SAM’s Porcelain Room


A section of the porcelain collection. Most of the pieces in this view are from England  though the plate at bottom center is from Germany. All of the pieces date to the mid 18th century.

A section of the porcelain collection. Most of the pieces in this view are from England though the plate at bottom center is from Germany. All of the pieces date to the mid 18th century.

Deep in the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is a windowless room filled with floor to ceiling cases displaying several thousand years of porcelain. Porcelain was first developed in China during the Eastern Han Dynasty (196-220 CE) and was refined during the following Tang Dynasty (618-906 CE). Porcelain is extremely strong because the clay and stone dust used to create porcelain has a high content of quartz and mica. This allows for the thin ceramics and transparency associated with fine china wares.

Following the Tang dynasty, porcelains became a major export and were highly prized in Europe. European aristocrats and wealthy merchants collected porcelain and displayed their collections in rooms, which inspired SAM’s porcelain room. The porcelain room fashion reached its height under Augustus the Strong, King of Poland, who built an entire palace to house his 20,000 piece porcelain collection.

Today porcelain is used in a wide range of applications. Toilets are the most common example, but porcelain’s strength lends it to many industrial and commercial applications as well. Porcelain insulators are used on high voltage power lines, and porcelain tiling is used extensively in the building industry.

This ten sided dish is from 18th century Japan and was originally a piece in Augustus the Strong's porcelain palace. The scene on the dish shows a cat crouching next to some bonsai and bamboo.

This ten sided dish is from 18th century Japan and was originally a piece in Augustus the Strong’s porcelain palace. The scene on the dish shows a cat crouching next to some bonsai and bamboo.

Want to learn more about the SAM’s porcelain collection? Visit here

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All sketches on Dreaming of Landscapes are available as art prints for $15.



Rain Garden: Chinese Style Retrofit

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Don’t forget, Dreaming of Landscapes is migrating to its new home at Bingle  

This is a brief summary of a design project I have been working on for the Seattle Chinese Garden. The projected concerns a rain garden along the garden’s entry path that has fallen into disrepair. A poor soil mixture and hot southwestern exposure has caused the plantings to die except for a few grasses. In addition, the rain garden’s planting felt out of step with the Chinese Garden’s aesthetics.

This project has three major goals:

  1. Maintain the rain garden function by not changing the bed layout and engineering
  2. Restore the rain garden plantings by creating a new planting plan, amending the bed soils and adding summer irrigation
  3. Create a Chinese style through plant selection and the addition of stone work

Existing: Filled with low grasses, the existing rain garden has little seasonal interest and is a hole in the current Chinese Garden’s Welcome Walkway. Three alternative proposals were created to address this gap. Each option was explored through a Photoshop perspective elevation.

Option #1: The bed bottom is planted with Iris japonica and bamboo is used to form a backdrop. Taihu rocks give a suggestion of mountains.

Option #2: This scheme is more open and emphasizes the Taihu rock arrangements. Pine trees add a sculptural element to the garden. The bottom of the planter would be filled with Rubus pentalobus.

Option #3: The open nature of Option #2 is maintained, but the pines are replaced by Nandina domestica as an shorter evergreen option. The bottom of the planter would be filled with Rubus pentalobus.

This project is ongoing, but I hope to see it realized sometime next spring. After discussions with the Seattle Chinese Garden Horticulture chair, Phil Wood, we are leaning towards a combination of Option #2 and Option #3. This fourth option would maintain the open, sculptural nature of the pines and stone, but use the heavenly bamboo to soften the planting.

To learn more about the Seattle Chinese Garden visit here.

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My First Article in Washington

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          This past August, I took over as the editor of the Washington Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects (WASLA) newsletter. I have not been writing much as I have adjusted to the shift from writer to editor. I returned to the realm of writing this month with the publication of an article in the WASLA newsletter on a design charrette WASLA hosted in the small town of Wilkeson, Washington. I am reposting the complete article below because it is only available through WASLA’s emailed newsletter.

