Rainier Vista: Seattle, Washington


Rainer Vista is a beloved iconic and memorable campus open space. It links the heart of the University of Washington — Red Square — with a regional icon — Mount Rainier — located 60 miles away.

Designated Area

Extending from the southern edge of Red Square to the intersection of NE Pacific Street and Montlake Boulevard NE.

Red Square. Photo by Kristine Kenney.

Planning Excellence

The Vista provides a picturesque view of Mount Rainier that is framed by grand evergreen trees and campus buildings. It serves as a southern entry point to the campus, houses an underground parking facility, and is heavily used by pedestrians moving about campus, socializing, or arriving and departing from the surrounding Metro bus stops.

The space was originally designed as an iconic vista for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909 by John C. Olmsted of the Olmsted Brothers firm. He envisioned creating a grand promenade framing the view of Mount Rainier. The university has always recognized the value of this iconic open space and has restricted development on the Vista that would diminish the quality and character of the landscape.

As part of the construction of a new light rail station adjacent to Montlake Triangle, $38 million has been allocated for improvements on the area surrounding the Triangle to create better pedestrian and bicycle connections. Once completed in 2015, the Vista will become a primary point of entry to the campus for thousands of individuals commuting on light rail from SeaTac Airport, downtown Seattle, and eventually points further north.

Drumheller Fountain. Photo by Kristine Kenney.

Defining Characteristics, Features

History and Planning

  • Originally designed as open space by John C. Olmsted for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition (AYPE) (1909)
  • The Olmsted Brothers firm developed a plan for the university subsequent to the AYPE, which was reflected in the campus plan by the Seattle firm, Bebb & Gould (1915)
  • Due to a lack of resources and the outbreak of World War I, the Vista remained empty for many years until the late 1920s and 1930s when the Science Quad and buildings that flank the Vista were constructed
  • In 1934, Bebb & Gould updated the 1915 plan and reaffirmed the basic design principles of earlier plans and also recommended certain modifications including abandoning the Vista as a vehicular entryway
  • A 1962 development plan incorporated many proposals of other plans, the renovation of Drumheller Fountain, and a greatly reduced automobile presence to preserve open space
  • The Rainier Vista Concept Plan by Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates provided an important tool to link the light rail station to the campus through the design of a pedestrian bridge over Montlake Boulevard to Montlake Triangle, and lowering Pacific Place to create a land bridge that connected the triangle to the rest of the Vista (2008)

Design and Features

  • The original 1915 "Revised General Plan of the University of Washington," commonly known as the Regents Plan, employed Beaux-Arts design and classical formality
  • The 1915 plan unified the planning dynamics of upper and lower campus through the preservation of the axis of the Vista from the AYPE (referred to as the Sciences Quadrangle)  and the axis of the Arts Quadrangle through a great central quadrangle now known as Red Square
  • Upper Vista features Collegiate Gothic architecture lining both edges, a large lawn in the center divided by a central, wide asphalt path; 12 Shirofugen flowering cherry trees gifted from Japan in 2014 to symbolize the 120-year history of Japanese and Japanese-American students at the university
  • Sciences Quadrangle, located south of the upper Vista, is asymmetrically aligned to the axis of the Vista and features Drumheller Fountain and Frosh Pond, a defining element of the Vista landscape
  • Lower Vista is located south of the Sciences Quadrangle, and features a large lawn flanked on either side by Sylvan Grove and Island Grove; evergreen trees provide a distinct framed view of the mountains
  • Although currently separated from the Vista by Pacific Place, current plans for Montlake Triangle include creating a land bridge over Pacific Place, continuing the lawn and pathways from the upper Vista, and providing multimodal connections to the new light rail station and relocated Metro bus stop.

Rainier Vista. Photo by Kristine Kenney.