Oakland Museum Preview

written by:
April 26, 2010

Last week I got a sneak preview of the Oakland Museum of California, a Kevin Roche-designed museum in Oakland that's set to reopen on Saturday, May 1st. Mark Cavagnero Associates has completed a light renovation of this wonderful bit of high Brutalism, adding more gallery space, a stronger sense of circulation and some canopies to shelter visitors from the elements as they move from space to space. Though the building itself is pretty remarkable, even more amazing is the rooftop garden designed by Dan Kiley. Covering 7.7 acres, this is maybe the nicest roof garden I've ever seen, a poem in modern landscape design. What's more, it's a city park accessible to all during museum hours. I'm embarassed to admit it was my first time over to the museum, but it was a wonderful trip and I'm excited to visit again. Have a look at this slideshow to see what I saw.

 

 

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  Though there was barrier up when I visited, the Oak St. entrance is now meant to be the main, street-addressing entrance to the Oakland Museum of California. You can see Mark Cavagnero's stainless steel canopy as a kind of welcoming shelter over the steps, which are hidden by the wall. Architect Kevin Roche, who worked in Eero Saarinen's office, kicked off his career with the Oakland Museum of California which opened in 1969. Saarinen was supposed to get the commission, but he died before he could get very far into the design process. The building initially eschewed the idea of a grand entrance, instead opting for a rather porous five entry points along the four city blocks it covers. The new design aims to restore something of the streetfront grandeur that museum officials felt it lacked.
    Though there was barrier up when I visited, the Oak St. entrance is now meant to be the main, street-addressing entrance to the Oakland Museum of California. You can see Mark Cavagnero's stainless steel canopy as a kind of welcoming shelter over the steps, which are hidden by the wall. Architect Kevin Roche, who worked in Eero Saarinen's office, kicked off his career with the Oakland Museum of California which opened in 1969. Saarinen was supposed to get the commission, but he died before he could get very far into the design process. The building initially eschewed the idea of a grand entrance, instead opting for a rather porous five entry points along the four city blocks it covers. The new design aims to restore something of the streetfront grandeur that museum officials felt it lacked.
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  I'll confess to being a great fan of the Oakland Museum of California's logo. This one is attached to the Oak St. facade of the building at the new main entrance.
    I'll confess to being a great fan of the Oakland Museum of California's logo. This one is attached to the Oak St. facade of the building at the new main entrance.
  • 
  Executive Director Lori Fogarty told me that one of the major elements of the renovation by Mark Cavagnero was to improve circulation through the museum. In addition to more signage and circulatory direction, Cavagnero also added stainless steel canopies to connect parts of the museum. Previously, on rainy days, visitors were left to fight the elements as they moved from one gallery to the next.
    Executive Director Lori Fogarty told me that one of the major elements of the renovation by Mark Cavagnero was to improve circulation through the museum. In addition to more signage and circulatory direction, Cavagnero also added stainless steel canopies to connect parts of the museum. Previously, on rainy days, visitors were left to fight the elements as they moved from one gallery to the next.
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  Cavagnero chose stainless steel for the canopies because it was an easy fit with the concrete, both in terms of color, and in the fact that it feels more like a compliment than competition to the structure. Both still allow the landscape to take precedence.
    Cavagnero chose stainless steel for the canopies because it was an easy fit with the concrete, both in terms of color, and in the fact that it feels more like a compliment than competition to the structure. Both still allow the landscape to take precedence.
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  It was really tough to capture the full extend of landscape architect Dan Kiley's original design for the roof gardens at the Oakland Museum. Here's a glimpse of the terraced approach he took to the 7.7 acre space. I loved the notion that here are all these rigidly defined concrete planters that then have all this lush greenery spilling out of them. The gardens are actually a public city park, free and open to anyone during museum business hours.
    It was really tough to capture the full extend of landscape architect Dan Kiley's original design for the roof gardens at the Oakland Museum. Here's a glimpse of the terraced approach he took to the 7.7 acre space. I loved the notion that here are all these rigidly defined concrete planters that then have all this lush greenery spilling out of them. The gardens are actually a public city park, free and open to anyone during museum business hours.
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  This view of the gardens gives a better sense of the kind of view and circulation corridors architect Kevin Roche sought to create. The sheer mass of the all the concrete reminded me very much of Louis Kahn's Salk Center in San Diego, though the foliage was like hair on the concrete structure.
