Landau Associates Delivers the Dirt on Tacoma, Artfully

18 Apr

Landau Associates office staff turned out for the Spaceworks display opening March 30, 2012. Left to right: Theresa Turpin, Eric Weber, Lauren McIntire, Sierra Mott and Sarah Weeks.

For environmental experts, taking a core sample out of the ground may be akin to retrieving a time capsule of an area’s history. And as a recent geo-study by Landau Associates reveals, while growth and development in Tacoma is often described in terms of the changing skyline, some of the city’s most important work over the past 20 years has actually taken place at grade or below the earth’s surface.

Landau Associates, an environmental services and consulting firm, has created a Spaceworks installation at 11th and Commerce that provides a fascinating glimpse into this underground world. Photographs of real core samples collected during subsurface investigations in downtown Tacoma have been enlarged to nearly 400 percent of their actual size, and wrapped around 3-dimensional models. These forms, combined with text and photographs of Tacoma, reveal the physical and mechanical features of the earth below the city’s sidewalks and buildings – and a slice of local history.

Core values: earth samples from downtown Tacoma tell a story of the city's past. Photo courtesy of Landau Associates.

The core samples were taken just down the street from the display at one of Landau Associates’ project sites – the Sauro’s property at 1401 Pacific Avenue. This four-block area possesses a complex social history: It has been used for a mix of commercial and industrial activities since the 1880s with tenants including a dry cleaners, an electroplating company and a hatter’s facility. Investigating the underground conditions at this site helped make it possible for the City to determine if people and the environment were potentially at risk and to develop a strategy for returning the site to beneficial reuse. Most recently, the City has completed a public parking facility which is helping to generate revenue until a larger development plan is prepared for the site and surrounding properties. The Sauro’s property is an example of how cleanup and redevelopment can transform a perceived problem into a community asset.

Tacoma continues to be a success story in the making: Thanks to a multi-agency and multi-disciplinary effort, hundreds of acres of contaminated land are being turned into safe and usable properties for the benefit of all to enjoy.

Landau Associates is an environmental and geotechnical engineering, environmental permitting, and natural resources consulting firm celebrating their 30th anniversary this year with offices in Edmonds, Tacoma, Seattle, Spokane, and Tri-Cities, WA and Portland, OR. Their Spaceworks installation is at 11th and Commerce through June 30, 2012.

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