5 Things to Love About the Space Needle
If you have not been to the Seattle Space Needle for a while, or ever, you may be pleased to know it is open and ready for visitors.
Built for the Seattle World’s Fair – known as the Century 21 Exposition – at a cost of $4.5 million in 1961-62, Seattle’s beloved Space Needle has gotten more appealing, thanks to a series of updates that improved the view and the overall experience.
The city’s most recognizable landmark has had work done in the past, including a $20 million renovation completed in 2000. But nothing compares to the $100 million “Spacelift” (their term, not ours) completed in 2018 as part of the landmark structure’s Century Project.
1. It’s COVID-Prepared
The Space Needle’s new $1 million “Elevating Clean” initiative includes a mask requirement (and a free souvenir mask), timed-ticketing, and the latest touchless/cashless systems and technology at every turn. In addition to stringent cleaning protocols that include UV light to disinfect the air and all the surfaces, the Space Needle also disinfects guests. An entry gate that look like an airport metal detector uses safe, far-UV-C light to reduce viruses and bacteria on clothing, bags and skin as each visitor takes a 20-second spin in the gate.
2. It’s Stronger
When completed in 1962, the Space Needle exceeded most building standards of its day. It was able to withstand 100 mph winds (40 mph was code at the time) and a 9.1-magnitude earthquake. The latest renovation brought in 80 to 90 more tons of steel for seismic upgrades, which only makes it stronger. Karen Olson, the Space Needle’s chief operating and marketing officer, says the improvements allow the structure to withstand a 1,000-year earthquake (aka “the Big One”).
3. It’s More Transparent
The wire caging surrounding the 520-foot-level Observation Deck is gone, replaced by 11-foot-tall glass panels that extend from floor to open air. Visitors can get seamless views of the city, Puget Sound, Mount Rainier, the Olympic Mountains and all the other landmarks in the area. (Weather-permitting, of course). A 4-inch gap between each glass panel is wide enough to accommodate camera lenses for glare-free photos of the surroundings.
At the 500-foot level, where the rotating restaurant used to be, there is now the world’s first rotating glass floor (more on this later) overlooking the Seattle Center campus. This rotating level, called the Loupe, and the Observation Deck above are connected by two, half-moon–shaped steel, wood, and glass staircases. A downward-facing oculus at the bottom of the stairs offers a surprise peek at the elevators and their counterweight as they ascend and descend.
4. Leaning Back Is a Thrill
The perimeter of the Observation Deck is adorned with 24 inward-facing glass benches, called Skyrisers, that allow you to lean back against the outward-tilting glass panels and experience the rush of “floating” 520 feet in the air. Those 4-inch gaps between each panel only enhance the sensation of hovering in the sky.
5. The Ride Is Smoother
Formerly powered by a single 1.5-horsepower motor, the rebuilt turntable under the rotating glass floor on the Loupe level is now powered by 12 independent motors and stabilized by 48 rollers. Visitors can look through the glass floor to marvel at the intricacies of the system, which resemble the inside of a clock. Fun fact: the glass floor completes a full rotation every 45 minutes.
Bonus Point: Dining Plans
To create the “restaurant of the future” on the rotating Loupe level, the Space Needle owners contracted with New York–based Tihany Design, whose extensive portfolio includes Per Se in New York and the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Geneva, Switzerland.
Those restaurant plans are still a work in progress, but for now the upper observation level offers a café and espresso bar serving beer, wine and small bites.
When a restaurant does open on the Loupe level, it will be the fourth to occupy the distinguished perch, following Eye of the Needle (1962-1979); the Space Needle Restaurant, home to the Emerald Suite (1980-1999); and SkyCity (2000-2017).
–Written by Rob Bhatt. Updated by Harriet Baskas, September 2020.
Photos Couresty of the Space Needle