McGilvra Place Park

McGilvra Place Park

McGilvra Place Park is a 242-square-meter park on the edge of Seattle’s Central District. Once a forgotten traffic median on a major city arterial, the project is now an activated and enlivened pocket park in an area that specifically called for more green space in its neighborhood plans. Great care was taken to protect and celebrate eleven century-old London Plane trees that existed on the site. Improvements include transforming an adjacent street to a public plaza, replacing turf with native vegetation, installing park furniture made of reclaimed timber, and providing improved accessibility to the site. The project is the result of a public / private collaboration between the Bullitt Foundation, Seattle Parks Foundation, Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation, and Seattle Department of Transportation.

Project Website

Vital Stats
Certification Status Certified Living on October 22, 2014
Location Seattle, WA, USA
Bioregion Cascadia
Living Transect L5
Typology Landscape + Infrastructure

Project Team
Civil Springline Design LLC
Architectural The Berger Partnership
Sustainability Point32
Contractor WS Contractors LLC
Partners The Bullitt Foundation, The Seattle Parks Foundation, Seattle Parks and Recreation
Photo courtesy of Berger Partnership Photo courtesy of Berger Partnership

Site Info

The site was previously developed. Prior to the project, the site featured a raised concrete platform with irrigated turf and paved street. The Bullitt Foundation, a key funder of the McGilvra Place Park renovation, works to preserve and protect natural habitats in the Cascadia bioregion. As a recent example, in 2009, the Bullitt Foundation provided interim emergency funding to Western Rivers Conservancy for the acquisition of 1,936 acres of private timberlands along the Hoh River between the Olympic National Park’s wilderness boundary and the Pacific Ocean. The Hoh is one of few rivers left in the lower forty-eight with truly healthy salmon and steelhead runs.

03. Habitat Exchange Imperative

Location Olympic Peninsula, WA

As part of the renovation of McGilvra Park, existing turf, which required irrigation and maintenance, was replaced with native species. As a result, all water service to the site was decommissioned.

Photo courtesy of John Stamets Photo courtesy of John Stamets

06. Net Positive Energy Imperative

McGilvra Place Park achieved Net Zero Energy in the simplest way possible: it uses no energy. Onsite energy generation occurs solely through photosynthesis in the leaves of the park’s tree canopy (the original solar array).

The park was developed to meet a clear need for more community outdoor space in the neighborhood. Great effort was taken to provide accessibility to all people, and to create a much-needed public gathering space in the urban neighborhood. Comfortable seating and an outdoor ping-pong table create a social gathering space where a paved street once existed.

Photo courtesy of Berger Partnership Photo courtesy of Berger Partnership

The project was designed to maximize the reuse of materials onsite such as paving and soil, and limit the introduction of new materials required. The project team drew upon previous experience with the Red List to write a project specification that required the selection of compliant products. During the construction phase, a materials researcher assisted the contractor with procurement.

Design Strategies

One hundred percent of the existing sidewalk and retaining wall was reused in the renovation of McGilvra Place Park as pavers or architectural features. All existing concrete and asphalt from the street was sent to an aggregate recycler for use in future projects.

10. Red List Imperative


Complying with radius requirements for small & medium weight items was particularly challenging. In many cases, the project team developed strategies for reusing materials from other project sites.

Red List Substitutions

Original Product Red List Item Specified Manufacturer & Product Names
Concrete Pavers Formaldehyde Abbottsford Pavers

Regional Products Specified

Specified Manufacturer & Product Names Source Proximity to Site
Sportworks Tofino Bike Rack Woodinville, WA 20 miles

Manufacturer Proprietary Claims

Manufacturer & Product Claims
Tnemec Typoxy Ingredient information is proprietary

11. Embodied Carbon Footprint Imperative

Embodied Carbon Footprint (TCO2e) 28 TCO2e
Carbon Offset Project Red Hills Wind Farm
Location Oklahoma
Provider Terrapass

12. Responsible Industry Imperative

Wood Source

100% salvage

Timber Harvest & Lumber Seasoning Assistance

Meyer Wells of Seattle, WA

Photo courtesy of Berger Partnership Photo courtesy of Berger Partnership

The transformation of McGilvra Place Park from an underused right-of-way to a pedestrian-and-bike friendly space was supported by the goals and policies of the surrounding neighborhood plans, the City of Seattle Comprehensive Plan, and the goals of the stakeholders. These goals included:

  • Encouraging healthy and active lifestyles.
  • Creating green streets or street parks in underutilized street right-of-ways.
  • Improving barrier-free access to and within parks.
  • Expanding green management practices to reduce carbon footprint and enhance habitat value.

The result is a vibrant pocket park anchored in the fabric of the surrounding urban environment. The site is at a confluence of five surrounding neighborhoods with a diverse population of residential and commercial properties.

The project greatly improves circulation through the site as well as provides new seating opportunities. Under a canopy of eleven London Plane trees, the native understory plantings provide a buffer from the surrounding city traffic. The rejuvenating setting provides visitors with a rare respite from the busy urban environment. Site furnishings transition from raw wood stumps to refined benches. The range of available seating heights provide a tactile experience that accommodates all ages.

The site respects the origins of the park with the preservation of the existing concrete wall, integrating the site’s history with the new improvements. The park exists because it was a small parcel within the intersection of three streets. The geometries of the design highlight this intersection of the city grid. The site has been used as a green space from the beginning and its shape and established tree canopy ensure it will remain as a public amenity.

Democracy & Social Justice

The renovations of McGilvra Place Park came about from a community-led application to improve accessibility in the park and demonstrate alternative stormwater management methods. Funding for the park came from an Opportunity Fund through the Seattle Parks Department that identified this project as a unique opportunity to improve the site.

The raised lawn area was the largest barrier to accessing the site. However, the concrete retaining wall surrounding this area was original to the park’s construction in 1901 and played a critical role in sustaining the health of the existing London Plane trees since much of the trees’ roots exist within this area. The wall was surgically removed in two sections, one of which provides an ADA-accessible pathway into the raised area. Two benches are located within this zone for passive seating opportunities as well as providing a place to enjoy the center of the tree canopy.

The project included removing a section of 15th Avenue that separated the park site from the Bullitt Center, transforming the vehicle-oriented space into a bike-friendly, pedestrian-oriented plaza. The curb at the south end of the site was installed at four inches high to allow easier access for cyclists. The pedestrian ramps accessing the site were also widened from four feet to six feet or eight feet.

The park includes many bike racks and site furnishings that activate the space and provide opportunities for people and groups to use the park comfortably at the same time. A ping-pong table was the last furnishing installed and can double as a table for larger gatherings.

Useful Strategies

The park design embraced the goal of reusing as much of the site’s existing concrete sidewalks as possible. Most of the concrete removed was sawcut and reset as largescale pavers in the new site hardscape. The salvaged concrete paving provides a richness of surface and appreciation of what previously existed.

The site furniture is crafted from reclaimed wood of fallen trees within the Seattle city limits and celebrates wood in a variety of forms. The pieces exhibit a progression moving from the west end of the park toward the Bullitt Center on the east. In the park the wood is in its rough cut, raw state and gradually gets honed and burnished by human hands continuing into the Bullitt Center where it becomes a building material for the new living structure.

Tour Information

The park is open to the public and can be visited without reservations. For additional information on the park, visit the Bullitt Center and speak to a docent.