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  1. ArchDaily
  2. Projects
  3. Museums & Exhibit
  4. United States
  5. Olson Kundig
  6. 2009
  7. The Lightcatcher at Whatcom / Olson Kundig Architects

The Lightcatcher at Whatcom / Olson Kundig Architects

  • 00:00 - 14 July, 2010
The Lightcatcher at Whatcom / Olson Kundig Architects
The Lightcatcher at Whatcom / Olson Kundig Architects, © Tim Bies
© Tim Bies

©  Benjamin Benschneider © Tim Bies ©  Benjamin Benschneider © Tim Bies + 36

  • Architects

    Olson Kundig Architects
  • Location

    Bellingham, WA, USA
  • Design Principal

    Jim Olson
  • Area

    42000.0 ft2
  • Project Year

  • Photographs

Text description provided by the architects. The Design Competition

This project began as an international design competition. The museum and civic leaders wanted a new icon for Bellingham – a building that could take its place alongside city landmarks like Mount Baker Theater and Old City Hall. Both of those historic buildings are tall "towers." We thought that the museum could be focused around an open gathering space, in contrast to the two towers. We wanted this space to be filled with light, since sunlight is precious in the Northwest. Our design concept was a gathering space cradled by a wall that gathers light – the Lightcatcher. The jury liked our idea and we won the competition!

©  Benjamin Benschneider
©  Benjamin Benschneider

A welcoming, friendly place

Many museums are off-putting and cold, unfriendly on the outside with stark white walls inside. People often feel inhibited by this cold approach and miss the joy of art because of it.

I've always wanted to create a museum where a variety of art pieces can be experienced from the street or sidewalk. The Lightcatcher Building lets us peek into its inner world through gates and windows. It even has niches where art can be displayed right at the sidewalk.

©  Benjamin Benschneider
©  Benjamin Benschneider

As both a children's museum and an art museum, this building is for people of all ages. It is like a living room for the whole community.

Using natural materials

The design uses natural materials that express the Northwest region.

The Lightcatcher wall celebrates the Northwest glass movement, glows like a yellowish agate from a nearby beach, softens light like our clouds, and creates a sense of mystery like our mist and fog. It is also a glowing beacon at night.

© Tim Bies
© Tim Bies

Colors of the exterior and galleries are soft tan/gray like the bark of our trees and the rocks on our beaches.

Ceilings are like weathered driftwood.

Silver metal details reflect the Northwest's "oyster light."

The Lightcatcher Wall

©  Benjamin Benschneider
©  Benjamin Benschneider

The building is named for the Lightcatcher – a huge curving wall that encloses an exterior courtyard while it creates dynamic drama for the indoor circulation spaces. The curve captures precious sunlight and reflects it into the courtyard; it allows daylight through the wall, diffusing it to give the interior spaces a warm luminosity. At night, light from within glows through the glass and creates a soft lantern-like effect. It is a beacon of light for the community.

©  Benjamin Benschneider
©  Benjamin Benschneider

The Lightcatcher seems alive because light itself is elusive and ever-changing. The wall can be many things: a backdrop for sculpture; natural light fixture by day; a glowing lantern at night that changes color; a canvas for projected art images; a screen for outdoor movies; even a backdrop for shadow puppet theater.

The Lightcatcher breathes and creates natural ventilation for museum spaces.

©  Benjamin Benschneider
©  Benjamin Benschneider

The Lightcatcher catches light the way the sail on a sailboat catches wind. It is beautiful in its naturalness and it is alive with the ever-changing spirit of nature.

The Lightcatcher is about light. Light illuminates art; art illuminates us. The Lightcatcher is a symbol of enlightenment.

©  Benjamin Benschneider
©  Benjamin Benschneider

View the complete gallery

Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address.
About this office
Olson Kundig
Cite: "The Lightcatcher at Whatcom / Olson Kundig Architects" 14 Jul 2010. ArchDaily. Accessed . <> ISSN 0719-8884
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