Lightcatcher at the Whatcom Museum

Location Bellingham, Washington
Design Principal Jim Olson

The basic concept for this new $12.8 million museum is that of a museum turned inside out—to make the building as active on the outside as it will be on the inside. An iconic 36-foot-tall, 180-foot-long translucent wall, “the lightcatcher,” is conceived as the focal point and backdrop to a central courtyard that will become a new gathering place for the city. The exterior of the museum is an invitation to engage in art and allows pedestrians walking by to view the art and activity within.

The building is 42,000 square feet. It is the first LEED Silver museum in the state of Washington. Sustainable features include a green roof above the lobby, a rainwater harvesting system, pervious paving, double-skin curtain wall glazing at the lightcatcher wall, and natural ventilation in the public gathering spaces not housing art.


The lightcatcher wall celebrates the Northwest glass movement and glows like a yellowish agate from a nearby beach. I wanted to soften light like our clouds and create a sense of mystery like our mist and fog.

Jim Olson Design Principal

The nearly 7,000-square-foot lightcatcher is a dynamic, porous backdrop for sculpture. Punctuated with openings, the exterior provides pedestrians with views of the art and activities within, ensuring the Museum will be as active outside as inside the structure.

The lightcatcher also helps ventilate the building: its double-glazed skin helps keep interior spaces cool via the stack effect, and in cooler weather, vents at the top of the wall can be closed and radiant energy is captured within, insulating the building.

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