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Seattle’s Iconic Space Needle Unveils New Look After $100 Million Renovation

The update allows visitors to experience 360-degree views of the city from the observation deck

smithsonian.com

Standing 605 feet tall, Seattle’s Space Needle was the tallest building west of the Mississippi when it was built in 1962. Today, it may only be the sixth-tallest building in Seattle, but that doesn’t diminish its iconic place on the city’s skyline. (Thanks, “Fraiser”!)

However, as the Los Angeles Times’ Rick Anderson pointed out in 2017, standing watch over the city for more than half a century takes its toll on a building. Some 55 years into its lifespan, the futuristic structure was showing signs of wear and tear. So following an initial planning stage in 2013, last September, a $100 million privately funded restoration project was launched. Today, the Seattle Times’ Christine Clarridge reports, the public got its first look at the massive renovation. (In what was a very Seattle move, last Friday's expected reveal of the glass-paneled observation deck was foiled by some heavy fog.)

Clarridge reports that around 80 percent of the upper-observation deck and open-air observation deck is currently finished. The “world’s first” rotating glass floor (at least in a building open to the public) is expected to make its debut this summer on July Fourth weekend.

Karen Olson, the Space Needle’s chief marketing officer, tells Kristine Hansen for Architectural Digest that the renovated observation space will allow for 360-degree views from 520 feet above the ground, giving visitors some stellar views of Mount Rainier and Elliott Bay.

Called the Century Project, the revamp includes the installation of a new rotation motor, a massive paint job, and a whole lot of glass. In total, the project will increase the total amount of glass in the Space Needle 196 percent from the amount used when the structure first opened. That new glass will go toward 48 glass panels on the observation deck, 24 glass benches intended to give visitors the sensation of “floating” on the outer edges of the observation space, and, of course, the rotating glass floor, which will weigh a whopping 37 tons when its completed.

Alan Maskin, who has overseen the renovations for the Seattle-based design firm Olson Kundig along with project architect Blair Payson, tells Hansen the update will realize elements of the original design that couldn’t be accomplished when the Space Needle was first built.

“The new design echoes the conceptual ambitions of the original design architects from almost 60 years ago, some of which were unachievable due to their condensed timeline and the technological limitations of that era,” Maskin explains.

The idea behind the Space Needle's distinct design came courtesy of a sketch drawn on a napkin in 1959 by Edward E. Carlson, president of what was then the Western International Hotels according to PBS. That drawing, along with ideas from architects Victor Steinbrueck and John Graham, came together to create the specific look of the Space Needle, which resembles a column holding a saucer-like structure.

Though the building was finished in record time—it debuted 400 days after construction began to serve as a centerpiece of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair—work conditions on the site were grim. Construction workers were paid $4 a day for their services, and they were forced to navigate unsafe conditions on the job, like having to balance on planks hundreds of feet in the air.

Today’s crews, in contrast, worked on an open-air platform 400 feet above the ground with the help of a tarp protecting their work from rain and wind, reports Clarridge in a separate article for The Seattle Times.

Follow along with the final details of the restoration project, yourself. The Space Needle has created a website to track the renovation's progress. Or check it out in person. Admission to the observation deck is $26 per adult.

About Julissa Treviño

Julissa Treviño is a writer and journalist based in Texas. She has written for Columbia Journalism Review, BBC Future, The Dallas Morning News, Racked, CityLab and Pacific Standard.

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