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Construction begins on Seattle Asian Art Museum Renovation and Expansion

Public Groundbreaking Ceremony Commemorates Start of Work on Major Project to Preserve and Expand Museum’s Historic Art Deco Building in Seattle’s Volunteer Park

Seattle Art Museum (SAM) executives, joined by City of Seattle leaders, project donors and supporters, and members of the community, gathered at the Seattle Asian Art Museum on Tuesday, March 13 for an official groundbreaking ceremony to mark the start of the renovation and expansion of the museum’s landmark building. After years of design planning with the City, parks groups, and community stakeholders, followed by months of preparation, work on the building has begun and will conclude with the anticipated reopening of the museum in fall 2019.

L to R: Seattle Asian Art Museum campaign co-chairs Gursharan Sidhu (SAM Trustee) and Mimi Gardner Gates (SAM Director Emerita); Winnie Stratton (SAM Board of Trustees President); Kimerly Rorschach (SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO); Michael Shiosaki (Director of Planning and Development at Seattle Parks and Recreation); and Stewart Landefeld (SAM Board of Trustees Chair)

In her remarks at the groundbreaking ceremony, Kimerly Rorschach, SAM’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Director and CEO, thanked attendees and supporters and reiterated the need to preserve and update the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s building—gifted to the city by SAM’s founder in 1933. “For the last 20 years, we’ve known the day would arrive when we needed to restore this architectural treasure that houses one of the most important Asian art collections in the country,” Rorschach noted. “That day has come.”The Seattle Asian Art Museum renovation and expansion project takes an early 20th-century building and brings it up to 21st-century standards.

The project not only ensures for years to come the Seattle Asian Art Museum’s role as a world-class cultural resource and park amenity for residents and visitors, but it also enhances SAM’s ability to share its significant Asian art collection and better serve a growing and increasingly diverse audience. The renovation and expansion preserves the 1933 historic building and its Art Deco façade; improves the museum’s infrastructure; protects the collection with climate control and seismic system upgrades; enhances ADA accessibility; and improves the museum’s connection to Volunteer Park, including the restoration of historic pathways in the park. An expansion in the back of the historic building provides approximately 13,900 square feet of much-needed new space, but changes the museum’s footprint in the park by only 3,600 square feet (less than one quarter of one percent of the park’s 48-acre total), because it is spread over three floors. The project adds a new exhibition gallery, a dedicated education space, and a new conservation laboratory.

The SAM renovation and expansion project provides many public benefits that include:

    • A partnership with Seattle Public Schools which includes 7 in-school education programs and 75 free school group field trips annually
    • Eight workshops, 3 day-camps, and 15 free lectures and panel discussions
    • A $50,000 scholarship assistance fund with annual escalation
    • An annual public cultural event

The project design team includes Seattle-based project architect LMN Architects (2016 AIA National Architecture Firm of the Year Award recipient), landscape architect Walker Macy, general contractor/construction manager BNBuilders, Inc., and OAC Services, Inc., providing construction and project management services. The Seattle Art Museum continues to work closely with Seattle Parks & Recreation, which owns the building and maintains Volunteer Park.

The renovation and expansion of the Seattle Asian Art Museum is funded by a mixture of public and private funds. The City is contributing $21 million to the estimated $54 million project, other funding has been secured from, Washington State, and King County, as well as significant gifts and pledges from individuals and foundations. The public fundraising campaign continues.


The Asian Art Museum is the original home of SAM. Set in the bucolic surroundings of the Olmsted-designed Volunteer Park in Capitol Hill, the Art Deco building was designed by Charles Bebb and Paris-trained architect Carl Gould in 1933. In the same year, museum founder Dr. Richard E. Fuller donated the building to the city. It opened its doors on June 23, 1933, presenting its founding collection of Asian art to the citizens of Seattle.

Following the opening of the Seattle Art Museum in downtown Seattle in 1991, the museum reopened as SAM’s center for Asian art and cultural activities in 1994. Its collection now features Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, Himalayan, and Southeast Asian art. Its offerings include popular public programming by the Gardner Center for Asian Art and Ideas, and the McCaw Foundation Library,

The museum’s landmark building is included in the Washington Heritage Register of Historic Places. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in July 2016, joining Volunteer Park which was previously listed in 1976.

For more information on the Seattle Asian Art Museum renovation and expansion project, please visit For construction updates, please visit