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Beach Access

Expedia’s new Seattle campus features a publicly accessible beach that exemplifies the wild coastal character of the Puget Sound.

By Rachel Gallaher

The 2.6-acre publicly accessible beach on Expedia's Seattle campus was designed by San Francisco-based landscape design firm Surfacedesign. Image by Marion Brenner.

Positioned on the east shore of Seattle’s Elliott Bay, Expedia’s new campus is bringing new life—and new ways to enjoy the region’s natural beauty—to the city’s industrial Interbay area. The campus features a 2.6-acre publicly accessible park, dubbed “The Beach,” which was designed by San Francisco-based landscape firm Surfacedesign. Working to create a natural area that exemplifies the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, while also providing spaces for Expedia employees and community members to take breaks, gather, and enjoy front-row views of the city (and stunning Mount Rainier on clear days), Surfacedesign embraced a scheme that includes native plants, a gravel beach, and amphitheater-style terraced seating that also serves as a seawall.

“We worked with Expedia to develop a landscape that celebrates the Sound and showcases the wild coastal character of the regional landscape,” says Michal Kapitulnik, principal at Surfacedesign. “Environmental stewardship lays the foundation for the landscape approach at Expedia’s broader campus, including the beach. Compliance with the Salmon-Safe program was a primary stipulation, so watershed health was a high priority, and is reflected in the material and planting choices throughout the project. Ultimately, the goal was to create a public space along the waterfront that invites users to immerse themselves in the coastal landscape.”

Amphitheater-style terraced seating that also serves as a seawall. Native plantings abound throughout the site. Image by Marion Brenner.

The area that encompasses the campus and beach was a land reclamation site that used landfill to extend the peninsula into Elliott Bay in the 1960s, and as a result most of the existing soil was biologically deficient. According to Kapitulnik, “The project’s initial phase focused on identifying and harvesting healthy patches, then using those to inoculate and build soil for the rest of the site. The publicly accessible portions comprised a road with parking along the Sound and a shared bicycle and pedestrian path with a dangerous blind curve. The pathway connects to Centennial Park and downtown Seattle, so it was really important to us to maintain and improve the bicycle and pedestrian access through the site while also creating a dedicated public space along the Sound.”

By separating pedestrian and bicycle paths and moving them farther upland than the previous one, the design team carved out a new space for people to gather at the edge of the water. The paths weave around a series of dunes that create more intimate spaces to gather and are accented by gradients of gravel that create subtle patterning of the ground plane. Repurposed driftwood “boomsticks,” which were formerly used as breakwater barriers, are nestled within the dunes to frame views and provide informal seating. “The design of the space is informal but intuitive,” says Kapitulnik, “allowing users the flexibility to move safely and enhancing a sense of discovery and stewardship.”

Surfacedesign restructured biking and walking paths (which used to be combined) to make the beach safer for the entire community. Image by Marion Brenner.

To comply with Salmon-Safe certification guidelines, Surfacedesign chose plants that attract insects that salmon eat, and added bioretention meadows that naturally filter runoff before it enters Puget Sound. The dune and watershed bioretention plantings throughout the project are a mix of native perennials and grasses that are arranged in drifts of color that unfold as you move through the space. The perennials include native beach strawberry, gumweed, seashore lupine, and wild buckwheat. A mix of deciduous and evergreen trees provides shade in certain areas.

“Plants were sourced from regional nurseries, resulting in a palette of trees and plants that thrive in the local soil to minimize amendment requirements on this fertilizer-free project,” Kapitulnik says. “We also created bioretention meadows that treat the runoff from adjacent pathways. Additional plants were chosen and placed based on their textures and colors to make the meadows look like living quilts when blown by the wind.”


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