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National Nordic Museum Receives 2020 Buildy Award

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Written January 22, 2020

The award recognizes the museums as an institution, their director and staff, and the building/design construction teams whose completed museum construction projects demonstrate high achievement in the lessons of the Building Museums™ Symposium: careful, creative planning and diligent implementation, leading to institutional sustainability.

Eric Nelson, Executive Director of the National Nordic Museum, and Denise Young, Ed.D. Executive Director of the Bell Museum, accepted their museum’s awards on Friday March 6, 2020, during the MAAM’s 15th Building MuseumsTM Symposium in Chicago, IL.

The Buildy Award Committee noted several factors which contributed to the National Nordic Museum’s success:

  1. The Museum communicated well with the surrounding neighborhood by hosting Community Engagement receptions to orient the community to the Museum’s plans for the future. The Museum also collected input and generated support from representatives from a host of local cultural organizations, educational institutions, business owners and associations, and local government officials.
  2. The design of the museum employs a “fjord motif.” This not only serves as an interior organizational element that is clear and concise, but it also greatly supports the whole storyline of the museum
  3. Congress passed legislation in early 2019 to grant the museum status as the National Nordic Museum. This itself is a true testament to the Museum’s success.

The Buildy Award is the only award program that recognizes the museum leadership and design team for their part in guiding the planning and construction process to a high level of success. The museum director must address the competing interests of staff, trustees, financial contributors, artists, architects, engineers, contractors, visitors, and other parties. Winners of the Buildy Awards have managed to guide their teams to create lasting assets for their institutions and their communities within a financially sustainable framework.

The National Nordic Museum in Seattle, Washington remains the only Museum in the United States that collects, preserves and displays material artifacts from each of the five Nordic countries; Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Norway and Finland.

The new Museum opened to the public in May 2018. The new facility integrates Nordic sensibility into every aspect of its design. It features 57,000 sq. ft. of state-of-the art construction including interactive, immersive exhibition spaces, two dedicated classrooms, a craft studio, a cultural research library (Cultural Resource Center), cafe, store, and a hemlock and fir-clad auditorium (Osberg Great Hall). Special exhibitions are presented in a gallery built to the highest professional museum standards to accommodate world-class exhibitions. Large, climate-controlled storage spaces allow for appropriate stewardship of the Museum’s expanding collection of nearly 80,000 pieces of art, artifacts, and objects.

In its first year of operation, the National Nordic Museum attracted nearly 200,000 visitors; nearly twice that of projected attendance. To date, the National Nordic Museum has recorded visitors from all 50 states and more than 20 countries. With more than 100 programs a year focused on various aspects of Nordic culture, the Museum serves as a connector between governments, organizations, and private-sector companies in the United States and the Nordic region, helping to facilitate exchanges of ideas, build connections, and create new economic and policy opportunities.

The Museum employed green construction practices including natural daylighting, energy-efficient climate control, and green stormwater infrastructure. The LEED Gold building optimizes daylight in public areas through extensive glass walls. The building features energy-efficient air source heat pump technology that is designed to achieve 24% reduction below a baseline code building. The site’s stormwater runoff is filtered by bioretention cells and modular wetland treatment systems.

The team lead by Museum Executive Director Eric Nelson included, Richard Franko, FAIA, LEED, AP of Mithun was the architect for the project. Kirtley Cole led the project construction under the direction of Marc Lewinski. Exhibitions were designed by Ralph Appelbaum of Ralph Appelbaum Associates.

Other awards received by the National Nordic Museum in 2019 include:

  • 2019 Seattle Business Magazine Skyline Award, Cultural Projects
  • AIA Northwest and Pacific Region Merit Award
  • Building Museums™ Symposium Buildy Award
  • AIA Honor Awards for Washington Architecture
  • LEED Gold (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) awarded from US Green Building Council

The National Nordic Museum also was nominated by USAToday travel writers for a ReadersChoice Award as one of the 10 Best New Museums of 2020. Voting goes through Monday, February 17 at noon ET. The winning museums will be announced on Friday, February 28. More information can be found at

This article was updated on March 17, 2020