Building Update: SkB Architects
For Kyle C. Gaffney and Shannon Murphy Gaffney, senior principals at SkB Architects, working with other creative people ranks among the greatest joys of their work—and they found kindred spirits in KEXP. The Gaffneys and their colleagues at Seattle-based SkB have tapped into that shared passion as they develop and realize the vision for KEXP’s New Home facility at Seattle Center.
“The first thing I remember about this project is just how passionate everyone at KEXP was when we first met, and hearing firsthand about their commitment to bringing artists forward and engaging the community,” recalls Shannon.
Sitting down with KEXP leadership and staff for extensive visioning sessions, it quickly became clear that the design for the New Home would have to break the mold of traditional radio. Just as KEXP utilizes multiple platforms to connect music lovers and artists, SkB considered as many modes of outreach as possible—aural, visual, and visceral—and how the New Home space might accommodate them.
“KEXP is never the same,” observes Kyle (citing an instance when John Richards dropped some 1966 Ethiopian jazz at 7:30am as a favorite example), and the new designs emphasize flexible, open spaces that can expand and contract as needed. Greater accessibility to the public was another pivotal consideration, and SkB’s designs for the New Home provide many more opportunities for in-person interactions.
Overcoming a certain degree of built-in insularity in the existing building posed one of the biggest challenges for SkB. The space KEXP is moving in to started life as part of the International Commerce and Industry pavilion and was erected in 1961 for the Seattle World’s Fair. Seattle Center was originally conceived to feel like a city-within-a-city for the Fair, and with its vast expanses of concrete, the exteriors of the Northwest Rooms felt like more of a wall than a portal.
Respectful of architect Paul Thiry’s original design as well as the building’s landmark status, SkB’s new vision for the space celebrates its inherent rawness—that concrete won’t be replaced with granite or polished marble—while opening up the Queen Anne-facing outside walls with banks of windows that retain Thiry’s Northwest modernist spirit. Illuminated at night, KEXP’s new library windows will serve as “a lantern on the corner” and a visual extension of the station’s commitment to community outreach.
“KEXP is a station that can’t afford to be insular; connection is key,” concludes Shannon. “So let’s break the ‘traditional radio’ mold and create a space that allows everyone to share in the magic.”