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Downtown and First Hill freeway columns gain sunset design

The 72 freeway underpass columns were painted with a Seattle University student’s design

Alex Garland (Courtesy of First Hill Improvement Association)

The freeway columns that separate downtown and First Hill just got way more colorful. Earlier this week, a mural of a sunset and a sunrise over a cityscape was completed on the underpass—originally just plain concrete.

The design by local artist and Seattle University student Nathan Watkins starts as a sunrise on the east side of the overpass in First Hill, then slowly transitions to a sunset on the west side downtown.

From a distance—say, to drivers—the columns show an abstract, cityscape-inspired design. From a pedestrian level, there’s a little more noticeable detail. The mural depicts a series of silhouettes of a hillside.

In his proposal, Watkins said he purposely designed the images to be more abstract and less distracting to drivers, but detailed enough up close to be interesting to pedestrians, or “eye-catching without actually needing to catch the eye.”

Watkins’s design was chosen for the overpass after a public vote among five finalists.

The design was then painted on the 72 columns by more than 100 volunteers, a project managed by youth arts empowerment nonprofit Urban Artworks.

I-5 bisects Seattle, separates neighborhoods, and creates a lot of design challenges. Painting the columns is a strategy used in the International District before under the overpass at South King Street and South Jackson Street—a site that may be seeing more activation soon as InterIm Community Development Association and Site Workshop explore design options.