Nothing stirs the human spirit quite like music. Bringing music into a three-dimensional
form was the vision of Jody Patton, executive director of the Experience Music
Project (EMP), along with her brother and owner of the EMP, Paul Allen, co-founder
of Microsoft Corp. The finished piece is the Experience Music Project located
in the heart of Seattle.
Experience Music Project, Seattle, WA
Seattle Monorail, built for the 1962 World's Fair, runs right through the
Using first-of-its-kind structural design and construction, the project team
- comprised of nearly 100 architects, engineers, contractors, and sub-contractors
on eight coordination teams - worked in concert to make the $240 million, 140,000-square-foot
interactive music museum devoted to the history of rock and roll a reality.
Combining the dedication of Patton and Allen, together with the vision and
talent of Frank O. Gehry Associates, the project took on an almost organic formation
- one that would stretch the creative imagination of the entire project team
far beyond conventional means.
Through an extensive use of 3D computer imaging software, a very complex structural
system was designed, based on building techniques similar to those used in aviation
and nautical construction. This technology allowed Allen and Gehry to design
a first-of-its-kind, non-symmetrical building.
The museum's free-flowing design joins together, in an almost skeletal fashion,
each of the building's six major galleries. Two hundred and forty individually
curving steel beams covered with mesh and a 5-inch layer of shotcrete cast over
welded wire fabric (now known as a steel-stiffened concrete shell) give the
outer shell of the building smooth lines that ebb and flow - crescendo, di crescendo.
An elaborate system of 5-inch-diameter steel pedestals on the building's interior
attach to the ribs to support the 3,000 steel and aluminum panels - comprised
of 21,000 individually shaped shingles - as the building's outermost skin.
Once inside the museum, visitors are magically transformed into a larger-than-life
interactive experience of what the essence of music really is. Exposed ceilings
enhance the visual effects of the structural beams that bend and curve above
the cavernous interior space - an almost dream-like catacomb of acoustical textures
and surfaces. Unanticipated curves and intersections are counterbalanced with
dramatic lighting effects, colliding wall angles, and a barrage of acoustical
phenomenon. It's an experience you can't quite imagine even when you're in the
middle of it. Patrons don't merely visit this museum; they explore it.
"It's inspirational. I think the architecture is a very exuberant expression
of what is going on inside the museum," says Allen.
Additionally, Patton and Allen's desire was that the EMP also include an above-ground
monorail system that would connect the Seattle Center site to downtown Seattle.
The finished system comfortably and conveniently transports visitors to and
from the EMP every 20 minutes.
In explaining why the Experience Music Project is so important to the community
that it serves, Patton and Allen's desire is to:
• Add music to the learning experience of school children nationwide by
exposing children to music and the arts at an early age.
• Revitalize the Seattle Center, built for the 1962 World's Fair, by redefining
the area as more of an artistic center.
• Increase tourism and boost the local economy by attracting an expected
800,000 visitors each year and employing 620 local residents.
"To me, it's just breathtaking and beautiful. If you can't find part of
that building to like, that would really, really surprise me," reflects
Through the wonders of technology and the inspiration of those who dared to
dream far outside of the box, the EMP is a monument to music enthusiasts everywhere.
In much the same way that we experience music - it touches our hearts and our
souls - the Experience Music Project is about connecting with music at a level
of consciousness that many of us have never achieved.
Clara M.W. Vangen (firstname.lastname@example.org)
is technologies editor at Buildings magazine.