Crystal Towers

What’s up with those chunky blue spires above I-705?

Long before the footbridge between the Tacoma Art Museum and the Museum of Glass existed, Tacoma native Dale Chihuly was just a kid collecting sea glass on the beach with his mother.

Today, the Chihuly Bridge of Glass is one of Tacoma’s most iconic features, and it exemplifies Tacoma’s rich art culture.

The 500-foot bridge contains three separate works of art designed by Chihuly. The Seaform Pavilion is an enclosed part of the bridge, which features a ceiling with 2,364 objects from Chihuly’s Seaform and Persian series. On the opposite side of the bridge, pedestrians will find the Venetian Wall, an aptly named 80-foot structure that features 109 sculptures from a trio of Chihuly collections.

©2005 Jason -- Creative Commons

©2005 Jason — Creative Commons

The third, and perhaps most notable, exhibit on the bridge is directly in the center. Visible to pedestrians and motorists who enter Tacoma along I-705 are the Crystal Towers.

The towers have elicited many nicknames since the unveiling in 2002. One of the most common of the towers’ monikers is “rock candy,” as the towers do resemble the crystalized sugar treat.

“I really wanted to create something that people could see and that would welcome people to Tacoma,”

Others dubbed the towers “blue rocks” or “blue ice.”

Chihuly said the 40-foot-tall spires adorned with blue-ish “crystals” were simply meant to be a beacon of hospitality.

“I really wanted to create something that people could see and that would welcome people to Tacoma,” Chihuly said. “Polyvitro crystals transmit light and color in a similar way to glass, so I decided to create the Crystal Towers to serve as a gateway to Tacoma.”

Chihuly first presented this type of crystal element in a 1999 millennium celebration exhibition, Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem.

“I had worked to develop a resin process to create the material polyvitro, which allows me to create large-scale transparent works that weigh much less than glass,” Chihuly said of his previous work with the material. “Since weight was a consideration, this was the perfect material for me to use for the Bridge of Glass towers.”

With elaborate art installations across the globe, Chihuly is thrilled to have left his mark on the city where he grew up.

“I’m so delighted to have the Crystal Towers on permanent view in my hometown,” he said. “It means a great deal to me knowing my artwork is accessible to the public, and that it will continue to bring joy to all those who see it.”

Fact Sheet

Unveiled: 2002
Artist: Dale Chihuly
Architect: Arthur Andersson
Material: Polyvitro, a polyurethane material
Height: 43 feet
Fun Fact: There are 63 large crystals on each spire.

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is an assistant editor at South Sound magazine. Email her.
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