In Seattle, there is a deep bond between water and land. It is a city defined by the Puget Sound to the west, Lake Washington to the east, Lake Union at the center, and Green Lake to the north.
The building sits above the water—resting on wood pilings driven into the bottom of Lake Union. The expansive exhibit hall—a 56-foot-high, 12,000-square-foot atrium—boasts a Douglas fir end grain wood floor, refinished to a warm orange glow. The flooring is original, and provided a durable, strong surface for naval exercises in the one-time drill hall. Perhaps the biggest challenge of the project was working with this floor, which is sloped, possibly due to settling—a 15-inch height difference between the southwest and northwest corners. To create the illusion of level ground, LMN installed the doors and windows parallel to the slope.
The museum’s diverse group of historical artifacts includes a 1919 Boeing U.S. mail plane, which hangs suspended in the expansive atrium. MOHAI commissioned the most prominent work specifically for the space—a 60-foot-high Douglas fir and steel sculpture called Wawona by John Grade. It resembles an old-growth tree with the unexpected addition of barnacle-like growths.
Wawona fills the entire height of the atrium and then some—extending through the roof above, gathering a beam of daylight into its hollow core, and reaching to the dark waters of Lake Union below. The wood was reclaimed from an eponymous Puget-based vessel. Its complex curves were modeled and shaped with a digital design and fabrication process. The sculpture easily dwarfs anyone who stands beside it—and is a testament to the maritime history of Seattle, while respecting the indelible cycle of nature with the promise that, with the right choices, what we use can be returned to the earth to be consumed.