The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center describes the history and work of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Through interactive exhibits, it creates a personal relationship with the visitor, inviting them into a conversation about global issues, prompting questions and providing activities for them to explore how every individual can make a positive difference.

The experience begins on the sidewalk with graphic provocations and information stretching along the glazed street façade. Views inside the building reveal exhibits situated along a ramp that parallels the sidewalk, which in turn, opens to the galleries beyond. Together, sidewalk and ramp blur the line between exterior and interior space and begin the process of bringing passersby into an awareness and conversation about global issues.

Inside is a series of five connected spaces: the Voices Gallery (featuring hundreds of faces of employees, its partners and grantees), the Family & Foundation Gallery (including a 30-foot-long interactive timeline), the Partnerships Gallery (describing initiatives with partners all over the world), a theater, and the Innovation & Inspiration Gallery, (a series of interactive mechanical and digital exhibits).

Title: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center
Client: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Design Firm: Olson Kundig Architects
Design Team: Alan Maskin, LEED AP – Design Principal, Stephen Yamada-Heidner, AIA LEED AP – Managing Principal, Marlene Chen, AIA LEED AP – Project Manager (TI and Exhibit Design), Michael Picard, LEED AP – Project Architect (TI), Blair Payson, LEED AP – Project Architect (Exhibit Design), Charlie Fairchild – Interiors, Studio Matthews – Graphic Design
Category: Professional

Reuse: Reuse: We used FSC-certified ash wood extensively throughout the galleries that was repurposed from local trees. This solution diverted the trees from becoming wood chips or incinerated. The interior insulation and the acoustic wall absorption was a product made largely of recycled denim. Imagery, information graphics and text are printed directly onto the wood substrate, thereby eliminating waste and the use of additional materials.

Collaboration and Interaction: By integrating a hierarchy of scale, space and material into the exhibits, the design brings dimensionality and attention to the many people and partners involved in the Foundation’s work. The design seeks to create a personal relationship between the visitor, the mission of the foundation and those it supports by encouraging visitors to share their ideas with the foundation and each other.

Flexibility and Reuse: The exhibit is designed so that it can be reused and repurposed over time. Modular Armatures allow the exhibits to be easily demounted and arranged out for others, allowing content to be refreshed regularly without a wholesale redesign of the space.

Inspire: The intent of this exhibit is to provide an opportunity for visitors to develop innovative solutions and strategies for changes they hope to create in their communities or around the world.


The Voices Gallery contains 160+ black and white portraits of the people affected by the work of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, including people who work for the Foundation, the grantees and the beneficiaries of the grants. It also contains 15 color voices stations where visitors can learn more about people among the 160 (including Bill Gates, Melinda Gates and Bill Gates Sr.)

The Family and Foundation Gallery is where visitors learn about the Gates family, how the Foundation was created, where the Foundation works and what the Foundation does.
The gallery includes mechanical and multimedia interactives, including:

  • Interactive timeline
  • “Your Foundation,” an interactive multimedia station where visitors are asked “What would your foundation do?” and submit answers that project up on to a large screen and become part of the gallery.
  • “Tracking Trends and Charting Changes,” a mechanical exhibit that moves kinetically to show how the Foundation uses data to make decisions.

The gallery includes a constantly moving mechanical scroll that extends out of the exhibit box to show the vast number of grants the foundation awards. It interacts with a multimedia exhibit that allows visitors to dive deeper into the specific grants. The mechanical and digital aspects to this exhibit allow the exhibit to remain updatable and help to capture the extreme scale of how many grantees partner with the Foundation.

There is a 49 seat theater for presentations, speakers and films.

The Innovation and Inspiration Gallery highlights what innovators around the world have done to make a big or small difference (e.g. Mary Larson and Blake Mycoskie) and encourages visitors to start thinking about what they can do with the skills that they already have.

Within the activities/interactives, visitors are solving problems and sharing their thoughts with other visitors.

Visitors begin to experience the Visitor Center long before they walk in. There are large text provocations, pre-cast concrete benches on 5th Ave. that look like sacks of grain, vaccine coolers and stacks of books, graphics along the window storefront and large shadow text that can be seen from as far away as the top of the Space Needle.

Inside along the window, the “Walk for Water” exhibit is an empathy exhibit is an empathy exercise asking visitors to think about what others around the world must do to reach water to drink, cook and clean. There are footprints burned into the wood floor along the interior ramp that represent how far some people must go to get water.

The restrooms also contain an empathy exercise. Images of toilets from around the world are placed on the outside of the toilet stalls to illustrate the range of sanitation conditions.


Posted in 2013 Winners.

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