Friday, November 21, 1997 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Architectural Plans Are Unveiled For Glass Museum

Seattle Times Art Critic

The financial backers of the International Glass Museum in Tacoma have unveiled the architectural plans for the museum, tentatively scheduled for opening in 2000 or 2001.

Arthur Erickson, Canada's best-known architect, is the lead designer of the building, which will be on a site near Tacoma's downtown waterfront just a few hundred yards from historic Union Street Station, the recently opened Washington State History Museum, and the Tacoma campus of the University of Washington.

Erickson, of Vancouver, is known for his austere, modernist design, and plans for the glass museum suggest that it will be a smaller, somewhat abstract version of the angular, powerful-looking larger buildings he has erected in the past. The model shows an arrangement of blocks, right angles, sliced spheres and conical shapes that will be unusual departure from the box shape of most museums.

The visual focal point will be a dramatic, glass-walled, 7,000-square-foot hot shop visible from outside the museum. With fires from glass kilns burning nearly round the clock, museum backers hope the building will be a beacon on the Tacoma skyline.

Though it lacks the playful, swooping curves and organic, rounded shapes of Paul Allen's Experience Music Project now under construction at Seattle Center, Erickson's plans for an unconventionally shaped, relatively low and long building is a sign that Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry, designer of the Experience Music Project, is not the only contemporary architect trying to break museums out of their historical box-shaped homes.

Other architects working on the glass museum will be Nick Milkovich Architects of Vancouver, B.C., and Reed Reinvald Johnson Willows Architects of Tacoma.

Dave Allen, secretary of the board of trustees for the 55,000-square-foot museum, says construction will start in 1998 or 1999. Construction of what the museum is calling the Chihuly Bridge of Glass will begin earlier, perhaps next year, said Allen.

The bridge will be a 600-foot-long pedestrian footpath arcing over five lanes of Interstate 705 to connect the museum with the history museum on Pacific Avenue and the Thea Foss Waterway, which is the downtown Tacoma waterfront. Seattle glass artist Dale Chihuly designed the bridge with architect Arthur Andersson, designer of the history museum, and Chihuly will also design five 35-foot-tall glass pavilions that will be positioned along the bridge.

Total cost of the museum is $60 million, said Allen. The sum includes a $15 million endowment and $20 million in public money to be used for a parking garage and an esplanade on the waterfront near the museum. The museum trustees have already raised $16 million, said Allen.

The glass museum is being strongly supported by many of Tacoma's most influential business and civic leaders, including George F. Russell, chief executive officer of the multinational Tacoma-based Frank Russell Co., and News Tribune publisher Kelso Gillenwater, who are both trustees.

They view the museum as a unique institution that will not only be popular with the public but will help Tacoma overcome its image as a smoke-belching industrial town, a city with little to offer in the way of culture or the arts. Chihuly, the world's most famous glass artist, is a Tacoma native. Though Chihuly no longer lives or works there, he has said that he supports the founding of the museum because he believes the Pacific Northwest, with its reputation as a glass-art capital, ought to have a museum devoted to glass.

Though people often refer to the museum as the Chihuly museum, its backers say it is not meant as a monument to him. In fact, the most important aspect of the museum will not be a permanent collection but a working hot shop that the museum says will be the institution's heart and soul.

"For many museums, their primary motivation and mission is to collect art. Everything they do stems from those collections,' said Suzanne Greening, museum director. "But our primary mission is to show how art is created, and for the public to share the joy of the experience."

Greening said the museum plans to invite both established international glass artists and promising young glass artists to residencies at the museum, which will mean working in front of the public in the hot shop.

Greening, who was hired a year ago from the Canadian Clay and Glass Museum in Ontario, where she was director, says once the museum starts to collect, it will concentrate on acquiring glass sculpture that reflects the history of the studio-glass movement. The studio-glass movement started in the early '60s with the invention of a small, nonindustrial glass kiln. The kiln made it possible for artists such as Chihuly to make one-of-a-kind glass sculptures.

Greening added that the permanent collection will not attempt to cover the history of glass, meaning it will not have the kind of antique pieces from Italy, France and elsewhere that many museums include in glass collections. Allen said he expects the museum to build a permanent collection through donations and through acquiring the pieces made by artists while in residency at the museum.

Copyright (c) 1997 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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