Pioneer Square Station

Pioneer Square Station Seattle

Seattle Architecture/Pioneer Square Station
VAMONDE Seattle
Written By VAMONDE Seattle

Pioneer Square Station

Beneath 3rd Avenue in downtown Seattle, there’s a vast chamber with a high vaulted ceiling made up of white arches. Although it’s been described as “intergalactic” and “otherworldly,” it serves a fairly ordinary purpose. Sound Transit’s Pioneer Square Station was built as a bus station and is now part of its Link light rail system. It features mezzanines above either end of the platform level that allows for dramatic views. The above-ground portion of the station features blue metal arches and is located by a fountain at the corner of 3rd Ave. and Yesler Way.

Pioneer Square Station’s lead architect was Jerry McDevitt, who has since become better known as a leading designer of housing for seniors and people with special needs. The lead artist was Kate Ericson, who unfortunately passed away from cancer in 1995 at age 39, cutting short a successful career. In a ten-year collaboration with her husband Mel Ziegler, Ericson produced work that’s now in major museums and was a pioneer of what would become known as “interventionist” or “social practice” art.

Completed in 1990, the station was originally intended for buses. While repairing 3rd Ave. in preparation for its opening, workers found a fly-wheel from an old cable car, buried in about 1940. It was a portentous find at a site that would soon be used again for rail-based vehicles, and it’s now displayed in one of the mezzanines. The station was closed down from 2005-2007 to be renovated for use by light rail trains, and light rail service began in 2009 with the opening of Sound Transit’s Central Link. Used for several more years by both buses and trains, the station became exclusively for light rail only in 2019.

While the vaulted ceiling is the star of the show, there are plenty of other details to notice here. As Seattle Times writer Karen Mathieson observed when it opened:

“At the south end, the granite walls are gray like the King County Courthouse not far away. At the north end, the prevailing tone comes from pink granite, resembling the surface of the nearby Public Safety Building. Beneath an arching roof that echoes a common visual element in Pioneer Square, horizontal lines of pink and gray step downward from level to level like geologic strata, to converge at the midstation boarding area."

Other features worth noticing include unique clocks above the tunnel entrances, designed by Ericson and Ziegler. There’s also a mosaic along the stairwell by artist Laura Sindell, who has created about thirty public art pieces since the early 1980s, mostly in Seattle and Tacoma. Mathieson interpreted the mosaic as follows:

“Laura Sindell has installed a ceramic mural to serve as an urban canyon wall - a dugout canoe, swatches of pioneer patchwork, Salish Indian basket patterns and other elements are arranged in a core sampling of the site's history.”
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Cover photo: SounderBruce, CC BY-SA 2.0 via flickr.

Seattle Architecture

Pioneer Square Station

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