The Seattle Art Museum is one of the foremost cultural institutions in the Pacific Northwest, with deep collections Asian, African, and contemporary American art and craft. Completed in 2007, the 450,000 s.f. expansion and renovation project—developed through a public/private partnership—completely restored their 1990 building by Robert Venturi, and will allow SAM to grow incrementally, converting upper-floor lease space to new exhibition galleries over a period of 20 years.
The new, 16-story building sits on First Avenue overlooking Elliott Bay. Four exterior “shells” of striated steel and glass wrap the building, each responding to a particular orientation. An operable brise-soleil of sliding panels allows lighting conditions to be tuned to the needs of the exhibition. At street level, the museum is open and transparent, leading to the Forum, a monumental civic room that serves as exhibition, event space and a gateway to the collections. Within, parallel structural planes create rooms of varied proportion and height, providing a spatial palette for the curators and the collection. The expansion is an open field for growth, a lens and filter for a shifting series of relationships with art and landscape.