Opening 2019

Olson Kundig is designing a new home for the Burke Museum

Architecture Art West
A rendering of the New Burke Museum. (Courtesy Olson Kundig)
A rendering of the New Burke Museum. (Courtesy Olson Kundig)

The oldest state museum in Washington state—the Burke Museum at the University of Washington (UW) in Seattle’s U District—will get a new home slated to open in 2019. Seattle-based Olson Kundig is designing the new building for the museum that centers on natural history and culture.

Construction started last week on the new museum at 15th Avenue NE. The site neighbors the existing museum building at NE 45th Street and 17th Avenue NE. The new museum design opens up and unites the collection galleries, labs, research, education, and storage areas.

Interior view of the New Burke Museum. (Illustration by Olson Kundig/Stephanie Bower Architectural Illustration.)

Interior view of the New Burke Museum. (Illustration by Olson Kundig/Stephanie Bower Architectural Illustration.)

The 113,000 square foot building will have 60% more space—breathing room for the over 16 million scientific and cultural objects from the Pacific Northwest and beyond. Olson Kundig’s design weaves in Northwest elements, such as wood siding and a shed-style roof.

Entry view of the New Burke Museum. (Illustration by Olson Kundig/Stephanie Bower Architectural Illustration.)

Entry view of the New Burke Museum. (Illustration by Olson Kundig/Stephanie Bower Architectural Illustration.)

“The University of Washington and Burke Museum were incredibly important to me during my student life, and the Burke was a place for me to engage with and connect to our rich local history and tradition of innovation,” Tom Kundig, Principal and Owner of Olson Kundig, said in a statement.


The New Burke building section. (Courtesy Olson Kundig)

The New Burke building section. (Courtesy Olson Kundig)

The museum has called many different places home. In 1879 a group of Seattle naturalists started collecting historical and scientific objects. They hosted them at the University of Washington, when the university was downtown at University Street and Fourth Avenue (what is now part of the Metropolitan Tract owned by the University). Then in 1899, the Washington state legislature designated the museum an official state museum. The Burke later moved to northeast Seattle, finally settling in the current space at NE 45th Street in 1962.

Early sketches explore turning the museum inside out, offering visitors a view of almost every collection. (Courtesy Olson Kundig)

Early sketches explore turning the museum inside out, offering visitors a view of almost every collection. (Courtesy Olson Kundig)

“The new facility will allow us to take science and cultural education to the next level by connecting students with the scientists and researchers at the Burke—role models who will inspire the next generation,” said Frank Chopp (who, incidentally, designed and built these two urban cabins with his father in Seattle’s Central District), Washington State Speaker of the House (43rd LD) in a statement.

Early sketches explore turning the museum inside out, offering visitors a view of almost every collection. (Courtesy Olson Kundig)

Early sketches explore turning the museum inside out, offering visitors a view of almost every collection. (Courtesy Olson Kundig)

Over the years, remodeling the Burke building became less financially feasible. Storage space was tight and lacked climate-control protections.

The old museum will be demolished once move-in is complete to make way for the landscape design and parking. Demolition includes the Burke Café. A conservator will remove the cafe’s circa 1720s wood paneling. The new Burke will display a portion of the paneling.

Street view of the New Burke from 15th AVE NE/NE 43rd ST. (Illustration by Olson Kundig/Stephanie Bower Architectural Illustration.)

Street view of the New Burke from 15th AVE NE/NE 43rd ST. (Illustration by Olson Kundig/Stephanie Bower Architectural Illustration.)

Another local Seattle firm is leading the landscape design. Guthrie Gustafson Nichol (GGN) is creating the courtyard and entryway filled with native plant species. Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center in Carnation is growing the close to 70,000 native plants needed for the project.

For every two trees removed, the design will add three trees. The University of Washington and Burke officials hope to reuse some of the wood in the construction.

The New Burke site plan. (Courtesy Olson Kundig)

The New Burke site plan. (Courtesy Olson Kundig)

“The landscape of the New Burke is designed to be as multifaceted and welcoming as the museum,” said Shannon Nichol, GGN founding principal in a statement. “It will serve as a new campus quad, a colorful garden experience, and a living emblem of our state’s natural heritage.”

The project budget is $99 million with the majority of funding coming from Washington State, with additional support from private gifts, University of Washington, as well as in-kind donations.

Related Stories