Olson Kundig Architects completes stunning new light feature at Washington's Whatcom Museum
The Lightcatcher at the Whatcom Museum is a 42,000 sq ft regional art and children’s museum. It takes its name from its most visible feature - the lightcatcher - a multi-functional translucent wall that reflects and transmits the Northwest’s most precious and ephemeral natural resource; sunlight.
The lightcatcher, 37 ft high and 180 ft long, is at the physical centre of the project, gently curving to form a spacious exterior courtyard, while bridging the museum’s interior and exterior spaces. During daylight hours, the light-porous wall floods the halls and galleries inside with a warm luminosity, serving as an elegant and energy-saving light fixture. The lightcatcher also helps ventilate the building; its double-glazed skin helps keep interior spaces cool via the stack effect. In cooler weather, vents at the top of the wall can be closed and radiant energy is captured within, insulating the building.
The first floor of the building features a lobby, three galleries (two double-height), an interactive children’s learning space and other amenities. The building’s second floor houses an additional exhibition gallery, meeting and classroom space, and museum offices. The single-storey lobby is topped by a 3,000 sq ft green roof which features an interpretive exhibit and low-impact development strategies. The building utilises natural materials endemic to the region and is the first museum in Washington designed to LEED Silver specifications.
Outside, the lightcatcher reflects light into a 7,000 sq ft courtyard designed as a civic gathering space and a dynamic backdrop for sculpture. In the evening, the lightcatcher glows with the colors of the structure’s interior illumination. Like a lantern, it provides a warm and welcoming beacon to the community. Pedestrians can view the courtyard - and the art and activities within - through large openings to the street, ensuring the Museum is as active outside as it is inside.