Seattle Asian Art Museum Project News & Events

Fuller Garden Court in progress

The Fuller Garden Court Gets a Facelift

The walls of the Fuller Garden Court in the Seattle Asian Art Museum may look like marble or limestone, but they are actually scagliola, a form of plaster made to look like decorative stone. Over the years, the fragile scagliola walls and panels of the historic building have become damaged and discolored. As part of the museum’s renovation, these walls are being repaired and preserved. Cracked panels are being pieced together and glued using polymer injections, while the backsides of the panels are being reinforced with plaster and burlap or fiberglass. In addition, the faces of the scagliola panels will be patched with Keenes cement and a colored cement mix, and any scratches will be filled. Lastly, the walls of the Fuller Garden Court will be cleaned and polished.

When the museum reopens to the public after the renovation project is completed, visitors to the Fuller Garden Court will enjoy a space that closely resembles the way it would have looked when the building first opened in 1933.


Work Begins on New Fuller Garden Court Doorways

One of the elements of the Seattle Asian Art Museum renovation and expansion is the creation of new doorways in the museum’s Fuller Garden Court. These doorways—opening onto a new space with floor-to-ceiling glass windows—will allow for gorgeous views and strengthen the visual connection between the museum and Volunteer Park.

The Asian Art Museum’s historic building, and the original home of SAM, was constructed in the 1930s during the Great Depression. The walls of the Fuller Garden Court were created using scagliola (“scal-yo-lah”), a plaster technique that mimics the look and feel of natural and more costly stone.

Work is underway to carefully cut openings in the walls for these doorways. The parts of the wall being removed will be saved, should the need arise in the future to return the walls to their original form.


Park Lobby Glass Installation in Progress

Rain or shine, work continues on the Seattle Asian Art Museum renovation and expansion project. Installation of the glass for the new park lobby addition is almost finished. Once the glass is in place and sealed, the entire space will be made weathertight.

When the museum reopens, the park lobby will offer visitors beautiful views and establish a stronger visual connection between the museum and Volunteer Park. It will also help visitor circulation in the museum.

Photo of the Olmsted Path as work progresses

Volunteer Park Path Upgrades Almost Complete

One component of the Seattle Asian Art Museum renovation project is upgrades to pedestrian paths in the park, including the restoration of historic Olmstedian paths and the creation of new paths in the east meadow (part of the original 1910 Olmsted plan for Volunteer Park).

Through an inclusive planning process in cooperation with the Capitol Hill community, Seattle Parks & Recreation, the National Park Service, Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks, Volunteer Park Trust, and other local and regional stakeholders, the Seattle Art Museum is in the process of constructing two historic Olmsted pathways, improving existing park pathway surfacing, strengthening the connection between 15th Avenue/public transit and the park, and improving pedestrian circulation around the Seattle Asian Art Museum. The path work will make the park more welcoming and usable.

Map of Olmstead paths

While work is in progress, visitors to the park will see protective fencing around the paths. This temporary chain-link fencing will be removed at the end of November 2018 (weather permitting).


Seattle Asian Art Museum Expansion “Topping Out”

The last beams are going in place for the steel framework of the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s expansion, located on the east side of the historic building in Volunteer Park.

Installation of structural steel began in June 2018. Visitors to the park can now see the outline of the new structure containing three floors, including a new gallery that will accommodate more of the museum’s collections and exhibitions. The renovation and expansion project will also add a much-needed dedicated Education space.

As the work on the expansion continues (just one part of the museum’s major renovation project), final exterior finishes including a glass curtain wall and new precast concrete will be added.

For monthly construction updates, visit the BNBuilders website.

Photo: Richard Beckerman

Fuller Garden Court Skylights Revealed During Building Renovation

The renovation of the Seattle Asian Art Museum is in full swing. The translucent panel ceiling of the Fuller Garden Court has been removed to access the concrete walls above that require seismic retrofitting. With the ceiling taken down, the beautiful laminated glass skylights (original to the 1930s design, but replaced in the 1990s) have been temporarily revealed.

