Situated at the base of the world-renowned Space Needle, EMP Museum wraps around the historic Monorail of Seattle. The museum used to be known as Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (EMP|SFM). A nonprofit museum, dedicated to contemporary popular culture, EMP Museum was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2000. Built in 1962 for the Seattle World’s Fair, the Monorail soars right through the center of Frank O. Gehry’s unique building, transporting visitors to and from Seattle Center and the city’s vibrant urban core. ARCHITECTEM San Francisco based Contributor Niveen Sayeed explores the exterior curvilinear metal cladding of this Seattle landmark through her lens.
When Frank O. Gehry began designing EMP, he was inspired to create a structure that evoked the rock ‘n’ roll experience. The name of the museum’s central Sky Church pays homage to Jimi Hendrix. Even before groundbreaking, Seattle Weekly said the design could refer to “the often quoted comparison to a smashed electric guitar.” Gehry purchased several electric guitars, sliced them into pieces, and used them as building blocks for an early model design.
We started collecting pictures of Stratocasters, bringing in guitar bodies, drawing on those shapes in developing our ideas.
A fusion of textures and myriad colors, EMP’s exterior conveys all the energy and fluidity of music. Three-thousand panels, made up of 21 thousand individually cut and shaped stainless steel and painted aluminum shingles, encase the outside of the building. Their individual finishes respond to different light conditions and appear to change when viewed from different angles, reminding audiences that music and culture is constantly evolving.
The interior hosts great acoustics with strategic dampening of sound between areas.
The architecture was greeted by Seattle residents with a mixture of acclaim for Gehry and derision for this particular edifice. Despite some critical reviews of the structure, the building has been called “a fitting backdrop for the world’s largest collection of Jimi Hendrix memorabilia.” The exterior which features a fusion of textures and colors, including gold, silver, deep red, blue and a “shimmering purple haze,” has been declared “an apt representation of the American rock experience.”