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All the Burke needs is ‘U’

Why the ‘U’ is missing on the new Burke Museum sign

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Missing U

The missing “U” on the new Burke museum sign is intended to remind visitors that the community plays a crucial role in the museum.

Since 1885, the Burke Museum has been the UW’s home for the preservation and exhibition of natural history and culture. Recently, the Burke began a new chapter in its own history with the construction of a new, larger building.

Walking by the new Burke, one can’t help but notice a gaping hole in its westward-facing sign where the “U” in “Burke” should be. Naturally, this left many wondering why the “U” is missing.

Designed by the Olson Kundig firm and the Burke’s in-house graphics team, the sign took inspiration from other iconic Seattle signs including Pike Place Market, Bardahl, and Seattle City Light.

“We knew the design would feature a large-scale piece of signage, so the design team spent some time researching and visiting several iconic signs around Seattle,” Tom Kundig, UW alumnus and design principal at Olson Kundig, said.

Like these signs, the Burke’s was made to be seen from afar, allowing the museum to finally be widely visible for the first time in its 130-year history.

Custom designed for the project, the sign’s font and the Burke’s refreshed logo will be reflected across all branded materials in the museum.

The idea for leaving off the “U” came about while Alaina Fuld, director of external affairs at the Burke, was walking back from lunch.

“We saw an opportunity to do something fun,” Fuld said. “The ‘U’ was left off the sign as a reminder of the most critical part of the new Burke: the community.”

Much of funding for the new building came from the state, but donations from the community were also needed to help complete the exhibits and give the museum its finishing touches.

A banner hung up last June that read “all we need is you,” has since disappeared, leaving the missing “U” unexplained.

Mother nature had other plans and the banner succumbed to the series of winter storms, according to Fuld.

Apart from the sign, the new Burke Museum was designed to maximize transparency, incorporating previously hidden research labs and collection spaces into the main gallery.

“We wanted visitors and the surrounding community to connect to the museum’s collections and artifacts and engage with the process of scientific discovery in a true working museum,” Kundig said.

At 66% larger than the old facility, the new building will also be nearly 60% accessible or visible to visitors, as compared to 30% previously. Visitors will be able to see more artifacts, as well as have a peek into some research areas.

Aside from a desire for transparency, there was also a need to replace the old building. Not only was the museum running out of space, but it also had no climate control to preserve delicate artifacts in storage.

The exterior design references the forests of the Pacific Northwest with its narrow windows and Kebony wood siding, which is purposely meant to silver with age. Further connecting it to its landscape, the roof’s slope follows that of 15th Ave NE and has a “smart glass” skylight to naturally illuminate the exhibitions without risking damage to sensitive artifacts.

As for the “U,” it is currently being stored in the sign maker Trade-Marx’s warehouse, awaiting installment in a ceremony this July.

Reach contributing writer Timothy Phung at Twitter: @TimPhung

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