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Glass Beats Green
Seattle's Chihuly Museum finally moving forward.
Owen Richards Architects

After more than a year of waiting and debating, Seattle city council late last month finally approved the lease and construction of a new Dale Chihuly museum, next to the city’s iconic Space Needle. The exhibit space, which will contain at least $50 million of the artist’s glass works, will be part of the Seattle Center, the site of Seattle’s 1962 Worlds Fair, which also contains the Experience Music Project, the Pacific Science Center, and several theaters and cultural facilities.

Site plan.
Site plan. [+]

The project designers, Owen Richards Architects, were initially selected by developers Center Art in late 2009. But a community outcry for more alternatives on the site put the project on hold in favor of an RFP that drew nine proposals. Despite continued opposition—particularly from outspoken officials and a group called Friends of the Green at Seattle Center, which hoped to build a new 4.6 acre park on the site—a review panel established by the Seattle Center selected the Chihuly project last December. City Council approved the project on April 25.

“The reality is that this particular space was not ideal for demolition,” said architect Owen Richards, who noted that the museum’s site fits well into the Seattle Center’s overall plan, intended from the beginning to balance out various open spaces and buildings. As a compromise the area will also include space for local radio station KEXP, a new playground, and additional open spaces.

The Chihuly project—with its 12,000 square feet of exhibit space—will include the renovation of an existing 20,000-square-foot warehouse building that had been used for an amusement park and a new 4,500-square-foot glass structure with an asymmetrical arched roof serving as the showpiece. Other elements will include a one acre garden, small plazas, new walkways, and new or improved landscaping. The project should break ground in July, and completion is expected by April 2012, to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of the Seattle Center.

“The story worth telling is how the selection process opened up,” said Seattle City councilmember Sally Bagshaw in a statement after the museum was selected in the RFP. “As a result, it is a creative recommendation that integrates open space for kids, cultural attractions with art and music, and increased public opportunity.”

Chihuly himself, a Seattle native, has been actively involved in the design of the museum, Richards added, particularly the glass pavilion centerpiece. While the Museum of Glass in Tacoma and the Tacoma Art Museum have selected works from Chihuly in their collections, this will be the first museum dedicated to the artist’s work.

Sam Lubell