In addition, the demolition of interior gallery walls has been completed. The hollow clay tile walls at the perimeter of the galleries will remain, but have been opened up for seismic upgrades. Structural upgrades are continuing inside the existing spaces. As is common with historic buildings, asbestos was found and safely removed.

On the exterior, the east expansion is progressing. The foundations for the east addition are almost finished.

Photo: Courtesy of BNBuilders

Museum Renovation and Expansion is Underway

Seattle Art Museum executives, joined by City of Seattle leaders, project donors and supporters, and members of the community, gathered on the front terrace of the Seattle Asian Art Museum, Tuesday, March 13, for an official groundbreaking ceremony to mark the start of the renovation and expansion of the museum’s landmark building.

Braving blustery winds and the threat of rain, Kimerly Rorschach, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, addressed the gathered crowd—thanking the numerous individuals and organizations who helped bring the project to fruition and reiterating the need to restore the building, which houses one of the top Asian art collections in the country.

Building campaign co-chairs Mimi Gardner Gates, SAM’s Director Emerita, and Gursharan Sidhu, SAM Trustee; and Michael Shiosaki, Director of Planning and Development at Seattle Parks & Recreation, also spoke to the crowd about the museum’s importance.

Immediately following the remarks—joined by Winnie Stratton, SAM Board of Trustees President, and Stewart Landefeld, SAM Board of Trustees Chair—the group assembled with golden crowbars in hand and ceremonially lifted some stone pavers located on the front terrace of the building.  As part of the project, these pavers will need to be temporarily removed to allow for regrading necessary for ADA accessibility improvements.


After years of design planning and months of preparation, work on the historic building has begun, and will conclude with the anticipated reopening of the museum in fall 2019.

Photos: Natali Wiseman. Video: Brad Curran.

March 13 Groundbreaking to Commemorate Start of Museum Renovation & Expansion

Work has begun on the Seattle Asian Art Museum renovation and expansion project.  Gather with museum leaders and city officials as we celebrate the project groundbreaking.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 at 1 pm
Seattle Asian Art Museum, Front Entrance/Terrace
1400 E Prospect Street,
Seattle, WA 98112

The $54 million project will preserve the museum’s landmark Art Deco building; address critical infrastructure issues; increase ADA accessibility; add much-needed program and exhibition space; and create a better connection to surrounding Volunteer Park.


Join us for a Seattle Asian Art Museum Community Meeting on March 1

You are invited to attend a community meeting to learn more about the construction process and timeline, impact on the surrounding area, and timeline for the renovation and expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum.

The $54 million project will preserve the building’s original Art Deco façade, improve the museum’s infrastructure, protect the collection with climate control and seismic system upgrades, add vital gallery and education space, enhance ADA accessibility, and enhance the connection between the museum and Volunteer Park.

Work begins February/March 2018 and will continue for 14–15 months. The anticipated reopening of the museum is fall 2019.

Thursday, March 1, 7-8 pm
Miller Community Center
330 19th Ave. E
Seattle, WA 98112

Rendering of new art gallery

Seattle City Council Approves Seattle Asian Art Museum Project

Councilmembers unanimously voted on Monday, January 22, 2018 to approve the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s new lease agreement and a land use code amendment (the historic museum building is in a single-family zone).  This positive vote clears the way for the start of the Seattle Asian Art Museum renovation and expansion project. The City’s Landmarks Preservation Board previously approved the design.

The $54 million project will begin in February/March 2018, with an anticipated reopening of the museum in fall of 2019. The renovation and expansion will preserve the 1933 historic building and its Art Deco façade; improve the museum’s infrastructure; protect the collection with climate control and seismic system upgrades; add vital gallery and education space; and enhance ADA accessibility and the museum’s connection to Volunteer Park.

In return for the City’s financial commitment of $19 million toward the city-owned building’s preservation and improvements (in addition to $2 million previously provided by the City for pre-design work), the Seattle Asian Art Museum has also committed to boosting community benefits, including more free days, free tours and transportation for school groups, in-school art education programs, free lectures and panel discussions, $50,000 in financial assistance, and more.

A community meeting to discuss the construction timeline and project details will be scheduled for March 2018.

Find out more about the construction schedule.