Space Needle

From Academic Kids

The Space Needle is the Pacific Northwest's most recognizable landmark and is the symbol of Seattle, Washington. Located on the grounds of Seattle Center, it was built for the 1962 World's Fair, during which it hosted 2.3 million visitors. The Space Needle is a tower 184 m (605 feet) high and 42 m (138 feet) wide at its widest that weighs 9,550 tons. It is built to withstand winds of up to 200 mph (320 km/h) and earthquakes up to 9.1 magnitude, and has 25 lightning rods on the roof to withstand lightning strikes. The Space Needle was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River at the time it was built.

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Entrance to the Space Needle

The Space Needle features an observation deck at 159 m (520 feet), restaurant, and gift shop. From the top of it, one can see not only the Downtown Seattle skyline, but also the Cascade Mountains, Mount Rainier, Elliot Bay and surrounding islands. Visitors can reach the top via elevators that travel at 10 mph. This trip takes 43 seconds and some tourists wait in hour-long lines in order to ascend to the top of the tower.



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Looking toward the top of the Space Needle.

The unique architecture of the Space Needle is the result of a compromise between designs. The two leading ideas involved businessman Edward Carlson's sketch of a giant balloon tethered to the ground (see the gently sloping base) and architect John Graham's concept of a flying saucer (see the halo that houses the restaurant and observation deck). The Space Needle was built to withstand severe earthquakes by doubling the building code of 1962. But an earthquake registering 6.8 on the Richter Scale jolted the Needle enough in 1965 for water to slosh out of the toilets in the restrooms. The Space Needle can escape serious structural damage during earthquakes of magnitudes below 9. Also made to withstand Category 5 hurricane-force winds, the Space Needle sways only 1 inch per 10 mph (2 mm per km/h)of wind speed.

For decades, the "hovering disk" of the Space Needle was home to two 500-foot high restaurants called the Space Needle Restaurant and Emerald Suite. These were closed in 2000 to make way for SkyCity, a larger restaurant that features various Pacific Northwest entrées. It rotates exactly 360 degrees in exactly one hour. In 1993, the elevators were replaced with new computerized versions. Traveling at 10 mph, the elevator goes at the same speed as raindrops. Snowflakes fall at just 3 mph, so traveling down in the elevator during a snowstorm makes the snow appear to be moving upwards.

On December 31, 1999 (New Year's Eve) a powerful beam of light was unveiled for the first time. Called the Legacy Light or Skybeam, it features intensely bright (85 million candle power) lamps that shine skyward from the top of the Space Needle to honor national holidays and special occasions in Seattle. The concept of this beam was derived from the official 1962 World's Fair poster, which depicted such a light source although none was incorporated into the original design. It is somewhat controversial because of the light pollution it creates for astronomers. Originally planned to be turned on 75 nights per year, it has generally been used less than a dozen times per year. It did remain lit for twelve days in a row on September 11, 2001 to September 22, 2001 in response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
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Skybeam of the Space Needle.

The same 1962 World's Fair original poster showed a grand spiral entryway leading to the elevator, but again this was left out of the original plans. This has also recently become realized with a new two-story Pavilion Level enclosed in glass. Some feel that this level's design resembles that of a nautilus. There are 832 steps in all from the basement to the restaurant.


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The Space Needle in the 1960s.

In a Seattle coffee house (appropriate for the city that decades later would give the world Starbucks), Edward E. Carlson bore the first design of the Space Needle while daydreaming. This first 1959 sketch was on a coffee house placemat. Carlson was then president of a hotel company and not previously known for art or design, but he was inspired by a recent visit to the Stuttgart Tower of Germany. Knowing that the theme of the 1962 World's Fair would be Century 21, he made a shape somewhat resembling that of a large balloon top tethered down to the bottom.

John Graham, a noted architect who had just won praise for designing the world's first shopping mall (the Northgate Mall in Seattle) soon became involved when Carlson encountered obstacles in the structural design. Graham's first move was to turn the balloon into a flying saucer. Soon thereafter, Graham's entire team of a dozen architects worked around the clock before a final compromise was reached just eighteen months before the fair was to open.

Even then, the proposed Space Needle had no land on which to be built. Since it was not financed by the city, land had to be purchased that was within the fairgrounds. It was thought that there would be no land available to build a tower and the search for one was nearly dead when in 1961, a 120-by-120 foot plot was discovered and sold to the investors for $75,000. At this point, only one year remained before the World's Fair would begin.

The earthquake stability of the Space Needle was ensured when a hole was dug 30 feet (10 m) deep and 120 feet (40 m) across. An army of cement trucks (467 in all) took one full day to fill it up, and this was appropriately the largest concrete pour to ever take place in the western United States. With this concrete base weighing the same as the above-ground structure, the Needle's center of gravity was at ground level.

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Satellite view of the Space Needle.

With time an issue, the construction team worked around the clock. The top dome housing the top five levels (including the restaurants and observation deck) was perfectly balanced so that the restaurant could rotate with the help of one tiny electric motor putting out just one horsepower (750 W). With fresh paint of such names as Orbital Olive for the body, Astronaut White for the legs, Re-entry Red for the saucer, and Galaxy Gold for the roof, the Space Needle was finished in less than one year. Completely done by December 1961 at a cost of $4.5 million, it ended up being ready well in advance of the opening of the fair on April 21, 1962. At the time of construction, it was the tallest building in the West, taking the title from the Smith Tower across town that had held that title since 1914.

In June 1987, the Space Needle moved 312 feet (95 m) to the southwest. This movement only occurred on maps though, as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had begun a 10-year endeavor to re-map the world by satellite images. Major structures and landmarks such as the Space Needle were the first to be mapped out.

Renovations were completed in 2000 that cost nearly five times the original price ($21 million). Renovations between 1999 and 2000 included the SkyCity restaurant, SpaceBase retail store, Skybeam installation, Observation Deck overhaul, lighting additions, and of course, new coats of paint all over.


Perhaps because of its status as a highly visible national landmark, three people committed suicide by leaping from the Space Needle's observation platform. Each of these events occurred in the 1970s. Two of them jumped in 1974, before a "safety grid" was installed. The third suicide took place four years later in 1978.

Twice as many jumpers have used parachutes to break their fall. Six parachutists have leaped from the tower since its opening, but this activity is illegal without prior consent. Four jumpers were part of various promotions, and the other two were arrested.

See also

External links

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