This wild project from the fertile architectural mind of Frank Gehry is located in the Seattle Center, home of the 1962 World Fair. The Experience Music Project complex was designed to celebrate the history of American popular music. Due to time constraints, I was unable to visit the museum itself, so I will limit my review to strictly its architectural exterior, which is an experience in itself. The local firm of LMN Architects was the associate architects on this project.
The EMP was heavily funded by Microsost co-founder and entrepreneur, Paul Allen. He was supposedly quite a fan of local rock icon Jimi Hendrix (who is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in suburban Renton), so the original intent was to establish a museum to display his vast collection of Hendrix memorabilia. This plan somehow fell through, but its scope expanded to become a place to honor not only rock and roll music but its older (blues, soul, jazz, gospel, and country) and younger relatives (punk and hip hop) siblings. Hendrix does get his own gallery inside, and perhaps the architect is honoring the Purple Haze guitarist with the use of purple on the exterior.
Unlike the great Guggenheim Bilbao, which is one monochromatic mass, the EMP consists of several crumpled balls of various colors. Twenty-one thousand shingles, each a distinctly sized puzzle piece, were fitted to create the exterior layer in hues of purple, silver, gold, red, and baby blue. The first three colors are stainless steel; red and blue are painted aluminum. The mirrored purple panels are as mesmerizing as sequins on a Tina Turner dress. Gehry was inspired by the shapes and shades of electric guitars during his design process, though one may sarcastically compare the forms with a smashed-up Pete Townshend guitar. The project strikes me as a blow-up of a kid’s science project, with the giant red heart, and perhaps a silver liver and a golden gall bladder too. It does not win the science fair, but it does get noticed and perhaps that is what matters in this setting. The tracks of the Monorail slice under the baby blue blob, which helps to tie the EMP into the Seattle Center fabric.
The EMP is filled with musical memorabilia (including a gallery of guitars) and captivating old video clips, but it also promotes its interactive aspects like the Sound Lab where visitors can try their hand at playing instruments or mixing music. An additional attraction to the complex in June 2004 is the new Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, which will cost you a few extra dollars.
These curvy and crinkly blobs are not my favorite Gehry concoctions, but he does employ colors liberally to stretch his architectural vocabulary. If you have the time and the money, check out the inside of the Experience Music Project. If you can only visit one, I recommend walking around the EMP and going up the Space Needle.