As great ideas do, it all started with a doodle. A looping set of circles set on a tall column, inked onto a paper napkin. Inspired by a broadcast tower featuring a restaurant in Germany, Seattle hotel executive Edward E. Carlson sketched a futuristic tower for the 1962 World’s Fair – a landmark to symbolize humanity’s space-age aspirations.

A short build time and technical limitations may have kept the visions of a glass-encased observation tower dancing in Carlson’s head from being fully realized, but the end result was a futuristic architectural masterpiece that drew more than 2.5 million visitors during the World’s Fair. Soaring 605 feet into the sky, the hourglass-shaped structure topped with a flying-saucer remains a beloved Seattle icon and top world attraction that embodies the pioneering and progressive spirit of the Emerald City.

Book our Victoria to Seattle Overnight with Chihuly Garden & Glass + Space Needle Experience to check out the renovations!

See for miles from the top of the futuristic Seattle Space Needle. Credit: Chad Copeland
See for miles from the top of the futuristic Seattle Space Needle. Credit: Chad Copeland

Fifty-six years since its debut, 100 million dollars, more than 176 tons and 10 types of glass have finally made Carlson’s original vision a reality. In the works since the building hit the half-century mark, Space Needle spokesperson and Chief Marketing Officer, Karen Olson explains:

“The goal of the renovations is to make the Space Needle as ground-breaking as it was when it first opened and to ensure its relevance for the next 50 years. The largest investment in the structure since it was built in 1962, the renovation gave us to chance to upgrade the tower’s physical systems and enhance the visitor experience at the same time.”

Encouraged to think big about the experience, the Space Needle team joined forces with the designers at Olson Kundig, who are known for connecting nature to buildings. However, overhauling one of the world’s most photographed structures is no small feat, so they referred back to the structure’s original design for inspiration.

Olson says, “The structure was built for observation and is all about the view. We found some of the original designs called for all glass, but the technology wasn’t there at the time to create pieces that could handle the wind and elements encountered 605-feet up in the air.” Olson explains further:

“As part of the new design, we took away concrete walls, metal security structures and other pieces that were added over the years. Then we added in more than 176 tons of glass and opened up the view.”

Factor in that much of the construction was done 500-feet in the air and needed to be completed while the building was open to the public. Suddenly, simple transportation of materials required a great deal of ingenuity and care. More than 500 people worked on the project. Staff worked six days a week, 20 hours a day from September 4, 2017, to August 3, 2018. Even a few high-tech machines got called in to help complete the job. Olson explains, “A crane hoisted sections of over-sized glass and two custom robots helped place the 48, one-ton glass panels, comprising the outer edge of the observation deck.”

A granty crane lifts one of the 11-foot by 7-foot glass barriers that surround the Space Needle's open-air observation deck on the 520-foot level. Credit: Space Needle LLC
A granty crane lifts one of the 11-foot by 7-foot glass barriers that surround the Space Needle’s open-air observation deck on the 520-foot level. Credit: Space Needle LLC

Curious how the Space Needle will maintain all that glass? Olson says, “A special glass-keeper team, consisting of 10 internal employees, as well as an outside vendor, will be hired to constantly clean.” Their secret technique? Olson states, “They use a mix of cloth baby diapers and solvent on most glass surfaces.” Meanwhile, a Zamboni-like machine buffs and polishes the glass floor to a high gloss every night.

Upon arrival at the Space Needle, visitors experience a quick, 42-second elevator ride that brings you to the heart the action. Scanning out the window of the elevator, the people, cars, trees and neighboring buildings become miniaturized as you make the rapid ascent to the Observation Deck 520 feet above the city. Don’t be surprised if it takes a few milliseconds for your stomach to catch up with the rest of your body.

One step out of the elevator and the dramatic and awe-inspiring views of the city are front and center. Seamless floor-to-ceiling glass walls serve up unobstructed 360-degree sights of the region. Elliott Bay, Lake Union and Puget Sound glisten in the sunlight. The ever-popular Great Wheel spins along the waterfront. Downtown skyscrapers and mighty Mt. Rainier (and even the flat top of Mt. St. Helens on a clear day) loom in the distance.

Get a bird's-eye view of the Emerald City from the 520-foot level. Credit: Scott Meis
Get a bird’s-eye view of the Emerald City from the 520-foot level. Credit: Scott Meis

Out on the open-air observation deck, the old wire cage look has disappeared. In its place are a series of 11-feet-tall and 7-feet-wide glass panels, which offers a unique, bird’s-eye view of local landmarks. For an unparalleled experience, grab a seat on the new, glass benches (affectionately dubbed as skyrisers by the Space Needle team) lining the edge of the panels. Olson states, “Designed at a slant, these benches makes it look like you are hanging in the air in 520 feet above the city, making it the perfect selfie spot.” If you ever wanted to feel as though you’re floating above Seattle, this is your chance.

A cage-free observation deck offers uninterrupted views of the surrounding region. Credit: Space Needle LLC and Olson Kund
A cage-free observation deck offers uninterrupted views of the surrounding region. Credit: Space Needle LLC and Olson Kund

With the renovation also comes increased accessibility. The number of doors from the inside observation area to the outer open-air deck increased from three to twelve. And the Space Needle installed a state-of-the-art ADA lift, the first of its kind to be installed in the U.S. Director of Business Development at the Space Needle, Randy Cote, says, “The technology used in the ADA lift is the first of its kind. The stairs line up seamlessly with the floor, and can turn flat with the push of a button.”

Back inside, head to the heart of the building to come face-to-face with the Needle’s new, dramatic circular stairway – the Oculus Staircase. Cantilevered from the core of the building, two half-moon staircases constructed from steel, wood and glass connect the 520-foot Observation Deck to the Loupe on the 500-foot level.

Keep an eye on the bottom of the staircase as you wind down to the lower level, and you’ll catch sight of the aptly named Oculus. Serving as an eye through the center of the building, the 19-foot by 11-foot unique glass feature offers a sneak peek down at the ground.

Catch sight of the Space Needle's elevators as they zip up and down the building. Credit: Space Needle
Catch sight of the Space Needle’s elevators as they zip up and down the building. Credit: Space Needle

When you reach the 500-foot level, prepare to be floored by the views. The world’s first revolving 37-ton glass floor spans the entire surface, putting Seattle at your feet. Olson says, “The Loupe is named after the small magnifying glass used by watchmakers. We call it that because you can see inside the glass floor’s mechanical system.”  She adds, “The glass floor was not part of the Space Needle’s original design, but the team thought it added thrill to the experience while remaining authentic.”

Take the ultimate selfie on top of the world's first revolving glass floor. Credit: Space Needle
Take the ultimate selfie on top of the world’s first revolving glass floor. Credit: Space Needle

Soak in your heightened reality as you do a complete, 45-minute rotation above Seattle. Enter into a staring contest with the city’s magnificent architecture as you gaze down at the Chihuly Garden & Glass, MoPop and the rest of the bustling Seattle Center. Olson says:

“Not only do you experience 360-degree views of the city, but you also get to experience never-before-seen views of the parallax structure and the machines, including the 12 motors that power the rotating turntable and elevators.”

Gliding over the city on the impressive glass turntable, you might feel like you are walking on air. After all, the view of the future looks pretty great from up here.

Catch sight of ferries as they glide across the Sound. Credit: John Lok and Space Needle LLC
Catch sight of ferries as they glide across the Sound. Credit: John Lok and Space Needle LLC

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