Preview of new light, airy Tacoma Art Museum

The media descended Wednesday on the still-under-construction Tacoma Art Museum at 1701 Pacific Ave. for a preview of what will be the city’s newest cultural jewel when it opens this spring.

Joined by museum officials, world renowned architect Antoine Predock was on hand to lead a tour of the 50,000-square-foot building, notable for its stainless steel and glass exterior.

Accompanied by a phalanx of reporters as he walked through the building, Predock spoke about how the new museum will fit into historic downtown Tacoma and how it reflects the sensibilities of the region.

Predock, who has studied the landscape and character of the Pacific Northwest to create a design with the intent of making an architectural statement for Tacoma, said the silvery-gray building is meant not to overwhelm nearby structures and will “merge with the sky” on cloudy days.

Predock conceded the sunny day didn’t exactly illustrate his point. (It was a running joke throughout the tour that every time Predock visits Tacoma the sun shines.)

“The point here is to immediately connect with images of the Pacific Northwest,” the 66-year-old Albuquerque, New Mexico-based architect said.

The new Tacoma Art Museum is Predock’s first and only building in the Pacific Northwest.

Predock has been responsible for the design of buildings all over the country including the San Diego Padres Stadium, Las Vegas Central Library and Discovery Museum and the Arizona Science Center in Phoenix, among others.

Located next to Union Station and the Washington State History Museum and across from the University of Washington Tacoma campus, the new Tacoma Art Museum is in the heart of downtown Tacoma.

The new museum will also be near the Museum of Glass: International Center for Contemporary Art – which opened last July – and the new Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center currently under construction.

“We’re right in the center of what’s happening in Tacoma,” said museum Executive Director Janeanne Upp.

The new museum’s interior, with an inviting openness and extensive use of natural light meant to welcome visitors, also evokes the Pacific Northwest.

The tour begin at the building’s not-yet-completed central atrium, a moss garden surrounded by mist and enclosed in mirrored glass.

The new museum’s five galleries wrap around the garden space that is central to the Tacoma Art Museum experience.

The moss and mist garden has been designed as a contemplative space to view between galleries.

“Mostly it’s a place of solitude and reflection,” said Predock, often cited as one of the country’s top architects.

Gradually moving upward through the space, Predock made use of the day’s plentiful sunshine to point out how light flows through the airy building, through windows, mirrors and other creative methods.

In the museum’s main Annette B. Weyerhaeuser Gallery, daylight could be seen filtering in through a 1-foot-high slit along the base of the wall.

“The galleries have personality,” Predock said. “The galleries are all unpredictable.”

The museum’s many windows also “release some views that are unexpected.”

“They offer views of the industrial landscape,” Predock explained, citing the Port of Tacoma and the Interstate 705 overpass. “I think it’s a language to celebrate.”

A short staircase leads to the top floor, offering a panoramic view of the Tacoma skyline, which is bustling with activity.

Other amenities of the $27 million museum include neutral-colored materials such as white walls and maple floors, as well as a plethora of attachments for hanging art, track lighting, climate control and a freight elevator and loading dock for moving artwork.

Art will start to be moved from the Tacoma Art Museum’s current location at 1123 Pacific Ave. to the new museum beginning in February, said Courtenay Chamberlin, museum director of communications.

Offices have already been moved to the new location, she said.

The new Tacoma Art Museum is scheduled to open to the public on May 3.
Chamberlin said the museum anticipates a total of about 10,000 in its first two months of operation. (The end of June is when the museum’s fiscal year concludes.)

Following the tour, Predock spoke at the University of Washington Tacoma on “An Outsider’s Perspective: What the New TAM Facility Says About Tacoma.”

Later that day, the new Tacoma Art Museum was the site of a celebratory dinner.