A dream arena?

Looks really do matter. A first look at design for a new SoDo sports arena that will help shape Seattle's skyline for the long run.
Crosscut archive image.

This is one of the designs presented for a new sports arena in SoDo. (Click on an individual image to enlarge.)

Looks really do matter. A first look at design for a new SoDo sports arena that will help shape Seattle's skyline for the long run.

Nothing's final, but it looks like the "Sonics" may well be returning to Seattle, and despite objections and lawsuits, plans are still going forward on the proposed Chris Hansen basketball/hockey arena in SoDo.

This week brings us a new, more detailed look at the Sonics future home in a document called "Early Design Guidance 3" prepared for the Design Review Board (the pdf version is online at the city's web site). This is a step in moving toward a building permit.

The "vision" of the arena designers "is to create an arena that reinforces linkages to downtown and invigorates its surroundings by reinforcing the existing city fabric and providing a destination, gathering place and become a vital contributor to Seattle’s vibrant culture."

They've offered a number of designs, but the one on the top right seems to be leading the pack. According to the Seattle Times, some people say it reminds them of a vegetable steamer, others compare it to the inside of a jet engine. It kind of has a caldera-like feel from some angles, appropriate perhaps in playing off Mount Rainier in the background.

One of my Facebook friends describes it as "dominos in a circle filled with Greek yogurt (but that might be the mushrooms talking)." Another describes it as "a hole in the ground down which millions and probably billions of dollars will be tossed." It reminds me a bit of a listing jello salad, others say a jello mold. A salmon mousse, perhaps. Or could it be a XXX Root Beer franchise?

The color is interesting. It seems to play off the Port of Seattle cranes, but also echoes the original "Galaxy Gold" of the Space Needle, seen recently during the 50th anniversary. That color has not been universally approved. Prince Phillip of Great Britain dismissed it as "bridge paint" and Tom Robbins said it made the Needle look like a Howard Johnson's. Still, it's a color that goes well with Seattle's gray, and occasionally blue, skies.

The slanting roof will undoubtedly be a benefit in the rain. The roof won't be retractable, though I kind of like the idea of outdoor basketball.

Maybe the rooftop could be drafted for urban agriculture. A pot farm? Mini-goat grazing? Pea patch?

The arena's design is less industrial chic than Safeco's look, not as tall as the Space Needle, has more coherence than Frank Gehry's blobular EMP, is less brutal than the old Kingdome, and less cool than Koolhaas' downtown library.

Certainly, its ultimate success will be determined by what kind of play goes on inside, but even non-basketball fans will have to look at it for a long, long time, and we'll all end up owning it one day.

Will this be a worthy addition to our skyline?


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.