Museum of Glass by Arthur Erickson
The Museum of Glass is part of what is being dubbed Tacoma's cultural/ education district, which also includes the Washington State History Museum, Union Station, the campus of the University of Washington at Tacoma, and the site of a new facility for the Tacoma Art Museum, designed by Antoine Predock.
Arriving at the Museum
The building can be approached along its back side on Dock Street or via the Bridge of Glass, a pedestrian walkway from the back of the history museum, across Interstate Highway 705. The bridge was a design and funding collaboration between architect Arthur Anderssen of Austin, Texas, the City of Tacoma, and Dale Chihuly Tacoma native son and the hero of the Northwest's studio glass movement.
From the street, visitors ascend a staircase that wraps around the steel cone up to the entrance-level plaza. Here one faces the glass and precast concrete front of the museum. A plaza joins a public esplanade which is planned to eventually connect all of Tacoma's waterfront.
From the bridge, one arrives on the building's fourth level, in another large plaza area from which the view to the Olympic Mountains would be spectacular were it not for the upper floors of the condominiums next door.
The plaza contains a rimless reflecting pool, one of three on the site. The visitor then descends toward the entrance by a "grand" staircase, paralleled by ramps, passing two more pools and large areas for outdoor art installations. The architect quips, "I'm known for my staircases... and my ramps." His stair/ramp combinations have come to be known as
Cast-in-place concrete was originally planned for the building's exterior. Erickson considers that material to be more legitimate than the lower-cost precast "skin" that was ultimately applied. According to the architect, this was just one of many concessions made to the project's modest budget.
On the Dock Street side, along a working railroad track, the museum looks like a conventional modernist building of metal and glass, except for the large stainless steel cone sticking up at one end. The greatest visual effect is not noticeable even from the entrance plaza, because the plaza is too shallow and the building is too wide to fully take in the sweeping horizontals of the facade and grand staircase, juxtaposed with the cone and reflecting pools at their various levels.
One gets a better sense of the ebb and flow of staircases and ramps as one moves away from the building. It is from the neighboring Thea Foss Waterway, or farther still from the marinas on the waterway's opposite bank, that the building's whole can be fully appreciated. That is, however, a view that will be seen by few.
The museum makes use of the areas on and around the various reflecting pools for art installations by contemporary artists Buster Simpson, Mildred Howard, and Patrick Dougherty. There is also a collaborative piece called the Remann Hall Women's Project, made by juvenile offenders from a nearby youth center. On the public esplanade adjoining the main entrance plaza, the City of Tacoma has placed an interactive water sculpture by artist Howard Ben Tré, commissioned as part of the Thea Foss Waterway revitalization plan.
Making a Grand Entrance
A floor-to-ceiling glass entry marks the transition from the outdoor plaza to the museum's lobby. The so-called "Grand Hall," at 6900 square feet (640 square meters), is truly grand in proportion. Overlapping stainless steel ceiling panels swirl through the space and echo the cadence and sweeping gesture of the also "grand" staircase and exterior facade.
Another effort to bring the outside in is the visibility of the striking stainless steel tiles on the exterior of the hot shop around which the lobby curves. My initial impression of the Grand Hall was, and still is, that it is cold and impersonal a party palace for those special events that museums need to host to thank their sponsors and donors.
The lobby feels more like a business complex with the art idea somewhere off in the background. In fact, there is a site-specific art installation by the artist Gronk at the back of the lobby, but it adds little to the art-ness of the building. There are corporate lobbies in many cities that make more of an art statement than does the lobby of the Museum of Glass.
A cafe and bookstore flank the front entrance and are accessible from the outside as well.
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