Wilkeson Charrette

Photo of Wilkeson, WA by Allisa Carlson, PLA, LEED AP

On a rainy October weekend, WASLA and the National Park Service Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (NPS) came together to create a vision for the development of the Town of Wilkeson’s historic and natural resources. Wilkeson is a town of 477 residents in rural Pierce County. The town is historically significant as a source of sandstone, coal and coke in the late 19th and early 20th century. The charrette focused on the remains of Wilkeson’s coke ovens and the development of the site around them into a regional park.

Between 1890 and 1930, Wilkeson had 160 coke ovens producing coke for use in steel production. Today, 30 coke ovens remain in various states of decay. The Town of Wilkeson owns the land around the coke ovens and would like to develop the site into a premier regional park that:

  • Restores, preserves and protects the historic coke ovens
  • Provides educational opportunities (Washington State’s longest operating school is in Wilkeson)
  • Supports a variety of community events (The town currently uses the site for hand car and lawn mower races)
  • Meets basic park user needs for safety, accessibility and enjoyment

Participants met on October 19th for a tour of the site provided by Wilkeson’s mayor Donna Hogerhuis and the National Park liaison Bryan Bowden. Everyone then adjourned to the local Eagles Lodge for dinner and a meet-and-greet with local residents. Highlights included a prime rib or vegetarian lasagna dinner and a tour of the Eagles Lodge meeting hall and poker room. The evening wrapped up with a presentation by Mayor Hogerhuis on the history of Wilkeson. Participants then broke up to spend the night with local residents, in the Wilkeson fire station and a local motel.

Participants reconvened at 7am in the Eagles Lodge for breakfast before kicking off the charrette at 8. The charrette was broken into four teams: the Interpretation Team, the Community Events Team, the Trails Team and the Master Plan Team. The charrette began with participants and residents jumping between each group to generate ideas. Then each team settled down to generate a set of drawings and documents the city could use in the future.

The Interpretation Team developed a number of suggestions to preserve the coke ovens and provided educational and interpretational opportunities. The team suggested creating a full size model of the coke ovens that visitors could explore and touch. A barrier would surround the existing coke ovens to limit damage from human interaction. The team also developed a list of significant spots in the park and town. They generated an interpretation outline for these spots and a signage system to create a unified experience.

The Community Events Team explored ways to support the town’s existing and future use of the space. This centered on an amphitheater that would provide space for the current hand cart and lawn mower races. The amphitheater could also serve as a space for future concerts, bike rides and other events.

The trails and connectivity team proposed a series of trails that would provide access to the interpretive stops and community event spaces. The team also proposed connecting the park trail system into the Foothills Trail via a trail through town. Currently, the Foothills Trail ends on Wilkeson’s north boundary and does not continue through town. The team also proposed future connections to a possible museum at the Wilkeson Quarry.

Finally, the master plan team tied all of the pieces together. Their plan highlighted each proposal and provided a cohesive vision for the park. WASLA, NPS and the Town of Wilkeson were very pleased with all the products produced by the landscape architects, students and volunteers. The Town of Wilkeson plans to use these documents and vision as a critical piece of their grant application to develop Coke Oven Park. WASLA would like to wish the Town of Wilkeson the best of luck and thank them for the opportunity to work on this project. WASLA would also like to thank the landscape architects, students, volunteers, and residents who made this project possible.

Master Plan Photo by Allisa Carlson, PLA, LEED AP

Landscape Architects
Don Benson (WASLA President, Event Co-coordinator), Jan Swattherthwaite, Bronwen Carpenter, Matt Mathes, Ned Gulbran, Bob Droll, Andy Mitton, Jim Brennan, Allisa Carlson

Local Parties
Bryan Bowden (National Park Service, Event Co-Coordinator), Buzz Grant (Foothills Trail Coalition President), Greg Griffith (Washington State Historic Preservation Office), Hollie Rogge (Pierce County Parks and Recreation)

Jordan Monez (ASLA), Laura Barker (National Parks Volunteer), Logan Bingle (ASLA), Ole Sleipness (ASLA, WSU Professor

