Rendering by LMN Architects
Rendering by LMN Architects.

The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is continuing to work with LMN Architects on plans to renovate The Asian Art Museum (AAM) with construction estimated to begin in fall of 2017. The project is projected to last two years, requiring the closure of the museum until 2019. The project’s budget is currently $49 million and will be provided by a mix of private and public funds, though the majority is estimated to come from private donors. When completed, the AAM will have a new gallery, education center, and meeting space, and will have much of its infrastructure modernized including having environmental controls for the first time. A statement in a SAM newsletter claims that the renovation will, “allow us to expand onsite conservation care of our collections and to give additional emphasis to South Asian art, a critical area for future development.”

Conceived in 1933, the AAM was the original building for the SAM and has not been substantially renovated since. Both the museum and Volunteer Park where it resides are local and national landmarks. As such, the renovation is designed to preserve the iconic Art Deco façade.

According to LMN architect Sam Miller: “One of our over-arching goals is to connect this building to the park.” The sides and back of the building, previously visually closed off from the surrounding park, will now feature spacious windows granting wide views of Volunteer Park.

According to Kimerly Rorschach, SAM’s Director and CEO: “We believe the east side of the museum, the back side of the museum, is not especially attractive. There have been changes that haven’t been so happy, and we think we can make that a lot better, we can create better landscaping there, and create a better connection with the park.”

The main interior additions will be a new gallery, a meeting space, and education center. All three additions are mainly intended to expand and improve upon existing services and will allow for more of the museum’s art to be displayed at any given time. The meeting space and education center will facilitate improvement on many of the museum’s recurring events, like its popular Saturday University Lecture Series, which will continue during the museum’s two-year closure at Seattle University.

“This renovation and expansion project is crucial for the future of the AAM,” Rorschach said. “The museum’s exhibitions and programming connects to the many cultural traditions and contemporary issues of Asia, helping us better understand our region and our rapidly evolving world; our goal is to ensure that we can continue to serve our community and visitors for years to come.”

Less visible will be the many improvements to the museums’ infrastructure, accessibility, and safety. Chief among these changes will be the addition of air conditioning and humidity control which beyond aiding in the comforts of patrons, will also expand the kinds of art that the museum can host. There will also be a new loading dock and elevator for the exchange of pieces.

Plans for the renovation are to be finalized by the end of 2016 and can be found at In addition to information, the page features an email form that solicits feedback regarding the project. The museum will also hold community meetings at 1:00 p.m. on October 15, November 19, and December 10. The AAM will close on February 27, 2017 and construction will begin in fall of that year. If the project goes according to schedule, AAM will not reopen until 2019. Today, the SAM is home to over 25,000 pieces and is one of the oldest collections of Asian art in the United States.

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