Seattle’s premier independent non-profit radio station is moving locations. From their humble beginnings on UW’s campus, they have gained world-wide recognition and have outgrown their current home in the Denny triangle. Their new building is much larger, and positions their organization in a multi-media arts triumvirate in the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood. The Northwest buildings at the corner of the Seattle Center campus have been used intermittently as conference rooms, and will undergo heavy renovation beginning this spring. The mid-century modern building is protected by Seattle’s landmarks commission, for its unique style and historic connection to the Century 21 World Fair in 1962. The plaza space immediately north of the Key Arena is home to intimate musical performances during festivals and in connection with the Vera Project organization. The Vera Project is an all ages music venue that specializes in educational programs for kids and teenagers. The plaza also serves the Seattle International Film Festival organization. These two arts centers will welcome KEXP as a neighbor in 2015. KEXP hopes to continue evolution into a multimedia arts center that reaches into their neighborhood and global communities. While funding for a large scale renovation of their ‘back yard’ waits for major donors, the radio station is pursuing design ideas for activating the space as a center for Lower Queen Anne’s lively cultural future.
The architects involved in the renovation project, SkB, expended great effort negotiating landmark protection with the desire to bring the building up to building code and to gain LEED certification. Their design calls for dramatic edits to the public face of the L-shaped building on the corner of 1st Ave and Republican. Large concrete panels will be removed and replaced with glazing to change how the interior space relates to the rest of the neighborhood and to the plaza. New windows will create a ‘beacon’ at the corner of the building to visually connect passersby to the record library room inside. The western wall will be opened as the main entrance to a gathering space including a café and record shop. The gathering space will open on its eastern side into the plaza through a series of large garage doors which will open during events and for summer weather. These design decisions will afford KEXP a public interface while respectfully updating the façade of the building to maintain the visual vocabulary of its early 1960’s style. The architecture successfully balances landmarks protected historical fabric with contemporary functionality needs. That makes it a very promising example of what is possible with carefully considered adaptive reuse of existing building stock. In an era of cookie cutter split-personality mixed use bread loaf buildings, it is exciting to find an effective collaboration between innovative architecture and historic preservation. Seattle planners should consider it an exemplary project in incorporating historic fabric without enshrining it as untouchable.