AJ Babauta (WSU, landscape architecture), Bryan Inglin (WSU, landscape architecture), Jeff Hall (WSU, landscape architecture), Jonathan Dingman (WSU, landscape architecture), Jonathan Duran (WSU, landscape architecture), Lucas Vannice (WSU, landscape architecture), Nick Boyce (UW, landscape architecture), Toree Miller (WSU, interior design), Wuttiporn Taksinvarajam (UW, landscape architecture)

Becky Gilbert (Former Town Council), Betty LaCrosse (Resident), Bill Summers (Eagles Lodge Trustee & Booster Club President), Chris Lyons (Distillery Owner), Donna Hogerhuis (Mayor), Florence Fabiani (Wilkeson Historical Society), Jeff Sellers (Former Town Council), Kathy James (Town Planner), Keith Quimby (Distillery Owner), Lisa Grace (Wilkeson Elementary Teacher), Mark Thompson (Civil Engineer), Nick Hedman (Town Council), Robert Bean (Saloon Owner), Sherrian Robertson (Wilkeson Historical Society), Sue Hallin (Town Council), Sunny Bean (Saloon Owner), Trisha Summers (Wilkeson Council Member)




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View down the SAM upper lobby towards the north entrance. Inopportune: Stage One launches over the heads of visitors in a flash of lights.

Do you remember the highway chase scene from The Matrix Reloaded. Gas trucks exploded, cars do triple summersaults and the heroes escape unscathed. It is over the top, unrealistic and just about the point you probably stopped paying attention. At the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), the lobby transforms this type of Hollywood violence into a reflective art form.

SAM’s lobby extends across a city block. A series of terraces take us from the new upper lobby, added in 2007, to the old lower lobby. These terraces house the museum store, SAM Cafe, public art galleries and lecture halls. The most dramatic element of this space is a sculpture composed of nine ford sedans. Seven of these cars are suspended from the ceiling as if they have been thrown over the lobby by a massive explosion. Two cars at either end of the space anchor the piece to the floor.

This sculpture is Cai Guo-Qiang’s Inopportune: Stage One (2004). Cai Guo-Qiang is a Chinese artists best known for his spectacular firework art. However, he has also built a wide range of sculptural work as well. Inopportune: Stage One was originally created for the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. The piece removes the dramatization of violence presented by Hollywood and asks us to consider the deeper nature of violence, our relationship to it and how we respond.

Even if you are not in a reflective mood, Inopportune: Stage One is a perfect introduction to the SAM. If you are short on time and/or do not want to pay the $25 to enter the museum, I suggest following the upper lobby past the escalators to the public gallery space. There is usually a piece from SAM’s collection on display. In addition, the hallway past this space features a wonderful wall of glass art and a series of murals by local artists.

View from the SAM Cafe terrace. A ford hangs over the lower lobby as a patron walks through the public gallery.

Want to learn more about SAM and its collection? Visit here.

Like this post and want to see more? Remember that Dreaming of Landscapes is migrating to a new home at Bingle

A Halloween Surprise!


  I am excited to announce that Dreaming of Landscapes is moving to my recently completed website. This move is motivated by my desire to find work as a professional landscape writer and illustrator.  I plan to continue offering my sketches, thoughts and experiences on my blog. I will also be expanding into landscape book reviews, interviews with landscape professionals and commentary on contemporary landscape developments.   

            I invite everyone who has been following Dreaming of Landscapes to visit its new home. I will update the version of Dreaming of Landscapes until the end of November.

            Finally, I want to thank everyone who has visited, liked, commented on and followed Dreaming of Landscapes. Your support has helped me come to this decision, and I wish you the best in your ongoing endeavors.

A Commons with Uncommon Style


A view over the park reveals the mix of uses. In the middle of the view the library is visible over the public square. To the left is the lawn and to the right is the skate bowl.

The Ballard Commons Park opened in 2005 as the new civic center of Ballard’s business district. Ballard is a neighborhood in northern Seattle, centered on Shilshole Bay and the Lake Washington Ship Channel. The neighborhood is dominated by single family residences with its major business district on Market Street, which forms the neighborhood’s southern edge.

