The 1962 Seattle World’s Fair was designed to show us a future built on cheap hydropower. It was the world of the future from the Space Needle to the Monorail. Many old world’s fair sites look like the past’s idea of a future that turned out quite differently. The Seattle site has fared better than most. The Space Needle is iconic and while monorails never caught on light rail has. The site has added new attractions that add to the idea of future vision, like the Chihuly Garden and Glass, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center, (“Arrive Curious, Leave Inspired”) and the EMP Museum, inspired by the “other” Microsoft founder Paul Allen. Originally started as the Experience Music Project it has become the EMP Museum (Music + Si Fi + Pop Culture) designed by Frank Gehry.
The museum is loaded with interactive exhibits where people can try different musical instruments and record a DVD before a virtual adoring and enthusiastic audience. I particularly liked the drumming exhibit where you stood around a table with 12 different percussion instruments projected onto a six soft pointed table, (see the picture) you hit the drum and establish different patterns with different types of percussion. Then the projection changes so does the range of drums.
There was a good exhibit of the development of guitars, especially on making them louder, with a nice tip of the hat to the Dopyera Brothers (inventors of the Dobro), Leo Fender and Les Paul. The exhibit has one of Woodie Guthrie’s Martins. But the almost worshipful exhibits on Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix were a little much for me, but this is, after all, Seattle. While I particularly enjoyed the exhibit with clips from science fiction writers on how they conceived their work I don’t think the museum would have been worth the $25 admission fee plus sales tax (in some parts it reminded me of a Hard Rock Café) if it hadn’t been for the fact that it was a Frank Gehry building.
Gehry does his trademark wavy titanium type of building that reflects the sights of the Seattle Center and frames the Space Needle in some intriguing ways. The monorail passes through the building, allowing the future as we imagined it in the 60s to intersect with the future that is today. It works. Although you can get a lot out of walking around the building, seeing it from the inside out makes EMP worth the price of admission.
Some daring modern buildings hold up well over time. Some do not. The Chrysler building is a classic that I think will wear better than the Willis Tower in Chicgo. Some of the buildings of Richard Rogers, which excited me when they were built, do not hold up well. I’m not sure what my grandkids will think of Gehry’s buildings when they’re my age but today they excite me in a way that Gaudi buildings designed in my grandfathers’ era excite me.