What most people will see of the Walter Soboleff Center is art — including the building’s exterior, a lavish gift shop, formline carvings adorning an interior longhouse and exhibits of cultural objects and art — but an artistic aesthetic has dictated the form and function of the center down to the smallest detail and up to the highest offices.
During a sneak preview of the new building, Lee Kadinger, Sealaska Heritage Institute’s chief of operations, provided a tour of the spaces beyond the ground floor, where art is abundant and obvious.
“Any place we could add art that typically you don’t find it, we wanted to,” he said.
Stairs feature copper toe kicks and recessed LED lighting. All the lighting is LED, contributing to the building’s LEED Gold certification, a measure of its environmental impact.
A reception desk counter features copper accents and marble from Prince of Wales Island, the marble’s variations the result of fossilized clams. A table for waiting visitors features another variety of marble — the Klimt-esque circus conglomerate.
An embankment of drinking fountains features a tiled basketry pattern. Not even the restrooms went untouched by an artistic hand. The walls are tiled with a blanket pattern.
Throughout the building are hand-adzed panels and pillars, all done by artist Wayne Price. Some of the adzing is in a precise herringbone pattern.
A feature perhaps less appreciated by the framers, drywallers and finish carpenters is an ovoid space that contais the large conference room and learning area in the center of the building. The space is notably equipped for video conferencing for distance learning and meetings.
Kadinger’s son, Matthew, worked on the building and in its framing stages and reportedly asked his father in frustration: “Who put in the curved wall?”
Kadinger takes the blame, but is happy with all the details that make the building so unique.
Beyond the aesthetic features, the building is built to high environmental standards from the lighting to the pellet-fed boiler — pellets sourced from Ketchikan and Vancouver — and a water heater powered by excess heat energy absorbed from the mechanical room that houses it. The elevator regenerates power when it carries weight down.
The human element was not ignored. Offices, single and shared, feature convertible standing desks.
Kadinger observed that throughout the day, employees are standing more often than sitting at their desks. There’s also a small on-site gym and showers for those who use the gym or bike to work.
The basement holds the mechanical room, but also retail storage, archival space, a collections vault roughly the size of what the Alaska State Museum had before its upgrade, a library, research space and exhibit preparation space. The second floor holds SHI’s offices and the third floor, at least for now, is for lease.
The space for lease, which makes up about 15 percent of the building’s square footage, has much the same feel as the other offices, though it lacks the more elaborate details. Some of the space has already been leased to technology firm Wostmann and Associates, but there is a smaller office space and a corner space still available.
The additional space for now helps offset the cost of the building, which grew out of a space in downtown Juneau known as “The Pit.”
In the future, that rental space will accommodate SHI’s expected growth.
“When we need the space to continue to grow, if our archives or library need more space, we will terminate a lease and move up,” Kadinger said. “(It) allows us to grow for the next 50 to 100 years, rather than taking on another construction project in 20 years.”
The grand opening of the building will take place May 15, beginning with a ceremony at 8:30 a.m. with a formal program of comments and recognitions from dignitaries and special guests. At 12:30 p.m., there will be a coming ashore and welcome ceremony at the Marine Park dock marking the arrival of North Tide Canoe Kwaan, followed by dance group performances. The canoe paddlers and dancers will then proceed to the Soboleff Center.
The formal opening begins at 2 p.m., and will include a ceremony thanking the spirit of the trees used in the building’s construction, the unveiling of the building’s three major art pieces, a handprint ceremony, naming of the clan house, and a ceremonial transfer of clan hats to an art exhibit. The exhibit, “Enter the World of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian Peoples,” opens at the center on Saturday, May 16.