Olson Kundig's new Burke Museum provides space, flexibility and transparency

We wanted visitors and the surrounding community to connection to the museum's collections and artefacts and engage with the process of scientific discovery in a true working museum.
– Tom Kundig

The new Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture in Washington State, designed by Olson Kundig, opened towards the end of last year, providing more space and flexibility, a more transparent layout and improved climate control.

The building was actually completed in October, but information from the architects has just been made fully available.

The 105,000sq ft (9,800sq m) building, which is 66 per cent larger than the old building, houses six galleries, as well as 12 visible labs and workrooms.

Its spaces have been designed to be adaptable so that its 16 million-strong collection of artefacts and specimens can be suitably stored and displayed as it grows and changes over time, with room for two decades of collection growth.

All the rooms are climate controlled to ensure the careful preservation of the collection, with a backup generator in place in case of power failure.

The design has broken down traditional museum barriers between public and back-of-house spaces, with collections and research labs integrated with galleries.

As a result, 60 per cent of the museum is now visible to the public, compared to 30 per cent previously, meaning visitors get a better insight into the work and research that goes on behind the scenes.

Visibility into the museum and around its interior has also been improved, with large expanses of glazing, as well as windows that frame interior exhibits and exterior views.

Glazing is also used to provide natural light and ventilation inside the building, including as part of a large central atrium and "smart glass" skylight.

A 24x20ft (7x6m) pivoting window wall, meanwhile, opens up to provide access to a new outdoor courtyard, while Scots pine cladding on the exterior of the building will turn silver with age.

Tom Kundig, principal and owner of Olson Kundig, said: "A major focus of the design is maximising transparency – large areas of glazing look in from the street and the interior experience to connect the Burke to the campus, landscape and city.

"Previously hidden back-of-house research labs and collection spaces are now incorporated into the main gallery circulation. We wanted visitors and the surrounding community to connect to the museum's collections and artefacts and engage with the process of scientific discovery in a true working museum."

Olson Kundig  museum 
The new Burke Museum of Natural History & Culture in Washington State, designed by Olson Kundig, opened towards the end of last year, providing more space and flexibility, a more transparent layout and improved climate control. The building was actually completed in October, but information from the architects has just been made fully available. The 105,000sq ft (9,800sq m) building, which is 66 per cent larger than the old building,
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The 105,000sq ft (9,800sq m) building is 66 per cent larger than the old building / Olson Kundig / Aaron Leitz
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