written by:
July 15, 2010

On October 10, the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento—the art museum of my boyhood, I should note—will repoen both it's 1871-built gallery space, the old Crocker mansion, and a new expansion by Gwathmey Seigel and Associates Architects. It's a long overdue expansion and renovation for the Crocker, and I for one am quite excited to see it. I had the good fortune to have lunch today with the museum's director Lial A. Jones at Wexler's in San Francisco. We talked about what the museum means to Sacramento (where I was brought up), how they chose Gwathmey Seigel, and what a white building in the state capital means.

This rendering shows Gwathmey Seigel's plans for the expansion of the museum.
This rendering shows Gwathmey Seigel's plans for the expansion of the museum.
1 / 4
Lial A. Jones, director of the Crocker Art Museum.
Lial A. Jones, director of the Crocker Art Museum.
2 / 4
This photo shows the original museum, one of the first purpose-built art museums in California, next to the addition. Photo by Brian Suhr.
This photo shows the original museum, one of the first purpose-built art museums in California, next to the addition. Photo by Brian Suhr.
3 / 4
A shot of one of the new galleries in the Crocker Art Museum expansion. Photo by Brian Suhr.
A shot of one of the new galleries in the Crocker Art Museum expansion. Photo by Brian Suhr.
4 / 4
This rendering shows Gwathmey Seigel's plans for the expansion of the museum.
This rendering shows Gwathmey Seigel's plans for the expansion of the museum.

Why is the Crocker Art Museum expanding now?
When I came to the museum ten years ago it was still struggling with the limitations of its physical plant. Although the 1871 gallery is a wonderful, purpose-built art museum, all these years later there was no loading dock. The staff had been "temporarily" located in trailers onsite for 26 years. It was one thing after another that we didn't have.
How did you arrive at selecting Gwathmey Siegel Architects?
So we had this need to expand, but we had to do it in a way that made sense. We started with a master plan. In October, 2000 we sent out a request for qualifications to every major museum-building architecture firm in the world. We must have sent out 80 requests, and I'd say we got about 40 back. And to complicate things even more, we had a 37-member selection committee to make an initial selection. They we narrowed it down to eight firms and then finally to three.

Lial A. Jones, director of the Crocker Art Museum.
Lial A. Jones, director of the Crocker Art Museum.
Who else made the cut?
We had the IM Pei Partnership, Venturi Scott Brown, and Gwathmey Seigel.
The old guard!
Yes. Very much the old guard. It was a pretty eclectic group when you had the eight. We also had Herzog and De Meuron, Brad Cloepfil, and HOK. But when we had it down to just three IM Pei's office and Venturi Scott Brown came in and said, Here's the design that we want to do for the Crocker. Then Charles Gwathmey came in in his wonderful way and said, Here are the problems we think the Crocker has and here's how we've solved them in the past. We don't know what the design will totally be, but we think that if we all work together we can figure it out. The decision was unanimous.
Why didn't you go after a local architect? Why the East Coast heavy hitters?
There weren't any Sacramento architects who had ever done a museum. Given the huge number of deficiencies, I don't know what else you'd call them, the Crocker had we wanted a museum architect. It's a different building form, the museum, and they say that museums and hospitals are the most difficult buildings to make. This expansion is an iconic piece of by a major modern architect, and for Sacramento it will be the piece of modern architecture. It's a symbol for Sacramentans who already know that this is a good place. Sacramento has something of an inferiority complex and our museum will be the easiest thing to point to to say, See, we have something going here.
The expansion is tripling the size of the space that will house the permanent collection and quadrupling the size of the space where you'll show temporary installations? Does this make the Crocker more attractive to traveling shows?
The Crocker is getting a sexy new building that is in California, and on top of that in the capital of California, so yes this is a very attractive location for curators. You have to remember that Judge Crocker in 1871 built a piece of high-style contemporary architecture. We're just doing the same thing some 140 years later.
This photo shows the original museum, one of the first purpose-built art museums in California, next to the addition. Photo by Brian Suhr.
This photo shows the original museum, one of the first purpose-built art museums in California, next to the addition. Photo by Brian Suhr.

It makes a difference to donors too, right?
Right. Part of the expansion is to elevate the reputation of the Crocker. And architecture certainly has a role to play in that. But I should note that the building facade is not the primary object. The building is a tool which allows us to do what we do, but it is not the primary work of the museum.
What then about Gwathmey Siegel's design attracted you beyond how they work and their legacy?
It works so well with what we've got already: the 1871 gallery, the Crocker mansion, and the Edward Larabee Barnes connector between the two. The scale is the same, there are new, great spaces that can have several uses, I love the way Gwathmey Seigel use light, the uniformity of the window lines. Every datapoint in the new building is based on a datapoint in the gallery building, down to how the new track lights mimic the placement of the old gas lamps.
A shot of one of the new galleries in the Crocker Art Museum expansion. Photo by Brian Suhr.
A shot of one of the new galleries in the Crocker Art Museum expansion. Photo by Brian Suhr.

I can understand being drawn to the sympathy between the buildings. How then does it stand out?
I remember driving around Sacramento with Charles Gwathmey before he died and he remarked that there really aren't too many white buildings in town except for the Capitol. The white is a way to subliminally suggest that this is an important building. And the round form of the entry to the new building really reminds me of a railroad lantern, a beacon inviting people in.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Rare green AD65 radio from Ecko.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
angular
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016
amaroso40040
When a garage damaged by termites had to go, a studio emerges.
June 19, 2016
the blue lagoon iceland geothermal spa hotel water visitors
The famed geothermal spa outside Reykjavík, Iceland, is entering a major new phase—paving the way for the area’s first five-star hotel.
June 19, 2016
heaven on earth maya lin topography what is missing california academy sciences wood video
A new monograph by Rizzoli explores the memorial project by the renowned artist.
June 19, 2016
gable game austin texas cantilevered home facade windows upper level car port
For Dwell's annual issue dedicated to indoor/outdoor living. Here, we introduce you to the photographers and writers who made it happen.
June 18, 2016
Modern prefab lakeside home in Bloomingdale, New Jersey
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
June 18, 2016
Rectangular bento glass table with compartments.
These top-notch projects by design students earned a spot on our honor roll.
June 18, 2016
bozley all
Jory Brigham picks up his family’s trade and takes it in unexpected directions.
June 17, 2016
ph133407
The outlandish Belgian fashion designer, a member of the iconic Antwerp Six, creates a quirky pattern-filled capsule collection for the Swedish mega-retailer—with a high-tech twist.
June 17, 2016