November 15, 2001

New museum will have Tacomans glassy-eyed

  • The Museum of Glass is destined to become an icon on the Tacoma waterfront
    Arthur Erickson Architectural Corp.

    Museum of Glass
    Rendering by Arthur Erickson Architectural Corp
    Thea Foss Waterway’s industrial roots will be dramatically changed by the Museum of Glass.

    Designed by acclaimed Canadian architect Arthur Erickson, the Museum of Glass has a superb site on Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway, once the industrial heart of the city.

    The museum, which will be an international contemporary arts center with a sustained focus on the medium of glass, has advanced, specialized facilities for the exhibition and interpretation of art.


    With the development of the museum and other publicly accessible buildings, as well as an esplanade along the waterway’s edge, the citizens of Tacoma once again can enjoy the waterfront.

    The Museum of Glass, which opens in July, will be the first project to make the waterway a recreational destination.

    An immediately identifiable cultural landmark, the 75,000-square-foot building is Erickson’s first major art museum in the United States and features his trademark use of concrete integrated with glass in provocative modernist forms.

    Erickson’s exceptional ability to design large-scale contemporary buildings in response to their environment is exemplified in the museum’s horizontal profile, which ascends in a series of platforms from the banks of the Thea Foss Waterway to a rooftop plaza.

    The museum’s most distinctive architectural feature, a tilted 90-foot-tall cone wrapped in stainless steel, punctuates the skyline and serves as an icon for the Pacific Northwest. Inspired by the wood burners of sawmills that once proliferated the region, the shimmering cone symbolizes the city’s transformation from an industrial to a cultural center.

    Model photo by Simon Scott
    A plaza on the roof of the museum will be connected to downtown Tacoma by a pedestrian overpass.

    “Drawing on the primary elements — fire, water, earth and sky — the architecture of the museum flows effortlessly into the landscape,” said Erickson, who is principal of Arthur Erickson Architectural Corp. “These elements appear throughout the building’s architecture in features, such as the infinity-edged reflecting pools on the stepped terraces and the sweeping concrete stairway that wraps the exterior of the cone.”

    The new museum is sited near the city’s cultural and historical corridor. The Washington State History Museum stands across a highway and railway, parallel to the new museum. The new Tacoma Art Museum is being constructed nearby.

    Many visitors to the Museum of Glass will be approaching it by crossing from the history museum over the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, a pedestrian footbridge that will showcase glass by world-renowned artist and Tacoma native Dale Chihuly.

    Rendering by Arthur Erickson Architectural Corp.
    The museum’s tilted cone will be sheathed with diamond-shaped stainless steel scales.

    The challenge was to design a meaningful pathway for visitors to travel from the footbridge, which connects to the rooftop plaza of the museum, to the museum entrance two levels below. The entire museum rooftop will be a stepped plaza — in effect, an urban living room for Tacoma.

    Ramps will offer one means of descent from the rooftop to the museum’s entrance at the water’s edge. They will take visitors by the reflecting pools designed to mirror art installations and the distant landscape. Alternatively, a grand staircase that circles the distinctive cone, the most visual feature of the museum, will provide an intriguing and faster route down.

    The composition of descending forms reflects the demands of the location and gives the shape of the building a landscaped rather than structural presence. The main envelope of the building is clad in subtly patterned pre-cast concrete panels. The cone is sheathed with diamond-shaped stainless steel scales diminishing in size as they reach the apex of the cone, which is perforated at the top to meet the sky. Glass is used where possible to allow natural light to fill the museum interior.

    Photo by Aequalis Photography
    The museum’s distinctive cone is taking shape along the Thea Foss Waterway.

    One distinctive aspect of the museum is that it will not only display glass and other contemporary art, but also have a resident team of glassmakers transforming molten glass into sculptural objects and vessels both traditional and contemporary.

    The Hot Shop Amphitheater under the cone will be an exciting venue to witness this creative process. Amphitheater seating will be arranged in a semi-circle to maximize viewing angles.

    The proximity of the museum to the University of Washington Tacoma campus will encourage reciprocal programs that acknowledge and celebrate the unique contribution of Pacific Northwest artists to the studio glass movement.

    The versatile 13,000 square feet of gallery space is designed to accommodate contemporary artworks created from glass and other media. A theater seating 180 people will provide space for multimedia programs, films, lectures, meetings and other activities. An education studio will serve as a hands-on learning space for activities relating to the exhibitions. A museum store and cafe, which may offer separate hours of use than the museum, can be accessed directly from the main plaza.

    The Museum of Glass is destined to be not just a new contemporary art museum, but also one with a singular kind of energy. The museum is committed to drawing visitors of all backgrounds into the diverse visions and constantly shifting borders of the art of our time.

    The Museum of Glass is a key resource for the Pacific Northwest and a cultural magnet for visitors from all over the world.

    Wyn Bielaska is a creative concept designer who has collaborated extensively with Arthur Erickson and other leading Canadian architects on a wide range of projects. He has been a lead designer for a number of high-profile competition submissions in Canada, Europe and the Middle East.

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