Seattle Asian Art Museum puts its latest expansion designs on display

The reception to show off the latest Seattle Asian Art Museum designs was the type of event those used to the Seattle process might have expected months ago. Plans to renovate and expand the city-owned Art Deco building inside Volunteer Park had caught some neighbors by surprise when it was briefly mentioned in a SAAM newsletter.

Officials from the Seattle Art Museum, which operates SAAM, said at the Thursday event they first needed to decide on the scope of the project. That required private conversations among trustees, architects, and officials from the city’s historical preservation and parks departments.

“We wanted to make sure that before we showed something we were ready to show something,” said SAM spokesperson Domenic Morea.

Now that the initial designs are in place, SAM says they are eager for public input on the $49 million upgrade and expansion. In addition to feedback sessions the museum is holding, the designs are also making their way through the city’s Architectural Review Committee, where public comments are taken.

Current plans from LMN Architects call for the addition of a new exhibit and event space on the backside of the museum (the 1933-built Art Deco facade will remain untouched). A glass “park lobby,” also located on the east side of the building is intended to provide a stronger link between the park and the museum.

“One of our over-arching goals is to connect this building to the park,” said LMN architect Sam Miller.

Among the obvious benefits of the renovations would be an enhanced ability for the museum to do the business of conserving and showing Asian art — the plan includes a new conservation room in Level 1, and a covered loading dock and the elevator for bringing artworks in and out of the building.screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-5-17-52-pm

The mechanics of the building — the control of heating, cooling, and humidity — would be brought up to modern museum standards, and the building would be insulated, making it more sustainable and less expensive to run. Miller included photos in his presentation of elements in need of updating — one was the mechanical control board for the building, more a funky collection of antique gauges than the controls for a modern museum. Then there are seismic updates for the museum’s 4” hollow-tile walls, a hazard to both art and humans in the event of a serious earthquake. Expanding the envelope of the building will allow for new facility systems as well as a new education space serving K-12 students.

The expansion amounts to a 14% increase in the building footprint, representing .25% encroachment into the park. In addition to the gallery space and park lobby, those structures include a new elevator shaft and loading dock. Upgrades will also allow for the unsightly metal staircase to be removed from the south side of the building.

SAAM will close for two years on February 27th, 2017 with construction slated to begin that fall. In the interim the museum will move its entire collection into storage or into SAM downtown.

Up to $19 million of the $49 million project budget will come from city — $14 million is held over from a 2008 upgrade that was never started with an additional $5 million included in Mayor Ed Murray’s current budget. Another $8-9 million will come from King County and Washington state, as well as historic renovation tax credits. That leaves around $21 million for the museum to raise in a private capital campaign.

Some neighbors continue to oppose the project for encroaching further into parks space. Capitol Hill resident Jonathan Mark set up the site protectvolunteerpark.org and is circling a petition to raise concerns about the designs. Public feedback meetings are scheduled for October 15th, November 19th and December 10th at the museum.

Meanwhile, the project timeline to replace the aging, no-frills Volunteer Park Amphitheater has been setback a few months with a target competition in 2019. ORA Architects and Walker Macy Landscape Architects recently developed four concepts using feedback from the public and more than 30 performance organizations. All the designs include a shelter, backstage space, and bathrooms built into the structure as required by the city.unnamed

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17 thoughts on “Seattle Asian Art Museum puts its latest expansion designs on display

  1. I think that those who oppose this project, on the basis that it is “encroaching” on park land, are misguided. That part of the park gets almost no use. And the design, which opens up part of the museum to the park, is a big improvement over what is there, which is a blank wall.

    • i would argue that misguided is the wrong word. seems like there’s an agenda at play somewhere here. a quarter of a percent of the park’s land mass will be used for this expansion. i don’t see how that will make a noticeable difference on anyone’s enjoyment of the park.

      and given that the new construction will actually make that facet of the building more enjoyable to those using the east side of the park, it seems like a win-win.

    • Just a note of clarification. One person here said that this expansion will take up one quarter of the land of the park. Actually there is a decimal point there in the article. It’s actually increasing the footprint of the museum 14%, and takes up .25% of the land in the park.

  2. One thing to keep in mind here is the addition will not magically appear overnight. It will be invasive on the park and will probably need an access point, staging areas and will create a lot of noise.

    I enjoy this sunny, quieter area of the park. Its a great spot to read and soak up some sun in peace and without feeling like I’m on display.

    That being said, I hope the construction passes quickly and overall support the addition – and don’t mind relocating myself to another area while the work is in progress.

