The much-anticipated museum expansion balances Art Deco design with a modern addition.
By Rachel Gallaher
Photographed by Tim Griffith
Shortly before it closed for a two-year renovation in 2017, the Seattle Asian Art Museum threw a party at which guests were invited to write on the soon-to-be-demolished gallery walls.
It was a clever way to bid a final farewell to some of the museum’s cramped, closed-off exhibition spaces. On February 8, the museum, located in the heart of Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park, reopens with a modern addition designed by LMN Architects that fuses the original 1933 Art Deco–influenced original structure with a new, airy, light-filled modern exhibition space.
By 2017, the original building, designed by Carl Freylinghausen Gould and Charles Herbert Bebb, needed mechanical and electrical updates, a new gallery for temporary exhibitions and South Asian art, educational space, and a conservation studio.
“Our goal was to connect the museum more strongly to the community,” says architect Wendy Pautz, a partner at LMN who worked on the project for more than seven years. “The addition, with its large windows overlooking the park, allows people outside a peek inside the museum.” The new three-floor, 13,905-square-foot addition is a contrast to the building’s striking Art Deco façade, but Pautz and architect Sam Miller, another partner at LMN, used neutral-toned, precut concrete panels for the exterior to fuse the two volumes into a cohesive whole.
During renovation of Fuller Garden Court, the newly light-filled hub that connects the building’s north and south galleries, as well as the new addition, a previously covered original fountain was restored and reactivated. “There’s historic precedence to the addition,” Miller says. “When we looked at the original drawings, we saw that Gould had outlined several additions, one in the same area where ours is. When you’re working on a historic building, it’s important to understand the reasons behind what [the original architects] were trying to do—not just their materials, but things like daylight and visitor circulation. Those are all key underpinnings that help you understand an architect’s approach.”