History in the Making
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 5/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
firm:olson sundberg kundig allen architects
In 1910, after being denied proper accommodations in Seattle, 170 beleaguered Chinese laborers pooled their resources and built themselves a place to live in the Chinatown International District. Fast-forward a century, and the East Kong Yick building, which had eventually become a derelict SRO, is now the significantly expanded Wing Luke Asian Museum, a $12.1 million, 57,000-square-foot Smithsonian Institution affiliate by Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects.
From the start, Rick Sundberg was dazzled by the potential of two 60-foot-long light wells, less than 8 feet wide but double-height. He enclosed both by capping them with shed roofs of insulated glass, and one of the formerly outdoor spaces now houses a staircase with treads made from discarded floor joists. Sunberg declares himself "not a preservationist." However, budget-consciousness led him to issue an ironclad rule: Nothing leaves the building. To retain as much of the original architecture as possible, crews spent several months threading steel columns and beams through the shaky old structure's brick and Douglas fir. From a scrap pile in the basement came a painted metal fire door, now the base of the reception desk.
The curators really fell for the battered walls in an upstairs room once used by residents for social gatherings. To check the condition of the structure behind the plaster, a hole was punched during renovation. That hole remains today, an ironic artifact of renewal.