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Merit Award - DESIGN

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West Side Light Rail Transit System
Portland, OR

Murase Associates

Robert Murase, FASLA
Principal, Murase Associates
1300 NW Northrup
Portland, OR 97209
Tel. 503-242-1477;
Fax 503-295-0942

Project Purpose

Light rail provides an alternative transportation mode to relieve automobile gridlock with comfort and convenience. Designed with thought and care, Portland's light rail has become a working organism as it traverses through the urban and rural environment. The views from the trains change in 55-mph spurts; from the metropolitan splendor of downtown Portland, through residential quietness, past the surprise of a native wetland, into agricultural peacefulness, and back again. For the thousands of commuters who use light rail, the landscape can make the difference between a pleasant or stressful experience affecting whether or not they choose to ride. Throughout the Westside Light Rail, the landscape architect has provided visual continuity, beautiful vistas and intimate discoveries, while keeping in mind the practical considerations of parking, safety, and how people get from one place to another.


Often, landscape architects work in coordination with other disciplines. In this project, there was a true collaboration between the client, landscape architects, artists, architects, geologists, engineers, and the public sector. The client had the foresight to realize that in order for light rail to be meaningful to the riders, it needed to have a human scale, a human touch-it needed artists integrated into the design process early on. During a two-week charrette the design team, led by the landscape architects, created the conceptual base for the integration of art into the new transit system. The team pursued philosophical issues as well as technical ones; functional issues as well as aesthetic ones. A concept of the interconnectedness of people, the environment, and the transit system emerged. The art and the landscape would not be separate. Every station would have its own meaning based upon its past, present, and future.

Special Factors

Each of the 20 stations where commuters transfer present unique challenges and have distinct characteristics. Although the landscape architect worked on all 20 stations, three major transit stations are highlighted in this submittal. Collins Circle is designed as a gateway to the city, linking suburbia to downtown. The large, tilted stone circle is evocative of ancient Oregon landscapes and the volcanic activity that has shaped the state. Punctuated with standing stones and gnarled Sumac trees, the stone circle is an ever-changing place of spirituality and reflection.

Washington Park Station serves as the nucleus for several Portland landmarks, including the zoo, arboretum, and World Forestry Center. Upon disembarking from the train 260 feet below ground, commuters follow the platform to a set of elevators that transports them to the surface. Basalt columns, placed as a metaphor for the explosions that excavated the tunnel, and the elegantly landscaped terrace greet commuters as they come up from the deep underground tunnel. The boarding area for school children visiting the zoo is directly in front of the station. The children climb and play on the natural stone terraces while waiting for their buses to load/unload. Sunset Transit Center is a hub where light rail, bus lines, an automobile park and ride facility, and pedestrian connections converge. Diagonal pathways through triangular planting beds of native and ornamental grasses connect these functions, representing the intersection of the new train line cutting through the agricultural land of the past. The mix of grasses, wildflowers and trees becomes an ever-changing meadow of texture and color that delights and surprises the commuter season by season.


The Westside Light Rail Transit System has a far-reaching audience and each rider takes away their own thoughts of the system. Hopefully, their journey is positive, and as they pass through the changing views, commuters might question how the light rail-in all of its complexities-came to be. And the answers with which they are rewarded will inform them on the stages necessary to create a system of transit that is so successful on so many levels. Randy Gragg, architecture critic for The Oregonian, calls Collins Circle "one of the boldest pieces of public art since [Lawrence Halprin's] Lovejoy Fountain." The landscape architect has thoughtfully engaged people with the new and existing built objects, and has also taken great steps to tread lightly on the environment. Throughout the corridor, careful grading for drainage and slope stability and the use of regional and site appropriate landscape material was developed. Wetland mitigation was completed for five sites along the light rail line. Native plant material was selected to reinforce water conservation measures and reduce the burden of maintenance. While the landscape provides habitat for wildlife within the environmental matrix, it also creates character and visual continuity along the corridor. The light rail in the metropolitan environment is part of the city streetscape with urban amenities and activities. A consistent plant palette was used along the line to bring a sense of continuity to the landscape and remind us that what seems separate is connected, as surely as light rail connects rural to suburban to urban.

2001 Award Winners
Press Release
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