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.
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.