Our project, Intangible Effects (No. 1), is the first in a series of experiments investigating ephemeral and sensual aspects of the built environment. The project centers on Yesler Terrace, a public housing development in Seattle’s First Hill neighborhood. Built between 1941–1943, it was Washington State’s first public housing development and the first racially integrated public housing development in the United States. It is by all accounts a vibrant community and one of Seattle’s most diverse neighborhoods. Earlier this year, Seattle City Council approved a plan to demolish Yesler Terrace to make way for a new mixed-income development—a controversial plan necessitating the displacement of approximately 1,200 residents.
Working with Seattle youth, we are collecting field recordings, audio interviews and performances by residents that reflect participants’ experience of the neighborhood and concerns about its uncertain future. These recordings form the basis of an interactive installation in the Mw [Moment Magnitude] exhibition at the Frye Art Museum, enabling visitors to explore the Yesler Terrace soundscape and create their own, ephemeral compositions. We will also create an online archive to allow access to the full set of recordings.
Our intention in undertaking this project is to create an opportunity for creative exploration of the urban environment at a moment when public engagement seems simultaneously necessary and ineffectual. Focusing on sound serves to shift emphasis from the relatively static vernacular of architectural form that has dominated public discussion of the Yesler Terrace redevelopment effort. We orient attention instead towards the neighborhood as a lived experience, approaching urban space as literally and figuratively vibrating with human activity. In so doing, we conceptualize the neighborhood’s character not as a collection of buildings, but as arising through the activities of its inhabitants. Our aims are to encourage critical reflection on the meaning and character of neighborhood life, and hopefully, to offer our young participants a means to understand and articulate value for themselves and to the city at large.