Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center

Merit Award

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center exhibition explains how and why the foundation was founded, and describes its work around the globe. Perhaps most importantly, it creates a personal relationship with the visitor, inviting them into a conversation about global issues, prompting questions and providing activities for them to explore how every individual can make a positive difference.

Created through a collaboration between Olson Kundig Architects and Studio Matthews, the experience begins on the sidewalk outside the center, with informational exhibits that double as seating, stretching along the glazed street façade. Views inside reveal a ramp that parallels the sidewalk, opening into gallery spaces beyond. Together, sidewalk and ramp blur the line between exterior and interior space.

Inside is a series of five connected spaces: the Voices Gallery (featuring hundreds of faces from the foundation and its grantees), the Family & Foundation Gallery (including a 30-foot-long interactive timeline), the Partnerships Gallery (describing initiatives with partners all over the world), a theater (featuring a wall that raises to reveal the interior to the ramp and street outside), and the Innovation & Inspiration Gallery, where a series of mechanical and digital interactives invite in-depth visitor participation.

Interactives empower visitors to contribute their personal voices and ideas. Sustainable materials and processes were an important part of the exhibit development process. Galleries and exhibits are organized through a system of large, freestanding steel armatures; exhibits plug into the armature framework, facilitating the potential for future change. The prevalence of wood throughout—for everything from graphic image panels to interactive rollers—provides a warm, inviting, and tactile experience. With an emphasis on ideas, the design seeks to create a personal connection between the visitor and the mission and work of the foundation and those it supports.

Jury Comments: 

“The built environment clearly underscores the messaging of the foundation and its mission, not only in its restrained design but in its use of materials and sense of discovery.”

“An exhibition that successfully blurs the boundaries between interior and exterior, whilst creating an extremely personal and intimate environment that encourages the visitor to actively engage with the mission and work of the foundation. Particularly innovative integration of the exhibit within the fabric and architecture of the building, creating a continually changing and dynamic environment. Confident and assured use of a limited color and materials palette results in a tactile, warm, and inviting experience.”

“The lines between architecture and exhibition are successfully blurred in this design. There is a holistic creative fabric that is integrated throughout the environment and fixtures. The restrained use of color, imagery, and type makes the rich variety of material more accessible, allowing bold colors to add a well-placed accent. The overall impression is of an institution that is proud of its mission and wants to share it with the public.”

Design Firm: 

Olson Kundig Architects, Studio Matthews

Client: 

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Location City: 

Seattle, WA

Project Area: 

11,000 sq ft

Open Date: 

February 2012

Project Budget: 

$17,000,000

Photo Credits: 

Benjamin Benschneider, Kevin Scott

Design Team: 

Alan Maskin (lead designer); Stephen Yamada-Heidner (managing principal); Marlene Chen (project manager); Michael Picard, Blair Payson (project architects); Phil Turner (kinetic engineer); Charlie Fairchild (interiors); Kristine Matthews, Cassie Klingler (graphic designers); Hans-Erik Blomgren (structural engineer); Jason Edling (lighting consultant)

Consultants: 

Sandra Owen Design (artworking), ARUP Seattle (structural/mechanical/electrical engineer), ARUP Seattle (lighting design), Olson Kundig Interiors Studio (interior design), The Friday Group (specifications), Studio Pacifica (accessibility), Sellen Sustainability (sustainability), Turner Exhibits (kinetic engineering), BRC Acoustics (acoustical engineer), BBI Engineering (audio visual integrator), Possible (multimedia Interactive design)

Fabricators: 

Sellen Construction (general contractor), Pacific Studio (exhibit fabricator)

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