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A Multi-Cultural, Community Space

Plaza Roberto Maestas in Seattle

by Audrey West, Principal, ASLA, EDAC, The West Studio

Seattle's Beacon Hill neighborhood is a 24,090-square-foot property with 122 affordable apartment units. The apartments are in two, six-story buildings with rooftop decks. In 2016, The West Studio collaborated with other firms to design the Plaza Roberto Maestas, a multi-cultural hub within the area that is utilized for gatherings, performances, and community events. Photo credit: William Wright Photography
The roof deck of the 6th floor is a quiet patio for the public to enjoy the surrounding views of the Cascades, Puget Sound and more. The deck is made of thin pavers. Steel panels with illustrations are situated along the fencing, designed to reflect the history, culture and background of the community. Mexican Feather Grass, Purple Carpet Stonecrop, Green Spire Euonymus, and Little Becca Flax Lily were hand-planted onto the woodchip mulch and in the fiberglass planters. Photo credit: William Wright Photography
In 2017, Basque sculptor Casto Solano created a life-like bronze figure of Roberto Maestas to immortalize the legacy of El Centro's co-founder. The sculpture is part of a larger modern piece made of stainless steel, which represents the Native American Tulalip "lifting the sky" story (see note). Integrated LED lighting systems were installed to bring light during the night. Formed of seven separate ribbons that express directions, the piece unifies at the top where sculpted, colored sheets of EFTE are projected.

Completed in 2016, Plaza Roberto Maestas "Beloved Community" located in Seattle's redeveloping Beacon Hill neighborhood, was truly a labor of love for many. Roberto Maestas co-founded El Centro de la Raza in 1972 working with the legendary quartet of multi-cultural activists known as the Four Amigos. Since then, El Centro has been a vital part of the community, providing programs and advocacy for children and adults to ensure social equity and justice. But Maestas had a bigger dream of creating a place that would provide a mixed-use, transit-oriented housing development celebrating these combined cultures and serving the entire community.

As executive director, Estela Ortega, made it her mission to carry out her late husband's dream and began working with 7 Directions Architects and Planners to create a master plan for the empty lot to the south of their historic schoolhouse building. Garnering support from the community and teaming with Beacon Development, she hired SMR Architects to lead the design team of 7 Directions Architects, The West Studio landscape architects and Coterra Engineering in order to provide final design services for this landmark project.

In response to their client's desire to address Seattle's critical need for affordable housing, economic opportunities through job creation, early childhood education, and culturally relevant public gathering spaces; the design team worked with neighbors, future residents and El Centro staff in a series of community engagement workshops, artfully melding a rich variety of spaces for interaction with environmental and cultural values to create this project.

The design of the plaza was an exercise in flexibility as The West Studio designed elements that could stand alone or be adorned by artists' tile mosaics and sculptures once the artists were chosen and funding secured. The cast-in-place concrete plaza with inlaid donor pavers drains to a central runnel and series of stormwater planters. Curbs protect plantings from market carts and spacious seat walls double as space to sell wares. The use of integral color in the paving design harkens to the traditional Latino public square with the historic schoolhouse building and its new Kiosko entry at the head, opening onto the pedestrian-friendly Roberto Maestas Festival Street.

The project fulfills Maestas' vision by transforming the space into a multi-cultural civic hub that honors Latino, Asian, African and Native American cultures and traditions with mosaics throughout the large Latino-inspired public plaza. It is a lively place for civic gatherings, performances, outdoor summer movies, festivals, a community market and food court, and is flanked by affordable housing units, local small business retail and office, a community event space, and a bilingual child development center.

Note: The Tulalip Tribes' legend "Lifting the Sky," tells of a combined effort of all living creatures to improve their situation, teaching the value of respect for every individual. A long time ago the sky was very low and animals, which were at that time human beings, continued to bump their heads against the stars and could not stand straight. To put the sky in the right location, the people equipped themselves with poles. Everyone worked in unison to elevate the stars, while chanting the word to signal to all those around the world when to lift the poles at exactly the same time. Together they succeeded in raising the sky. To read a detailed account, visit

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December 14, 2019, 9:49 am PDT

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