Working near the edge of Lake Union, with ships passing and houseboats bobbing, our view from Watershed is limited to life above the waterline. There are clues to life below, but we wanted to know more about what lies beneath the waves. 2023’s Seattle Design Festival was an excellent framework to follow this curiosity so we teamed up with two organizations, Stewardship Partners and Clean Lake Union to explore Lake Union’s depths.
With a shared commitment to stewarding our local waterways, we envisioned a dynamic, multi-layered experience that invites visitors to imagine a better future for Lake Union, immersed in a sea of color and abstract shapes.
Below the Surface celebrates the beauty of nature and the biophilic benefits of being in an urban environment surrounded by water. As visitors progress through the lake’s layers they learn of its diverse and fragile ecology. From salmon to shipwrecks, the history, hydrology, and habitats of one of Seattle’s most popular waterways is uncovered. Complete with a fun highlight for our younger visitors of a photo op and fins up with “Sal the Salmon.”
Leaning into the festival’s theme, Curiosity, we hoped to spark conversations, leading to action. Asking, “What’s in the Water?” opened the door to the impacts of our daily commute and roadway runoff, which are detrimental to salmon, a keystone species of our region. The role of salmon in our ecosystem is comparable to a keystone at the apex of a masonry arch. Without it, the arch collapses. With more than 100 species feeding on wild salmon, including our iconic Southern Resident Orcas which dine almost solely on Chinook Salmon, the health impact of our salmon populations is far reaching. Even our forests are impacted. As the bodies of spawning salmon break down, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other nutrients become available to streamside vegetation. According to Robert Naiman of the University of Washington, “streamside vegetation gets just under 25 percent of its nitrogen from salmon.”
By empowering our community with knowledge and resources for the collective restoration of our waterways, visitors left with solutions for how we can all help. With projects that make a difference, like Rainchangers to Salmon Safe to Grattix Boxes and the upcoming Clean Lake Union paddle race, there are many ways to dive in.