SEATTLE - Workers at the Space Needle undertook an extremely delicate operation Tuesday - lifting dozens of giant glass panels 520 feet into the air to the top of the iconic structure.
The 48 glass panels - each weighing over a ton - are destined to become part of the Space Needle's remodeled observation deck, now under construction. The deck will boast new floor-to-ceiling windows and the world's first rotating glass floor when complete this summer.
On the deck, crews are using a brand new machine called Ndulu, which was built specifically for this job.
“There’s nothing else like it,” Herzog Glass Foreman Robert Wallace said. “Nothing else on the planet can set this glass on the Space Needle.”
Wallace pilots Ndulu, which uses a rack of large suction cups to lift the panels and set them in place. The machine can hold more than 6,000 pounds of weight, according to Wallace.
Once Wallace sets the panel in place, the crew bolts it down and attaches a bar to its top.
Space Needle Chief Marketing Officer Karen Olson said the 11-foot-tall, 4-inch-thick glass slabs are too big to fit inside the Needle's iconic gold elevators, so up they go - very carefully - outside in the elements.
One of the big concerns in this process is the wind. Crews had to delay work Tuesday until gusts dropped into single digits.
Workers had to exercise extreme caution to make sure the panels didn't swing in the breeze or hit the Needle's towering steel support beams.
"Wind is the biggest element we watch, so we raise the glass depending on the wind speed," Olson said.
The panels are more than two inches thick, and Wallace said it took two forklifts and about 30 minutes to break one during durability tests.
“It’s an amazing piece of glass,” Wallace explained.
The glass panels are replacing non-transparent pieces of the observation deck walls - to create even more dazzling views at dizzying heights.
"Nothing between you and the view but glass," said Olson.
"We’ve always been the best view of Seattle,” Space Needle Chief Marketing Officer Karen Olson said. “This summer when we reopen in full, we’ll be the most thrilling view of Seattle.”
Needle managers hope the observation deck remodel is ready by Memorial Day.
Some other parts of the renovation will need more time. Space Needle representatives could not say when the restaurant will reopen.
The glass installation and observation deck remodel are part of the Space Needle's Century Project, a multi-year $100 million venture focused on preservation and renovation of the 55-year-old icon.
The Century Project aims to reveal the Space Needle's internal structure in accordance with the original conceptual sketches, all while expanding and improving the structure's iconic views.