The Ballard Commons houses a wonderful mix of spaces. A public square has abundant seating for adults, while sea life inspired sculptures serve as a nice anchor for the plaza. These sculptures also act as water play features in summer. The rest of the park is taken up by a lawn and skate bowl.

A range of establishments ring the park. A tall apartment building protects the park from harsh western sun in the afternoon. To the east, the Ballard Public Library attracts a stream of neighborhood residents, and its short stature allows a flood of morning light to enter the park. Finally, a homeless health clinic and businesses round out the mix of establishments around the park.

This mix of spaces and establishments draws a wide range of visitors. There is a homeless population in the park. At the same time a stream of families, couples and singles flow through the space. Library patrons enjoy books on the park’s benches. Families play fetch with their dogs. Teens and adults ride skate boards up and down the skate bowl’s walls. This creates a vibrant atmosphere that is not dominated by a single group.

The Ballard Commons is a fun and enjoyable park. It achieves what every small neighborhood park should strive for. It provides a space for every resident. It is activated by the mix of civic and private ventures around it. Most importantly, the Ballard Commons does not take its self too seriously, either as an artist statement or a utilitarian space. The result is a park that is functional, fun and attractive.

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Want to learn more about the Ballard Commons? Visit this blog on Seattle City Parks.

A sculpture of a sea snail shell.


European Cool, Meets Seattle Intellect

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The cuboid suspended above the reading room houses the Seattle Public Library Headquarters. The entire structure is wrapped in four foot square sheets of rip proof nylon designed to absorb sound in the reading room. Below this is the Seattle Room, which houses the library’s Seattle focused special collection, including government records, yearbooks, photos, art and other artifacts.

Have you been to the space needle, seen the flying fish at Pike Place Market and wondering what else there is to see in downtown Seattle. How about a visit to Seattle’s other worldly Central Library. The Seattle Central Library is located on the block bordered by Spring Street, Fourth Avenue, Madison Street, and Fifth Avenue.

The Central Library was designed by the Dutch Architect Rem Koolhause’s Office for Metropolitan Architecture in collaboration with Seattle’s LMN Architects. The building looks like a house of cards ready to fall at any moment. However, the building’s cantilevered spans are supported by a sophisticated system of angled columns.

Both sketches present dramatic looks at these angled columns. The living room sketch offers a stunning view up a column as it ascends three stores to hold up the library book spiral platform. While the reading room columns are more understated, we can still see the unique support structure that holds up the Central Library.

The first sketch is of my favorite room in the building, the Betty Jane Narver Reading Room. The room is located at the top of the library, above the activity of the library’s lower areas. The room has space for 400 patrons with a stunning view over the bustle of the city below. The room’s soaring ceiling was inspired by the cathedral like reading rooms of 19th century library design.

The last sketch is off the Living Room. The Living Room can be accessed off of 5th Avenue and serves as an indoor public space. There is a coffee cart operated by local chocolate maker Chocolati, which serves coffee and pastries. The Friends of the Seattle Public Libraries also operates a gift booth in this space, selling art by local artists. All proceeds from this booth support the Seattle Public Libraries.

The platform above the Living Room houses the Meeting Level and Mixing Room. The Meeting Level houses four rooms for community meetings and events as well as computer labs. The Mixing Room houses the library’s central reference desk and main computer area. Continuing past the Mixing Room, the library’s book spiral forms the Living Room’s roof and houses the library’s non-fiction collection.

A 6 block long ramp runs up the non-fiction collection beginning with 0 on the Dewey Decimal System at the bottom. The book spiral ends on a platform cantilevered over the library’s atrium, which allows daylight to flow down to the Living Room. This platform is the highest public point in the library and gives visitors a view over downtown Seattle and straight down to the Living Room’s floor six stories below.

A majority of the Living Room’s space is taken up by seating for reading and computer use. The Living Room also houses the library’s periodical section and collections of recreational reading materials, including science fiction, fantasy, mysteries, fiction, westerns, romance, audio books, and graphic novels.


To learn more about the Seattle Central Library visit here

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