Experience Music Project

Experience Music Project in Seattle, Washington by Frank Gehry, 2000

Architecture has officially reemerged into the public spotlight. TV's Frasier discovers his true love due to a mutual belief in Bilbao's ugliness (Mr. Gehry's Guggenheim Museum is now known solely by the city also) and a recent "Law and Order", in which a lawyer defended his client's (a successful architect) lack of wealth saying, "My client is no Frank Gehry!". Yes, architecture is now part of the media circus and Mr. Gehry, the world's most famous architect, is the profession's celebrity. His recent hyped building, the Experience Music Project, is almost guaranteed to continue his rise of fame.

The Experience Music Project, or EMP, is a music museum "combining interactive and interpretive exhibits to tell the story of the creative, innovative and rebellious expression that defines American popular music". Located in Jimi Hendrix's hometown of Seattle, Washington, the EMP stresses innovation in music and inherently strove to express this theme in its permanent home. Choosing Frank Gehry, on the heels of success with Bilbao, was the obvious choice. Not to say, though, that the architect regurgitated the Guggenheim or that the EMP wanted their own. With the museum Gehry created a unique building, yet one with his unmistakable stamp.

Unlike Bilbao's shimmering titanium and muted limestone, the museum's exterior is made up of stainless steel and aluminum, the former in three finishes (mirrored purple, lightly brushed silver, and bead-blasted gold) and the latter in red and blue. Each finish or color illustrates the different areas of the interior, which ranges from exhibits and sensory immersion to performances and the creation of music. The metals are treated as surfaces instead of volumes, some parts resembling cloth blowing in the wind, and help to understand the spatial complexity of the interior, which is not so much distinct spaces but a continuous flowing space.

The EMP comes at a time when the public is fascinated by Gehry's architecture but architects feel he needs to move beyond Bilbao. But with commissions coming from just about everywhere it will be difficult for him to evolve. Expectations are set and many cities want their own "Bilbao" or "Gehry". This must be the paradox of fame: publicity and appreciation generated by innovative designs with a desire for more innovation squashed by the desire for more of the same. Given Gehry's past and humble nature, hopefully he will be able to use his fame to reach a new level of design without becoming stagnant.