[Experience Music Project]
Experience Music Project
DJC.COM Special Issue © June 15, 2000

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What the local architects are saying about EMP

Journal Staff Reporter
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The Experience Music Project, Paul Allen's $240 million paean to rock 'n' roll, elicits a range of opinions as various and distinctive as its rippling, multicolored, metal facade. Ask anyone about it, and you're not likely to get a neutral response.

For some people, it's a visual blight or it's architectural, not to mention financial, excess in a city known, at least until recently, for sober design. For others, who scratch their heads passing by it at Broad Street and Fifth Avenue, it simply defies comprehension. And then, there's another group for whom the EMP is one of the most inspiring, daring architectural creations ever to have hit Seattle.

We took the pulse of Seattle architects on the issue, asking them to offer their general impressions and consider what influence, if any, the EMP would have on shaping local design. Here's a sampling of what some of them had to say.
Interior model of the EMP. Photo courtesy of EMP.

Steve Arai, Arai/Jackson Architects & Planners

"I love it. I think it's a great project. It's appropriate at the Seattle Center, but it might not be appropriate elsewhere. The character and quality enhance the liveliness of the Center. At first, I wasn't quite sure how to react to it. It adds to the landmark quality of Seattle Center. It's an evolution, a refinement since Bilbao (Frank Gehry's Guggenheim project in Spain). It's a lot more fluid, a lot more colorful."

John Jeffcott, associate architect, Bassetti Architects

"This building, which is designed by one of the great architects of our time, violates basic time-honored elements of architecture, and in my mind, gets away with it. Technically, this building could not have been achieved without computer scanning and modeling. So, it is an expression of a technical breakthrough much as the arch was for ancient Rome. Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, 'We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.'

Melanie Como, intern, Bassetti Architects

"The building is a suitable addition to Seattle Center because precedent for 'fantasy' architecture has long been established with the construction of the Space Needle. My concern is over the expense of this building in relation to new building design within Seattle. This was not a normal budget or construction length by any stretch of the imagination. So it's important for people enamored with it and demanding more buildings like it in Seattle to realize that in order to achieve such variety it costs money, more money than most owners are willing to spend."

Noah Greenberg, architect, Bassetti Architects

"While I am in favor of the allocation of resources on pure art, I worry that the EMP is being hailed as a model for future buildings. Due to its incredibly redundant and expensive systems, it can not be understood as any sort of a real solution for any of the development or urban problems that confront Seattle today. Nothing about the way the EMP is built will help architects better combat the housing crisis or improve neighborhood cohesiveness and build communities. It will be a work of art, but because I feel architecture can have a critical role as a social tool, I have concerns that the smoke and mirrors unduly receive more media attention than those projects which really improve our city."

Susan Boyle, principal, BOLA Architecture " ... works really well with the Monorail ... improves the base of the Space Needle."

Joe Chauncey, principal, Boxwood "... will be a memorable building. I'm looking forward to seeing the interior. I hope it all ties together and that the design relates to the outside. I love the use of color and the semi-transparent colors in particular. It does look like music to me. If it is deemed successful by the community at large, it can push the envelope. It may prompt the city to re-examine its (building) rules and regulations."

Chris Carlson, principal, Buffalo Design

"I like the building a lot. It's a good shot in the arm for Seattle architecture. (The city) has a reputation for being beige, conservative and safe. It's perfectly appropriate for what it's housing. It's pretty exciting, though some of Frank Gehry's other buildings are stronger. It's pushing the leading edge of technology of how we design and build ... demonstrates good, interesting coordination between the designers and contractors, something which we will need to do more of. I think it's a really wonderful project. What's not to like? We're not paying for it. It's a gift to the city."

Gary Wakatsuki, principal, Callison Architecture

"... fits in well into the context of the Center ... but has an uncomfortable proximity to the sidewalk. ... It challenges our normal, everyday architectural sensibilities and challenges us to look at the built environment differently. Every city needs a couple of special projects."

Arlan Collins, principal, CNA Architecture

"The Experience Music Project could represent a turning point for the built environment in Seattle. Not since the Space Needle has Seattle fostered such a visible and potentially controversial structure. The building will place Seattle with other world class cities that are pushing the future. Though the form and the colors may be controversial, in the long run the value to our community will be self-evident."

Jonathan Pettit, principal, DLR Group

"It's wonderful. It's unique. It's not architecture -- it's sculpture. It's the perfect locale; it's the only place that it would have fit in the city. It's one of a kind. You can't really learn from it. It's a wonderful experiment."

Donald King, principal, DKA

"I'm excited about it taking shape. I think it looks great. It's exciting for its use and expression of the experience of rock music. It opens up a number of options in design like discoveries of form; maybe we can express things in a way other than geometric form. I like its boldness. The design is literally 'outside of the box.'"

Elaine Day LaTourelle, principal, Elaine Day LaTourelle + Associates

"... the metal skin is gorgeous ... but (the building) may be a trifle out of scale on Broad Street."

Shauna Spencer, director of design, Jensen/Fey Architecture

"It's exciting that Seattle is getting some really controversial architecture. It's designed around the experience of architecture itself. It's a living, breathing building with a heart. I'm not overly excited about the colors; I prefer the color of metal itself. I'm withholding judgment until I see it all, but whether I like it or not, it's great that it makes people aware of their surroundings."

