Design Is the Best Defense
At the U.S. Courthouse in Seattle, the landscape is the first layer of security.
By Clair Enlow
Peter Walker and Partners Landscape Architecture
The new United States Federal Courthouse in Seattle is set
into a monumental, one-acre plaza designed by Peter Walker and Partners
Landscape Architecture of Berkeley, California. Look again, and there’s a
garden abstracted from a Pacific Northwest forest—with trees, turf patches,
ferns, and dark pools of water. This multilayer landscape invites third looks
and lingering visits. But it’s also the first line of defense in this
courthouse design, and its completion signals a new era in which civic spirit
and effective security are intimately connected.
Planning for the Seattle courthouse began when memories of
the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City were
very fresh. Then, as the project approached the construction phase, the World
Trade Center was destroyed on September 11, 2001.
In spirit, this is the people’s palace—where citizens come to meet the law of the land and perhaps to put their lives in the hands of
their fellow citizens. But due to events of the past decade, the place has
another designation: target. This landscape is designed to stop a racing truck
loaded with explosives.
“There’s a famous dictum in modern design: Form follows function,” says Peter Walker, FASLA.
“The clearer you are about the function, the more clearly you can respond to
Building concrete walls is the historic solution, but that was not an option here. It was the job of Walker and his team, managed by
partner Paul Sieron, to go beyond any existing, prescriptive measures for physical protection of the building and its occupants. Starting with the
understanding of defense and openness as contradictory goals, Walker worked to make them two facets of the same place.
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