Dune Peninsula | Photographer: Stuart Isett

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Dune Peninsula | Photographer: Stuart Isett

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Dune Peninsula | Photographer: Stuart Isett

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Dune Peninsula at Point Defiance
This multi-layered recreational space celebrates both the site’s industrial past and the region’s natural history. 

A Story of Transformation 

Site Workshop led the design for a decades-long endeavor to transform a Superfund site on Tacoma’s waterfront into a multi-layered recreational space that celebrates both its industrial past and the region’s natural history. The ambitious 46-acre waterfront redevelopment is a major expansion of the historic, 760-acre Point Defiance Park on the footprint of a former American Smelting and Refining Corporation (ASARCO) smelter, including a pedestrian bridge connecting to a multi-modal trail. The heart of the project is Dune Peninsula, an 11-acre park built over the man-made peninsula that was formed by the gradual accretion of arsenic- and lead-laden slag that was routinely dumped into Puget Sound day after day over 70 years. 

History of Industry 

The project highlights the tension between the site’s productive industrial past and its rich natural surroundings, reflecting the complex identity of Tacoma and its aspirations for the future. Surrounded by water with a unique vantage of Commencement Bay and long vistas to Mount Rainier and the Cascade and Olympic ranges, the iconic form of the smelter is still fresh in many memories despite its absence from the landscape. Everyone in the region was affected by the smelter—its 571-foot smokestack was a symbol for jobs and an ominous source of widespread pollution. When the smokestack was demolished in 1993, the implosion was witnessed by the community as a celebration of progress. While most of the site was capped and redeveloped, the contaminated slag peninsula, owned by Metro Parks Tacoma, was accessible only to members of the Tacoma Yacht Club at the peninsula’s western point. Over nearly 20 years, Site Workshop collaborated with Metro Parks, the community, and a wide range of stakeholders to plan, design, fundraise and build the public park. 

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LOCATION

Tacoma, WA

SIZE

11 acres (47 acres total waterfront development at Point Defiance)

CLIENT

Metro Parks Tacoma

STATUS

Completed 2019

PARTNERS

EPA, Department of Ecology, Pierce County, WSDOT and WA State Ferries

RECOGNITION

2022  Landscape Architecture Foundation Case Study Investigation Program

2020 APWA Project of the Year, Historical Restoration/Preservation

2019 ASLA Washington Chapter, Award of Honor

 

2019 GRAY Awards Landscape Category Winner

Genus Loci

The design for Dune Peninsula captures the site’s genus loci, or “spirit of place,” by revealing its dramatic relationship to the natural world through the human processes that created it. The park connects visitors to this story with engaging forms, details, and art, while creating a diverse array of recreational spaces for discovery, play, and enjoying the natural beauty of the region.  

 

The completed park features three large, sculpted landforms that reach towering, yet playful heights, framing panoramic views of Mt. Rainier, Vashon Island, and Puget Sound, and shaping the visitor experience. The landforms—referred to as “sail mounds”—are built up with contaminated fill and capped with clean soil. Stone terraces emerge from the face of each mound evoking the layers of history embedded in the site and beyond. With an emphasis on flexibility and inclusion, the site design integrates a variety of gathering areas, art installations, and paths for strolling, jogging and cycling. At the north end of the peninsula, the sail mound slope forms an amphitheater with an associated concrete stage that supports multi-use, outdoor events. Artful elements weave throughout the site using a design language based on accretion — and referencing the site's inspiration on Tacoma native Frank Herbert's iconic 1965 science-fiction novel Dune—to express the site’s ecological and cultural history in engaging ways.  

 

A feature sculpture by the project artist uses steel pipe arranged in a series of increasingly smaller pieces, referencing the disintegration of the smokestack that once towered over the site. Custom concrete walls and benches reinforce the story by exposing layers of sand, cobbles, and ore. Forming the top layer of the site, locally native prairie blankets the sail mound slopes, heralding a new beginning for the peninsula as valuable habitat. Once common throughout Pierce County and the islands of Puget Sound, less than 3% of our native prairies remain. The new prairie planting will provide urban habitat for pollinators and birds, along with educational opportunities to support awareness, conservation and alternative approaches to low-maintenance public landscapes.  

The ultimate goal of the project is to remediate and create connections between the Tacoma waterfront and Point Defiance while paving the way for a healthier future for the whole city through the introduction of biodiverse habitat in recreational spaces.

Regional Connections and the “Moment Bridge”

A 550-foot pedestrian bridge—designed by the landscape  architect—connects the greater Point Defiance Park to the redeveloped waterfront, serving as a critical missing link in the long-planned, Downtown-to-Defiance multi-modal trail. The elegant, minimalist design remains visually light over the landscape, while providing a rich experience from the center of the bridge, a “moment” of pause perched out around the bluff with views to the peninsula and Mt. Rainier. The Moment Bridge is formed by intersecting lines, which meet in the middle at a bow-shaped overlook, where custom benches provide comfortable, flexible seating for enjoying the views.

 

The trail between the bridge and the Dune Peninsula is carved into an excavated 80-foot bluff and is animated by pause points and curiosities. A 15-foot by 40-foot soil-nail wall mimics the local bluff slopes and provides nooks and crannies for wildlife. Toward the top and tucked behind a prairie knoll, is a playfully intimate overlook space where kids can scramble on logs and climb giant boulders while eagles rest on raptor snags. Finally, right at the crest of the bluff is a grand staircase connection to the marina parking lot below, with a network of slides playfully integrated into the 60-foot hill climb—a real-life Chutes & Ladders. 

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Ecology

For long-contaminated sites like this, remediation means containing and removing contaminated materials. To make the peninsula safe, a cap was added to contain the slag and its pollutants. Clean soil was layered to keep contaminants sealed off from plants, animals, and humans. The shoreline was revamped with clean rock to prevent slag from eroding into the bay. 

 

Planting on the peninsula evokes a rapidly disappearing part of our region’s natural history with expansive native prairie. Once common throughout Puget Sound, less than 3% of our native prairies remain. The new prairie planting will provide valuable urban habitat, along with educational opportunities to support awareness, conservation and approaches to low-maintenance public landscapes. The new park also provides access to precious marine habitat, with views of an adjacent habitat basin and opportunities to watch whales, orcas and seals.

Key Design Goals
  • Remediate a toxic site by transforming it into a public destination park that references the historic uses of the site in design features and art.
     
  • Expand the presence of Puget Sound Prairie, a landscape with only 3% of original range remaining, to offer biodiverse habitat for unique plants and wildlife.
     
  • Make publicly accessible a waterfront vantage point with uniquely beautiful vistas.
     
  • Provide access to observe marine habitat, with views of an adjacent habitat basin and opportunities to watch whales, orcas, and seals.
     
  • Offer inclusive opportunities for discovery and play.
     
  • Create landscape features that are high habitat value and low maintenance.
  • Connect the park and waterfront to the rest of the city via a universally accessible multi-modal trail and fill a critical missing link in the long-planned Downtown-to-Defiance multi-modal trail.
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