Saturday, 27 February 2021

The Space Needle: Remaking an Icon

176 tons of glass was used in the renovation, and gives visitors a view like never before.

It looks like a giant billboard in the sky, but this massive tarp installed beneath the Needle’s Top House provides workers a refuge from our notorious Northwest weather.

Behind the enclosure, nearly everything has been stripped away. All this is necessary to install the material that will change the way visitors see the Needle.

“We went back in history, went back to the original design, the original models, and we found that they actually wanted all this glass,” said Olson.

Time and technology didn’t allow for more glass to be installed as originally designed. For the new look, Hoffman Construction hired Seattle’s Herzog Glass to take on the job.

“Their contract was to install pretty much all the glass in this building, even the mirrors in the restrooms,” said Miller.


Installation of the floor system on the first rotating glass floor.

The most talked about install Herzog is doing is to the floor that once held the restaurant.

“The glass floor didn’t come out as an idea initially,” said Maskin. “We were testing a lot of crazy ideas just for the exercise of experimentation and pushing the thinking.”

Their thinking led to replacing the Needle’s metal floor with one made of glass.

“How do you get that sense that you are actually flying 500 feet above Seattle with this amazing view? The glass floor will do it,” said Olson.

The floor is actually made of two different sections of glass. The top layer has six sheets laminated together. The bottom piece has four layers and sits just below where the metal soffits once stood.

Between the panels, there are 12 new motors capable of rotating the room once around in as little as 20 minutes.

“When you are able to see through the glass, you will see those wheel assembles. You will see the motors that are there and the gears.”

Best of all, you get to see previously hidden views of the needle itself.

“One thing we’re doing that hasn’t happened in the past is that we’re highlighting the actual design and engineering of the Space Needle in ways that have never been exposed before,” said Maskin.

If you prefer to look through glass rather then walk on it, the glass on the observation deck is an alternative.

“It’s a composite of three pieces of glass and each piece of glass has an interlayer so they’re sandwiched together,” said Vincent. “It’s laminated glass, and in the laminations, let’s say if you shattered the glass, it would shatter the glass but glass would all retain itself as one piece. So that creates the safety and it’s not going to come down.”


Each of the 48 11×7 panels had to be hoisted up by gantry crane.

With the elevators being too small to carry the panels, each had to be hoisted up by a gantry crane – that is when the weather would allow it.

“Mother Nature was our challenge. She wanted to blow,” said Miller.

There are 48 11-by-7 panels in all, each one weighing over a ton.

“You have so much weight out there and all the crews are there working and they very much respect that weight as they’re flying those piece in.” said Vincent.

To help install the panels, a special lifting machine was created just for the precarious job of putting the panels in their place.

“It’s a very deliberate and careful process,” explained Vincent. “It moves and you make very, very, small movements with that glass until it finally gets settled.”

Machines set the panels in, but it’s human hands that secure them.

“And that’s what it really gets down to. It’s really about the hands and the crews and the craftsmanship that goes into installing something like that.”


Custom equipment was required to install the glass panels.

Another glass feature is the new benches, or Skyrisers as they’re called.

All the glass used in the Century Project has been tested rigorously for strength and stability. All told, 176 tons of it was used in the renovation, and gives visitors a view like never before.


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