The Living Computer Museum, built around Paul Allen’s collection of historic computers, has expanded with hands-on exhibits on virtual reality, self-driving cars, robotics, and computer-generated art and music, all intended to appeal to a younger and less geeky audience.
Paul Allen’s Seattle museums are getting a face-lift.
As the EMP Museum at Seattle Center became the Museum of Pop Culture on Tuesday, a few miles down the road in Sodo members of the media were taking a tour of an expansion at a less well-known Allen museum.
The Living Computer Museum, which since 2012 has exhibited and restored the growing collection of vintage computers owned by the Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist, has added a floor to accommodate new and emerging technologies, as well as educational and lab spaces. The new wing opens to the public Friday.
Living Computers: Museum + Lab
2245 First Ave. S, Seattle
Grand reopening Friday, 12 — 5 p.m.
Regular hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. — 5 p.m. Free admission first Thursday of the month, 5 — 8 p.m. Closed Monday and Tuesday.
Admission: $12 adults, $10 for discounted groups, free for children under 5.
Lath Carlson, the executive director of the newly rebranded Living Computers: Museum + Lab said the museum tends to receive good reviews from attendees. The problem is enticing them in the first place, he said.
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Housed in a nondescript building on First Avenue in Sodo’s mishmash of warehouse space, corporate offices and stadiums, the vintage-computer mecca doesn’t draw many walk-ins. Attendance totaled 14,000 last year.
“We’re hoping to change that,” said Carlson, who was hired last year from a technology museum in San Jose, Calif., to oversee the expansion.
The new space, after a $1.4 million renovation to the building’s mostly unused first floor, includes hands-on exhibits on virtual reality, self-driving cars, robotics, and computer-generated art and music.
As with the historic computers upstairs, just about everything is hands-on.
The space also includes a modular classroom and workshop area (formerly used as an EMP-managed woodworking area) that is aimed at touring school groups and other programs.
The goal is to plant the museum more firmly into the Seattle area’s computer-science ecosystem, said Nina Arens, the museum’s education coordinator. “It’s really inspiring to see all of the passion in the city for computing come here,” Arens said.
Together, the programs and new museum space are aimed at a younger and less geeky audience than the computer aficionados who might have come to the museum in search of some hands-on time with a classic Xerox Alto or IBM’s first personal computers.
Those classics still sit on the museum’s second floor, where a team of eight engineers works to restore new additions and keeps the dozens of models in the collection in working order.
The team recently finished restoring a CDC 6500, a massive Cold War-era machine that was among the first generation of supercomputers released in the 1960s. The project took years and the service of some cannibalized parts from computers at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
“Nobody thought we’d ever get it running,” Carlson said. The lab is holding a reception on Thursday evening for people who worked on CDC computers.
As for the collections on the first floor, Carlson said he expects the composition of the new wing to change as technology continues to evolve.
“This isn’t going to be a static place,” he said.