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A Modern Ferry Tale

With input from local tribes, LMN Architects’ design of the new Mukilteo Multimodal Ferry Terminal in Mukilteo, Washington celebrates the history and heritage of the state.

By Rachel Gallaher

The new Mukilteo Multimodal Ferry Terminal, designed by LMN Architects. Image by Benjamin Benschneider.

Ferry boats are a fairly standard mode of transportation in western Washington. If not for a daily commute, most locals (and thousands of visitors) hop on a ferry every summer to travel between the islands that dot the Puget Sound and run up the coast off the northwestern part of the state.

One such route, which travels between the cities of Mukilteo (which sits about 30 miles north of Seattle) and Clinton (a hub on the eastern side of Whidbey Island) moves more than two million vehicles and nearly four million riders annually, meaning its terminals get a lot of traffic. By the early 2010s, the Mukilteo terminal was feeling its age—it was built in 1957—and needed to be brought up to contemporary environmental and building standards.

At the end of 2020, a new, two-story terminal building, designed by LMN Architects in partnership with KPFF Consulting Engineers was revealed, and opened, to the public. Designed with input from seven local tribes whose traditional fishing rights encompass the area’s coastal waters, the terminal’s shape is inspired by traditional longhouses, and a palette of concrete, steel, heavy timber, and CLT is a firm embodiment of Northwest aesthetics.

“We’re excited to welcome ferry riders and the public to our first new terminal in 40 years,” comments Amy Scarton, head of the Washington State Department of Transportation. “With its many green features and tribal-influenced design, it’s unlike any other in the system.”

The Great Hall area of the terminal. Its design was inspired by the form of the traditional longhouse. Image by Benjamin Benschneider.

The elevated Great Hall area, where walk-on passengers can wait for their boat, was constructed with a shed roof built with northwest Douglas fir beams and a cross-laminated timber roof deck. The north and south walls are glass curtainwall with operable glazing that opens automatically to cool the space in the warmer months. To the north, the tall glass wall provides dramatic views to the Salish Sea, which is the tribal name for the Puget Sound.

“The ground underlying the modern waterfront is sacred to the tribes since it contains thousands of years’ worth of artifacts and potential burial sites. During construction of the project, no excavation was permitted within the boundaries of the historic midden near the building site. This meant that extra care had to be taken not to disturb the site below grade, which affected the design of utilities and the vehicle holding lanes.”

—Howard Fitzpatrick, LMN Architects

“The rhythm of the roof beams and purlins is echoed in the modulation of the glass walls, punctuated by the composite timber and steel columns,” says LMN principal architect Howard Fitzpatrick. “Aesthetically, LMN’s goal was to interpret the form and spirit of the historic longhouse, which has been the traditional communal building of Pacific Northwest Indian tribes for thousands of years. Rather than a literal recreation of the typology, the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal represents an interpretation of the longhouse that seeks to capture the simplicity and clarity of the form in a contemporary idiom.”

The building, which allows passengers to take in sweeping views of the Puget Sound, comprises a palette of concrete, steel, heavy timber, and CLT. Image by Benjamin Benschneider.

A traditional longhouse is entirely clad in cedar planks on the roof and walls, but, as Fitzpatrick explains, glass walls in the terminal provide both daylight and views to commuters, while the volume of the space recalls the historic precedent. “The tribal communal space of the longhouse is reimagined as a gathering space for the 21st century,” he says, “where travelers come and go much like they have for thousands of years from this beach.”

In addition, tribal cultural motifs created by local, Native American artists James Madison and Joe Gobin are displayed throughout the building. In conjunction with the terminal, a new waterfront promenade connects a path from downtown Mukilteo, through the terminal and on to the beach, creating an elevated pathway for public use and connecting different facets of the area to encourage community.

The toll booths at the terminal continue the wood-forward materiality of the project. Image by Benjamin Benschneider.


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