Volume 35, Number 9, September 2000


Twist And Shout

Seattle’s Newest Landmark Gives Glass a Big Spin

by Ellen Giard

wpe10.jpg (24014 bytes)If you’re thinking your latest project is a mark in the next phase of glass innovation, then think again. Designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry and located in Seattle, the recently completed Experience Music Project (EMP) has taken glass to extreme measures. Gehry, who also designed the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, is legendary for his nouveau use of stone, twisted glass, titanium and stainless steel.

The concept and idea behind Gehry’s latest project came from EMP founder and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s passion for 1960s guitarist, Jimi Hendrix. For design inspiration, Gehry looked to all shapes, sizes and colors of guitars, even smashing and cutting a few.

“The design point of view for this project was highly sculptural,” said Craig Webb, a project designer with Frank Gehry and Associates architectural firm in California. “We tried to capture the essence of rock and roll and used different shapes and forms to try and imply movements that signify such music,” he added.

Glass products used in the building included Pilkington’s laminated Energy Advanced low-E. “Energy Advanced low-E was used for two reasons,” explained Grant Muller of Pilkington. “One was for its color-neutral appearance. In other words it doesn’t favor any color, and second, it was used because it was readily available and easily fabricated.”

Muller also said the variation in glass sizes were among the most interesting features of the project. No one piece of glass was the same size; each piece was unique. “It is one amorphous structure that looks like a smashed guitar,” said Muller.
The Experience Music Project has no right angles.

In addition, Megaflon coatings by PPG, in red, blue and gold, were also included. “Megaflon coatings are well suited to various types of metal construction projects ranging from office buildings to hospitals or other institutional buildings,” said Hank Lowman, PPG’s director of North American sales, coil and extrusion coatings. “Their [Megaflon coatings] use on the EMP demonstrates their versatility and attention-catching appearance.” Also used in the project was glass from Saint-Gobain.

wpe11.jpg (18693 bytes) 624 pieces of glass were used in the roof sculptures’ formation.

Benson Industries served as the project’s contract glazier and installed all curtainwall. Benson, which specializes in high-rise projects, was excited to take on the challenges in creating this structure. “There was a lot of hands-on work in this one,” said Jeff Rosenburg of Benson. “When you’re doing a high-rise structure most of the work is mainly coordinated out of the office. With EMP we were in the field a lot more, working a lot out as we progressed.”

Fabrication and lamination for the 500 exterior windows was completed by Glass Pro of Los Angeles. “Time constraint requirements and the fact that there were zero size repetitions and zero square corners really made this job a challenge,” said Joe Green, general manager and CEO of Glass Pro. “Plus, communication between us and the guys in the field was just really critical.” In addition, Glass Pro also worked with Herzog on fabrication of a structural wall in the museum’s lobby.

Aside from the overall impressiveness of the museum’s myriad of colors and textures, one of the most peerless elements to view lies in the curves and swoops of the roof’s art glass sculpture. “We wanted an element to tie the building forms together as a single element and that led us to the idea of the glass roof sculpture,” said Webb. “It comes from the idea that it is like guitar strings, a unifying piece,” he added.

wpe12.jpg (37630 bytes) An aerial shot of EMP displays all of the structures’ twists and turns.

The ribboning arrangement of glass and steel brought together the hands and minds of several companies to form the sculpture. Permasteelisa Cladding Technologies Ltd. of Santa Monica, Calif., a custom curtainwall contractor, was one of the companies involved. According to Michael Reber, the company’s project manager, 624 pieces of glass were used on the sculpture. Provided by Cricursa Cristales Curvados S.A. of Barcelona, Spain, and fabricated by Fen Pro of Seattle, the glass was a laminated, tempered unit. Blue, green and clear glass were also used, along with PVB film applied to the sculpture’s glass to achieve the color, which was supplied by Cesar Color Inc. of Phoenix. Reber explained that since Permasteelisa is a relatively new company in the United States, they have been eager to get involved with “icon” type projects. “Before we got involved in this project, several other curtainwall companies turned it down,” he said. “We are trying to develop our niche here and are more apt to get involved with more difficult projects rather than those that are more conventional.”

Also involved in the glass sculpture’s formation was Westford-Mass.-based TriPyramid Structures Inc., whose role was to design and fabricate the hardware which would attach and hold the glass to the steel structure. “No two jobs are ever alike in designing hardware to connect glass to structures,” said Tim Elisson, a partner with TriPyramid. “With EMP we had to accommodate different design lengths and styles because any given piece of glass could be flat, vertical or something else. There was no one loading condition we were working with,” he added. Elisson also explained that the hardware had to be designed so it did not stress the glass.

wpe14.jpg (29438 bytes)Crown Corr Inc. of Gary Ind., took on the role as the project’s erector. Not only did the company run a crane 24 hours a day for more than six months bolting together steel pipes and beams, but also placed each piece of glass and glass hardware together. In order to cut back on the costs of glass loss, Phillip Pickford, Crown Corr’s project manager, generated a system of aluminum templates to set the place of each piece of glass in conjunction with the hardware, ensuring that when the actual glass was set, it would fit. As a result of this system, only three pieces of glass broke.

While the Experience Music Project in itself is quite a spectacle, the structure’s novel glass usage makes it that much more intriguing. And though it may be the museum’s 80,000 items of rock history or the chance to strum an electric guitar that brings the brunt of visitors, a select few may come for another reason: to witness glass as they have never before seen it.



Musical elements of rock and roll were architect Frank Gehry’s influence for designing EMP.


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