What is the Space Needle?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

The Space Needle is a remarkable observation point and tourist destination that serves as one of the most recognizable buildings in the Seattle skyline. Built in less than a year for the 1962 World's Fair, the Space Needle remains a striking and unusual landmark, though its previous soaring height has been surpassed by many other buildings. Influenced by the space race of the 1960s, the Space Needle is a monument to futuristic design aesthetic.

Though built for the 1962 World's Fair, the Space Needle remains a major attraction in Seattle.
Though built for the 1962 World's Fair, the Space Needle remains a major attraction in Seattle.

The 1962 World's Fair planned to be a futuristic frenzy with the theme “Century 21”. Hotel owner Edward Carlson was determined to give the fair an astounding centerpiece building that would remain in Seattle even after the glitz of the fair had departed. Working with another architect, John Graham, Carlson developed the modern and space-age design of the Space Needle. Rising from slender, gazelle-like legs, the plans featured a broad, flying saucer influenced disk that could serve as an observation deck and a revolving restaurant.

The Space Needle was influenced by the space race of the 1960s.
The Space Needle was influenced by the space race of the 1960s.

An early difficulty was finding public land for the building that was within the fairgrounds area. With only a year left before the fair and hope running out, Carlson's team located a parcel of land that fit the Needle's requirements and purchased it for $75,000 US Dollars (USD). With only 13 months before the world descended on Seattle, Carlson's team set an unbelievably brisk building pace. Failure to complete the building would have been a black mark on the city, as well as forever denting Carlson's reputation.

One of the most magnificent features of the Space Needle is its stability and strength. By building an extremely heavy foundation 30 ft (9.14 m) below the ground, the center of gravity of the entire structure was placed nearly at ground level. This allowed the building to withstand the earthquakes common to the Pacific Northwest, as well as give it the strength to survive hurricane-level winds. Famously, the foundation was laid in only 12 hours, using 467 cement trucks.

The 605 ft (184 m) Space Needle was finished in December 1961, four months before the opening of the World's Fair. The famous elevators would carry nearly 20,000 passengers per day during the height of the fair, traveling at a speedy 10 miles per hour (16 kph) up and down the fanciful structure. Thanks to its innovation and style, the building quickly became a Seattle landmark, remaining its most popular tourist attraction ever since.

In 2000, the Space Needle underwent renovations that cost many times the original price of the building. In addition to basic upgrades, the two original restaurants were combined and revised to create the SkyCity restaurant. Several retails stores and additional tourist diversions were also added. As of 2010, the Space Needle is open 365 days a year, with the restaurant serving brunch, lunch, and dinner on most days. Paid tickets are required to ride the elevator to the top, and group tours are available for a fee.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments


@Scrbblchick -- I've been and it's everything you think it will be. It does not disappoint. You can see all over the city, and even the University of Washington campus and their stadium. You can also see right over Puget Sound. It's an incredible sight.

The only part I didn't like was the elevator ride up and back down. It was about five minutes and I got a touch of claustrophobia. I just closed my eyes and remembered that thousands of people visit every day, and the elevator gets them up and down every time.

Seattle is a beautiful city. I'm so glad I was able to go. I have wonderful memories of the place. There is so much to see and do.


The Space Needle has always fascinated me and I've always wanted to see it. I'd love to go to Seattle, anyway. I've heard it's a beautiful city.

I'm not afraid of heights, so I know being up that far wouldn't bother me. I'd love to see everything. Besides, it's one of the great landmarks of the United States, and I'm sure that, like the Grand Canyon, it's something everyone should see at least once in their lives.

It's such an impressive part of the Seattle skyline. You can spot it in pictures right off. It's really the most recognized symbol of Seattle, I guess.

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