New Construction Awards 2001 - A Gift of Music

Oct. 8, 2001
Facility makes music come to life

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.

Specialty Spaces Winner:
Experience Music Project, Seattle, WAThe Seattle Monorail, built for the 1962 World's Fair, runs right through the building.

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 Allen.

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 ([email protected]) is technologies editor at Buildings magazine.

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