattan Expressway, still a glimmer in Robert Moses’s eye at that time.
Perhaps chastened by the reactions to such grandiose schemes, the architecture profession from the 1980s onward took a more conservative tack, generally preferring to pour its most ambitious efforts into corporate projects. At the same time, the automobile-oriented orthodoxy of postwar American urban planning began to be seriously questioned. Infrastructure that seemed visionary in the 1950s is now considered archaic and anti-urban.
In Seattle, the Alaskan Way Viaduct—built as part of a postwar expressway project that sliced the waterfront off from the rest of downtown in a manner that Robert Moses himself might have conjured up—is rapidly approaching the end of its life as a conduit for automobiles. The fate of one viaduct segment has been especially debated: The Battery Street Tunnel, which travels underneath six blocks of downtown Seattle.