Small cities deserve well-designed civic buildings and museums. This is one, designed by the accomplished Seattle firm Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects (soon to be renamed Olson Kundig Architects), whose body of work is well known throughout the Pacific Northwest and beyond. The building is so nick-named for the 180 foot long double glazed wall which runs like a spine through the entire project and partially defines an outdoor court. The official purpose, at least currently, is the Art and Children’s Museum of the larger organization, the Whatcom Museum. The History Museum will continue to function in the old City Hall building, which is a historic landmark in itself. The new building will be the first museum in Washington State to be built to LEED Silver standards. Here’s the official announcement from the city, which also contains an interesting time lapse video of the construction.
The building shell went up very fast with mostly precast concrete insulated panels. These have a very stone like quality about them which is interesting in itself. The storefront details are well done, but the double curtainwall Lightcatcher steals the show. I definitely recommend a visit to see the building, and of course the artwork inside. The current exhibits are actually very interesting and feature some prominent artists from around the globe.
I attended the grand opening last weekend among great fanfare. Attendance was free, thanks to a local bank as the event’s sponsor. My only complaints were that on opening day, the upstairs atrium gallery was a little too narrow for the crowds trying to weave their way to the main exhibits. Ironically, the photographs displayed on that wall were of the area’s logging history. Perhaps it was the curator’s intent to create a human log-jam, creating an interactive exhibit. Second, that upstairs level really seems like a programmatic mish-mash. It is a small building, but seemingly unrelated rooms like an exhibit space and the children’s activity room were next to the director’s glass jewel box of an office, which couldn’t have had more Design Within Reach furnishings if it had been the company’s 1st Ave showroom in Seattle. Lastly, and this isn’t the building’s fault by any means, I was dissapointed that the roof garden over the lobby was not accessible. There are patio blocks and seating out there as well as an informational sign explaining the virtues of the living roof and rainwater collection. I guess I’ll read it another time.
I took a few photos of the atrium, and exterior. The lobby was too full of people to see much, but is a well-designed arrival space. Since it was dusk, these are a little grainy. Maybe it’s time for a new camera, or should open the manual for once. FYI: No photographs are allowed in the exhibit spaces, as is typical in most museums. Enjoy.