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Architecture & Engineering

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Tacoma Art Museum

May 1, 2003

Taking gray for granted

  • The museum’s stainless-steel skin was designed to disappear in Tacoma’s gray mist.

    museum exterior
    Photo by Lara Swimmer
    From the Hood Street side, the museum’s steel skin reflects the colors of the sky.

    The new Tacoma Art Museum, at the corner of Pacific Avenue and Hood Street, is quite a visual respite in downtown Tacoma’s burgeoning arts and convention district.

    The stainless-steel skin of the structure reflects the ever-changing atmosphere of the Northwest, allowing the building to almost disappear in Tacoma’s steel-gray mist, and to glow almost white when the sun comes from behind the clouds.

    In the morning and evening the skin picks up the multidimensional spectrum of the sunrise and sunset. Clouds often appear in the building’s subtly reflective glass. The suspended feeling of building’s structure, with its cantilevers and tall columns, recalls the nautical and industrial history and the cranes at the Port of Tacoma in particular.

    At the museum’s entrance, a public plaza has been suspended over the hillside, oriented toward the northeast for a perfect view of Mount Rainier. In addition, the plaza contains stepped seating and a public stage suitable for formal and impromptu performances.

    A stainless-steel pylon resolves the geometries of the plaza and allows a backdrop for the stage.

    The circuit of galleries wrapped around the central courtyard drives the building’s form. Visitors ascend a ramp around the courtyard to circulate through the various galleries.

    Each gallery is slightly different, and the gallery sequence culminates in the main gallery, a flexible open space with 31-foot-high ceilings. A second path of circulation steps its way up through the galleries, allowing an additional perspective.

    Openings have been carved through the walls of each gallery to connect them. Every gallery contains a window to allow visitors to orient themselves to the landscape.

    From the last gallery, visitors can ascend to the education wing. From there one can look out across the stainless-steel roof above the galleries to the mountains and Thea Foss Waterway.

    The education wing includes classroom and studio space as well as the museum’s library. Looking down from the education wing, visitors can also watch guests arriving at the main lobby, which houses the museum’s store, cafe and event space.

    Antoine Predock Architects is based in Albuquerque, N.M. Tacoma Art Museum is the firm’s first Northwest building. Others projects include San Diego Padres Stadium, the Las Vegas Central Library and Austin City Hall in Texas.

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