Experience Music Project

by | 23. Jul 2012

Cultural | Feature

Photo: arcspace

Exhibits and public programs are envisioned as a three-dimensional floating puzzle formed by six elements, with each piece being critical to the shape and the nature of the whole.

The Experience Music Complex is an exciting blend of exhibits, technology, media, and hands-on activities that combines the interpretive aspects of a traditional museum, educational role of a school, state-of-the-art research facilities of a specialized library, and audience-drawing qualities of performance venues and popular attractions.

Located on 5th Avenue adjacent to the Space Needle at Seattle Center, the complex celebrates the creativity and innovation of American popular music and culture. The EMP presents opportunities to explore its history and traditions, participate in the music making process, experience great music, and learn the secrets of composition and performance. It places a special emphasis on music-related traditions in the Pacific Northwest, and specifically commemorates Jimi Hendrix, one of America’s a most creative, innovative, and influential musical artists.

Photo: arcspace

The building itself consists of a cluster of colorful curving elements clad in a variety of materials. The fragmented and undulating forms are inspired in part by the image of a shattered Fender Stratocaster.

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

The Seattle Center Monorail, a remnant of the 1962 World’s Fair that continues to provide transportation between Seattle Center and downtown Seattle, passes through the building, allowing Monorail riders to glimpse inside.

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

The Sky Church, a concept inspired by Jimi Hendrix, represents the coming together of all types of people united by the power and joy of music and music making, and is physically embodied in the building’s central public gathering area. Through a series of exhibition spaces, The Crossroads presents the collision of multiple viewpoints and traditions, which is American popular music.

The Sound Lab offers hands-on opportunities to create and illustrate some of the relationships between music, science, and technology. The Artist’s Journey is a compelling history of the life and times of artists, illuminating the human aspect of their artistry and revealing the unexpected events and formative experiences that contributed to their creative development.

The Electric Library is a multimedia archive of the EMP collection and information resources, and provides services that are available both on site and on-line. The Ed. House functions as an educational public outreach program, offering opportunities to learn more about the themes explored in the exhibit areas, experience and participate in a variety of musical activities, and further explore and develop creative abilities and music-related skills.

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace

In addition to 35,000 square feet of exhibition space, the building houses a restaurant, bookstore, and administrative spaces, with support and storage areas located beneath grade.
Sketch courtesy Gehry Partners, LLP
Model photo courtesy Gehry Partners, LLP

Model photo courtesy Gehry Partners, LLP

Editor’s note
My first visit to EMP was in 1997 when I was planning an exhibition on Frank Gehry’s creative process for the Louisiana Museum in Denmark. I was lucky to be taken around and up on top of the concrete shell to see the pods in place for the metal panels and the shotcrete cement being applied to the ‘swoopy’ shapes. (Paul Zumwalt, EMP director of design and construction, who took me around, used the word ‘swoopy’ a lot.) Watching one of the enormous steel ribs being lowered into place, Zumwalt said he had expected this to be the hardest part but that the ribs, calculated by the Catia computer program, fit like a glove. I saw a couple go into place and can tell you it was a ‘swoopy’ experience.

Two months ago I was back walking around the outside of the buildings. It was late in the day; the metal panels were glowing in the sunset, the monorail was running through, the construction crews were working straight through the night to get ready for the late June opening. There were crowds of people taking their evening walks around the buildings, and I did hear words like ‘amazing’ and ‘wow’ and ‘My God! What is that?
/Kirsten Kiser

Photo: arcspace

Photo: arcspace


CITYSeattle, Washington
ARCHITECTGehry Partners, LLP