Museum of Popular Culture (MoPOP)

325 5th Ave N Seattle

Seattle Architecture/Museum of Popular Culture (MoPOP)
Written By VAMONDE Seattle

Museum of Popular Culture (MoPOP)

MoPOP, completed in 2000 in Seattle Center near the Space Needle, is Seattle’s most unusual building and the only one designed by legendary Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry. Gehry is known for the innovative topographies of his buildings, featuring curved surfaces that resemble textiles or organic materials. MoPOP may be the most extreme example, combining colorful, highly irregular forms for an effect that’s often compared to a smashed guitar. As with many new works by legendary artists, reviews have been mixed. Be sure to visit so you can judge for yourself.

Originally known as Experience Music Project, MoPOP is a museum of popular culture founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, with a focus on rock ‘n’ roll music and science fiction media. It includes several galleries and performance spaces such as the “Sky Church”, which features one of the world’s largest LED screens. It also houses the world’s largest collections of instruments and other memorabilia from two of Seattle’s best-known musical acts, 1960s rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix and 1990s rock band Nirvana, as well as the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. A fun fact about the building is the Seattle Center’s famous monorail tracks actually pass through the building.

If the building is reminiscent of a guitar, it’s not an accident. Gehry said that while his firm was working on the design, “We started collecting pictures of Stratocasters, bringing in guitar bodies, drawing on those shapes in developing our ideas."

Frank Gehry’ best-known works include Gehry Tower in Hanover, Germany, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, the Stata Center at MIT, and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. When MoPOP was completed, Seattle residents were thrilled to have a Gehry building, but many reviewers were unimpressed by this particular one. New York Times critic Herbert Muschamp described it as, “something that crawled out of the sea, rolled over, and died." Forbes magazine included it on a list of the world’s ten ugliest buildings, and a Seattle Times writer nicknamed it “the Hemorrhoids.” MoPOP’s website offers a different interpretation:

“A fusion of textures and myriad colors, MoPOP’s exterior conveys all the energy and fluidity of music. Three-thousand panels, made up of 21 thousand individually cut and shaped stainless steel and painted aluminum shingles, encase the outside of the building. Their individual finishes respond to different light conditions and appear to change when viewed from different angles, reminding audiences that music and culture is constantly evolving.”

To decide for yourself, you can check out the building’s exterior for free, or purchase admission to the museum online.

See for yourself.

Cover image: EMPISFM, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Seattle Architecture

Museum of Popular Culture (MoPOP)

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