Peter Hockaday, principal, MBT Architecture

"I really respect Gehry's work, but I don't think the EMP is his best. The Bilbao and his new building in Berlin are beautiful and extraordinary. This one, despite its wonderful coloration, is not extraordinary. It's silly to say the building is contextual except in a limited sense because it's located on a World's Fair site. It doesn't make any reference to the site. Gehry imagines buildings as a work of art and sees them that way from the beginning. He's more of an artist than an architect."

Bob Hull, Miller/Hull Partnership

"It's probably bringing the lightning rods down on public perception of architecture like no other building in Seattle has ever done, which I think is good. I actually find it hard to critique Gehry's work. All the rules get suspended when you start talking about his work. He's established his own vocabulary. In a way, I think he approaches it as an artist, in the pure sense of the word. Those scribbly drawings he does in the very beginning are really an artist at work."

Ron van der Veen, principal, Mithun

"It's one of the most cutting-edge buildings in the world right now. But, whether it's architecture or the most expensive piece of decoration in the last 50 years, I don't know. It makes me question, 'what is architecture?' It has the edginess and rebellion of rock 'n' roll. It's ironic that a man in his 70s would design it. I think this will have tremendous impact on architecture in Seattle. Almost all my clients refer to Gehry and (Rem) Koolhaas and want to capture that kind of energy whether they like the projects or not. Internationally recognized, signature buildings create a climate of expectations that might be raised."

Bert Gregory, principal, Mithun

"I think it's absolutely knock-your-socks-off great. It's exciting to have that architectural element to our city. It's complementary to the Seattle Center."

Gerry Gerrone, principal, Mulvanny G2 Architects

"I'm not impressed. I find it gaudy and lacking real architectural discipline. It looks like a random collision rather than a steady piece of architecture. I like the Bilbao better; it's more elegant. I realize the EMP is supposed to be spirited, but it doesn't turn on my lights. The tremendous influence of outsiders is changing the face, the composure of the city. I don't think Seattle architects support a visual assault on our environment. (But) it is one of the wonders of the world from a construction point of view. I don't think it's going to wear well over time, either cosmetically or in terms of its style."

Peter Steinbrueck, architect and Seattle City Council member

"I followed Gehry's career and he's a fascinating architect, but his architecture is more art and form than our traditional concept of what architecture is. He's gone beyond certainly the norm -- even for innovative architecture. So, it's really more than a building; it's poetry and music in itself.

Whether you like or not, that's obviously subjective. I happen to like it in the abstract. I find it a bit jarring in terms of its imposition on the Seattle Center campus. There's a harmony and unity to the Center that was created for the World's Fair, and I just find it incompatible with that. Though, in terms of its function, I think its function is highly compatible with the Seattle Center; I'm glad it's there."

Kim Munizza, Wanzer Munizza Design Studio

"I'm looking forward to it. I'm really surprised at myself actually because I was the first to say, 'what is this?' 'Is this sensationalism?' I live on Queen Anne, where they just tore down the Blob and I thought, 'oh, fine, another one.' But the more that it's progressed, my fascination and admiration has been heightened. It may not be my favorite piece of architecture in the world, but the technology for building it has been a phenomenal thing. From that perspective, it's really a pioneer building."

Blaine Weber, principal, Weber + Thompson

"I don't understand it. It's a perplexing piece of architecture to me. I like the Bilbao better. It's more refined and cohesive piece. The disparate parts (of the EMP) don't marry up, don't harmonize. I'm a huge Jimi Hendrix fan, but I don't see it (the allusion to his music). I don't understand the massing. I would have liked it better if it were all one color. It just hits my eye wrong. I don't understand it, particularly the blue. Titanium would be better, like Bilbao."

Ev Ruffcorn, principal, Zimmer Gunsul Frasca

"The architectural experience of the EMP is a kind of paradox. Seattle, for the first time perhaps, is seeing some international, controversial architecture. On the other hand, the proximity to the Seattle Center makes it a great piece of contextual architecture -- it's another piece of kitsch art parked out there. It's destined to reinforce Seattle Center as a No. 1 tourist destination."

Tell us what you think.
Add your comment....
Reader FeedbackAdd feedback  
It is simply modern, abstract art. It looks a bit like they didn't know when to stop designing. It is ironic that it represents the fluidity and changes in Rock music, yet will probably be one of the most difficult buildings to modify in the future as the nature of rock music and "experiences" change. It is exciting and will bring notoriety for the moment. It is impressive from a construction standpoint. Is it Architecture? Let's talk in 25 years. - David Christensen AIA, Chief Napkin Sketcher
EMP is wonderful sculpture and serves the purpose of great art - to inspire, to provoke thought and debate. But to deify the EMP as an example of architecture is too limiting, too elitist by defining architecture as the realm of the expensive grand gesture. We need architects involved in the every day creation of our communities, improving the built environment through thousands of smaller decisions. EMP is just over the border between art and architecture. We need as much attention paid to buildings at the other end of the spectrum that manage to contribute to the community in positive ways. That's where the battle for the quality of our communities is fought everyday - basic housing, offices, shops and even strip malls. - Sue Lani W. Madsen, Madsen Mitchell Evenson & Conrad, Architect

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