The Courtyard Project: Community Outreach and Engagement Updates

Pacific Science Center aerial view

Pacific Science Center (PacSci) is exploring ways to ensure that its iconic courtyard endures, while becoming more accessible, environmentally sustainable, and engaging for everyone—especially those curious about natural systems, native plants and animals, and the Indigenous peoples and cultures that were here long before 1962.

Built in 1962 to hold the temporary U.S. Science Exhibit during the World’s Fair, PacSci’s courtyard falls short of today’s accessibility and conservation standards. For example, the courtyard pools lose a whopping 26 million gallons of clean, drinking water every year due to active leaks and evaporation; that translates to an average of 71,000 gallons of potable water every single day and is equivalent to the water of over 56 Olympic swimming pools!

For the earliest stages of this project, PacSci conducted community outreach and engagement through a variety of robust methods, including a public survey; numerous focus groups; tabling at community events and engaging with attendees; and direct, one-on-one conversations with members of the community.

Centering community voices is a key part of The Courtyard Project. PacSci prioritized outreach to community members and groups who have been historically excluded from, and remain underrepresented in, such conversations. This approach was guided by a racial equity analysis conducted by Hummingbird Community Cooperation that reviewed past and present impacts of racism and social inequities in the city of Seattle on marginalized groups. Headwater People and Schemata Workshop were also part of this process. The analysis helped develop strategies to include voices that have been historically – and are presently – left out. Community outreach and engagement will continue to take place throughout The Courtyard Project.

REsearch Findings

The public survey was open from July to November 2023, with 748 respondents. PacSci is excited about its community’s participation and passion.

  • 74% of all survey respondents supported PacSci’s mission to achieve its three main goals: accessibility, environmental sustainability/conservation, and engagement for everyone—especially those curious about natural systems, native plants and animals, and the Indigenous peoples and cultures that were here long before 1962.
  • The top two priorities for survey respondents were accessibility and environmental sustainability.
  • Recurring themes present throughout the survey, focus groups, and other conversations with community members were:
    • Inclusion and accessibility for everyone
    • Environmental sustainability
    • A connection to local and regional ecosystems
    • Shade and green spaces
    • Native plants and pollinators
    • Culturally-relevant music and dance performances
    • Places to sit, have a meal, take your time, and enjoy
  • The top critiques of the courtyard were that it was:
    • Unsustainable due to the pools’ water waste
    • Uncomfortable due to a variety of factors including the lack of shade, color, and texture, which amplified the brightness of the sun; Not sensory-friendly
    • Unwelcoming due to the gates and ticket booths
    • Outdated in terms of accessibility, environmental sustainability, and general look and feel
  • From engagement with Urban Native community members, PacSci learned more about the history of the land that it was built on. PacSci sits nearby babaqʷab, a historical seasonal camp referencing “Little Prairie.” The land was intentionally burned to promote biodiversity and the richness of resources that thrive in prairies. After European settlement, Indigenous displacement, and cultural erasure, the stories of babaqʷab were largely lost.
  • One of the focus groups PacSci worked with was sləp̓iləbəxʷ (meaning “Rising Tides” in Lushootseed), made up of Indigenous architects, planners, knowledge holders, and community members. Participants expressed feeling unrepresented and unwelcome in the courtyard and suggested the inclusion of Indigenous science knowledge; welcoming non-human kin including native plants, birds, and insects; a river to add motion (with the water being re-used); and a prairie to both honor the land’s history and teach about Indigenous and environmental practices.

PacSci is listening

The initial research findings have led PacSci to explore opportunities to remove its gates, which would make the space more welcoming and inviting; increase accessibility of the courtyard and PacSci’s architecture to the public; and move us closer to architect Minoru Yamasaki’s original vision and the look and feel of the space during the 1962 World’s Fair. PacSci is also exploring how the insights from the community engagement work will inform the rehabilitation of the courtyard.

Project partners

Hummingbird Community Cooperation and Headwater People were chosen for their deep expertise in diversity, equity, belonging, and inclusion and for their experiences in partnering with tribes, local jurisdictions, community organizations, and the private sector to produce a more equitable and flourishing future. View the full list of project partners and learn more about The Courtyard Project.


Is community outreach and engagement over for The Courtyard Project?

No, community outreach and engagement will continue to take place throughout The Courtyard Project.

Did you decide to conduct community outreach and engagement after your briefing to The City of Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board?

No, community outreach and engagement were always planned to be at the heart of The Courtyard Project. The Landmark’s briefing was a first step of that engagement process.

Will the changes to the courtyard be permanent?

Our priority is to rehabilitate the courtyard to nearly its original state, with some modernization and improvements*, and those rehabilitative changes and updates will be permanent. The amount of water in the pools may vary, as the original volume of potable water is no longer responsible nor sustainable. We are also exploring interactive exhibits that would introduce more life into the pools. These exhibits would be reversible.

*Some of the original construction was rushed due to unavailability of materials relative to the opening date of the World’s Fair in 1962.

What is going to happen to the arches?

Nothing. The arches will remain completely unaltered.

Will the changes honor Minoru Yamasaki’s legacy?

We are honored to be stewards of Minoru Yamasaki’s work. We are looking to rehabilitate the courtyard in keeping with Yamasaki’s original design intent, while addressing the maintenance challenges and accessibility and sustainability standards of today.

What are the next steps?

We are still in early in this process, and no final decisions have been made yet. We have completed our first round of community outreach and engagement, and our next steps include revisiting design options while continuously checking in with the community and engaging with the City’s Landmarks Preservation Board, and eventually, settling on a final design. There is still a long way to go, and we do not expect any long-lasting changes to take place for at least another 3-4 years.

Is this why the North Pools are currently drained?

The North Pools are currently drained due to worsening leaks, which have led to flooding in certain areas on PacSci’s campus and needed urgent action. There are two elements to The Courtyard Project, one being the rehabilitation of the pools and the second being interpretive and interactive exhibits and new educational programming. Learn more about the North Pools’ current condition.

I have questions about The Courtyard Project. Can I contact you directly?

We welcome all questions and feedback from across our diverse community. Please feel free to reach out to us any time via email.