0712 Downtown Park
Image: Will Austin

The Downtown Park

U.S. Courthouse Plaza
700 Stewart St, Seattle

The City of Seattle has never managed to build the great central park that downtown deserves, but in the last two decades other agencies and even private developers have stepped in with several increasingly inspired small-scale public squares. The most spectacular of them is the U.S. Courthouse plaza designed in 2004 by Peter Walker and Partners of Berkeley, California.

At first glance, the plaza’s most prominent attraction 
is its formal grove of 70 birch trees planted within an organizing scheme of quartzite paving stones. Even better, though, is its beautiful and exquisitely detailed cascading fountain and pool. Everywhere you look, there’s a counterpoint of visual rhythms going on—rivulets of water divided into three strands, tripping down stairways grouped into fours. There’s serenity here, but it also reflects urban complexity.

A good city park invites contemplation, and a great one, like this plaza, then rewards that contemplation.