    • that’s correct, the construction, according the above schedule, will take 8 months. 6 months of which will be during Q4 of 2018 and Q1 of 2019; meaning Oct-Mar which, i would think, aren’t high demand park months.

      all in all, if everything goes well, the impact, be it during construction or afterward, once the build-out is complete, should be minimal to our lives. i think if we’re all adults and cope with the change, as you seem open to doing, we’ll be okay.

    • 8 months is an ambitious timeline! Oh, and wouldn’t it be nice if everything happened as originally planned and scheduled :)

  3. That design looks very elegant and if they pull it off it will make a beautiful addition to an otherwise under-appreciated museum.

    As for encroaching on park, that just sounds silly. This is a minimal expansion given the overall size of the park, and frankly that specific area has never been a great spot. I’ve personally walked my dog along that side of the building for years and it’s routinely littered with garbage, human waste and drug paraphernalia. I’m happy to see the space become more active and less neglected.

    • Residential street parking should be up for grabs. Those homes don’t have any extra rights to parking over park visitors. 15th usually has ample parking.

      Plus, busses run along 15th and 10th covering both ends of the park.

  4. Thank you Bryan and CHS for covering this!

    I must disagree that the Thursday event represents “Seattle process”. This was just a press conference, with no opportunity for members of the public to comment, attend, or even know beforehand that it was happening.

    I respect those commenters who feel this is harmless or even desirable, although I disagree. This is a park. It does not benefit from being “connected” to a building (unless perhaps the plan included public restrooms which it does not). People go there to connect with nature. As Seattle develops with larger buildings, the remaining open space becomes more precious.

    The public process around this plan has still been woefully inadequate. If this edifice were planned to be built on private land, there would be big signs informing everyone nearby and giving them opportunity to comment. Where are the big signs announcing this plan? It is all too easy to find people in the park who have no idea about this and are outraged when they learn of it.

    Not everyone understands the financial arrangements around this building. It is owned by the City of Seattle, but leased to Seattle Art Museum free of charge, under a long-standing agreement. Furthermore, the public is paying for maintenance and housekeeping (estimated at $200,000 per year in a recent public meeting). SAM collects revenue from their hosting of private functions in the building which they rent for free. Meanwhile, SAM owns extra space downtown which they currently lease out to Zillow.com. Now Mayor Murray proposes an additional gift of $5 million along with the taking of parkland for SAM’s addition.

    I would like to see the long-standing financial arrangements between the City and SAM daylighted and reevaluated with respect to the City’s current priorities and equity standards, and I would like to see Volunteer Park protected from having any part of it taken for this use.

  5. I don’t see comments on the uniqueness of this park space that is to be taken, the green east of the museum. It is a quiet sheltered space- the building, the trees, the park border, perfect in size and character for personal use – for laying on the grass, reading, sun bathing, relaxing. Even walking by on the bordering paths gives a feeling of peace and tranquility. There is no other space in the park equal to it. Much if this character would be lost with the encroaching building expansion.
    I love the museum but I find this space precious and would mourn its loss.
    Work within the frame of the museum as it is. To my mind it is the perfect size as it is.

  6. I’m a neighbor, SAM member and frequent park goer who just recently learned of the SAAM expansion plans.An email on 9/9/16 about a community meeting in the ID (the following morning) from Karen O’Connor, Seattle Parks Sr. PR person about the “Renovation and Proposed Expansion plans” got my attention, as it was previously only a “renovation” in museum communications. So either something had changed or- my real concern- that this was a “done deal” since the plans are out and the closure is on their calendar.

    In answer to a few questions, Ms. O’Connor told me that Parks was just “helping SAM get the word out about the meetings” and that SAM could address my questions. She also said that the Landmarks Board was part of the process, but no answer to my question about Parks role. The notice for future meetings- October 15 is next- says that feedback will be sought but towards what end?

    The recent process of the Volunteer Park Trust, a SAAM partner in the park, for the Amphitheater project has been thorough and exemplary in obtaining neighborhood and stakeholder input. I’m unaware of a similar process with the SAAM project although the impact and cost will be so much more dramatic to neighbors & taxpayers.

    The Protect Our Parks ordinance #118477 exists to insure that there is no net loss of park land in Seattle. Minimizing a build-out of this magnitude on a landmark park and valuable community asset is unconscionable. No building can provide what nature and green open space does.

    I can only question whose interest is best served when the public loses valuable park land while SAAM is rewarded with $19 million from the City to make it happen.

  7. This is an urban park in an urban neighborhood, and few people alive today would remember it without the museum building. Rather than turn its back on the park like the previous expansions, this expansion seeks to embrace the surrounding park and direct attention to an underutilized area.

    • People are making assumptions about this part of the park that are not true. Many people use and prefer this part of the park and the whole feeling of it would greatly change with the purposed expansion. Also I don’t appreciate how this has been handled and it seems underhanded.

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