Seattle’s skyline may have gotten a dramatic update this summer with the addition of an enormous waterside ferris wheel just blocks from Pike Place Market, but its true arrival at the edge of the future came in the form of its music museum, erected in 2000.
After being catapulted to the forefront of the global music scene in the 90s from its dark and stormy position as the birthplace of grunge music, the Pacific Northwest metropolis has stood its ground as a progressive, artful city that’s proud of its musical heritage ever since.
For better or worse, its own homage to that heritage has had a polarizing effect. To wit: its own designer likens it to the decidedly raucous and relevant smashed guitars found within its walls, while Forbes called it one of the 10 ugliest buildings in the world.
Designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, the 140,000-square-foot EMP Museum (a shorter form of its original title, the “Experience Music Project”) stands just north of the city’s center, adjacent to the iconic Space Needle as part of a complex known as Seattle Center.
The building itself is a perfect study in Gehry’s signature “liquid architecture” with its sinuous, almost lifelike curves that seem to flow up into the sky like melted metal on the museum’s simpler sides, contrasting starkly with the more chaotic and colorful angles facing south.
The city’s monorail system literally runs through the building — a fitting juxtaposition for the structure that once housed a science fiction museum within its larger music-focused offerings.
The EMP Museum was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. Among its permanent exhibits are an ode to Seattle’s musical history, a “sky church” with a two-story, 18-panel screen showing live performances and a towering tornado of guitars and related string instruments.
While the museum’s commercial success has been mixed, its architecture stands as a conversation piece unlikely to fade into silence any time soon.
Photo credits: author’s archive and Wikipedia