    This view of the gardens gives a better sense of the kind of view and circulation corridors architect Kevin Roche sought to create. The sheer mass of the all the concrete reminded me very much of Louis Kahn's Salk Center in San Diego, though the foliage was like hair on the concrete structure.
  • 
  On a sunny day there are few spots in Oakland as nice as the gardens on top of the Oakland Museum. And Roche's design even called for a handful of little semi-private patios to be attached to the office space. Humane design indeed.
    On a sunny day there are few spots in Oakland as nice as the gardens on top of the Oakland Museum. And Roche's design even called for a handful of little semi-private patios to be attached to the office space. Humane design indeed.
  • 
  Another of Cavagnero's additions to the museum was 4800 square feet of gallery space. There used to be a handful of hard-to-access outdoor sculpture galleries that have been brought inside now. See how Roche's concrete wall in the new gallery space on the third level still takes precedence with Cavagnero's white steel and glass hovering above. A light touch, very reminiscent of what Roche aimed to achieve at the outset.
    Another of Cavagnero's additions to the museum was 4800 square feet of gallery space. There used to be a handful of hard-to-access outdoor sculpture galleries that have been brought inside now. See how Roche's concrete wall in the new gallery space on the third level still takes precedence with Cavagnero's white steel and glass hovering above. A light touch, very reminiscent of what Roche aimed to achieve at the outset.
  • 
  Here's a view of that same addition to the art gallery taken from the roof. The new form sits pretty lightly on the old, in a kind of deference to the original structure.
    Here's a view of that same addition to the art gallery taken from the roof. The new form sits pretty lightly on the old, in a kind of deference to the original structure.
  • 
  Local landscape designer Walter Hood has a few projects afoot at the Oakland Museum. The hope is that he'll eventually work on the massive complex of gardens on the roof, but at present one of his installations is this series of metal tubs in which he'll plant spinach. It's a not to Oakland's canning history, and the results of his efforts will be served in the museum's cafe.
    Local landscape designer Walter Hood has a few projects afoot at the Oakland Museum. The hope is that he'll eventually work on the massive complex of gardens on the roof, but at present one of his installations is this series of metal tubs in which he'll plant spinach. It's a not to Oakland's canning history, and the results of his efforts will be served in the museum's cafe.
  • 
  This was the star of the Walter Hood's spinach project, and the design is meant to evoke Oakland's history as a center for canning. Del Monte foods got its start there selling coffee to fancy hotels.
    This was the star of the Walter Hood's spinach project, and the design is meant to evoke Oakland's history as a center for canning. Del Monte foods got its start there selling coffee to fancy hotels.
  • 
  One of Cavagnero's biggest intrusions into Roche's design was to cover over the concrete walls in the art gallery with sheetrock. The space does benefit from a lighter palette, and much more useful wall space for hanging art.
    One of Cavagnero's biggest intrusions into Roche's design was to cover over the concrete walls in the art gallery with sheetrock. The space does benefit from a lighter palette, and much more useful wall space for hanging art.
  • 
  One of my favorite innovations at the Oakland Museum was in the art gallery. There they've got a handful of these small, light stools meant to be picked up and plopped in front of whatever the visitor likes. They were designed by Gordon Chun Design.
    One of my favorite innovations at the Oakland Museum was in the art gallery. There they've got a handful of these small, light stools meant to be picked up and plopped in front of whatever the visitor likes. They were designed by Gordon Chun Design.
  • 
  Another of Gordon Chun's designs, this series of flexible, sturdy museum furniture is meant to be reconfigured for all manner of gallery uses.
    Another of Gordon Chun's designs, this series of flexible, sturdy museum furniture is meant to be reconfigured for all manner of gallery uses.
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  At the back of the California History floor of the museum is a small set of risers and a lounge. Designer Gordon Chun fashioned these seatpads for the risers, a flexible, inexpensive solution for seating.
    At the back of the California History floor of the museum is a small set of risers and a lounge. Designer Gordon Chun fashioned these seatpads for the risers, a flexible, inexpensive solution for seating.
  • 
  Here's another example of the signage done by the in-house team at Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. This emphasis on clear, well designed signage is part of what executive director Lori Fogarty called the "infrastructure work" that the renovation has been all about.
    Here's another example of the signage done by the in-house team at Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill. This emphasis on clear, well designed signage is part of what executive director Lori Fogarty called the "infrastructure work" that the renovation has been all about.
  • 
  I'm a real sucker for the oak detailing set into the concrete of the building. Again I was put in mind of the Salk Center in La Jolla by Louis Kahn, who used a similar tactic. Much of the oak has been replaced though, as it hasn't weathered well. The more protected bits, and the stuff on the interior is in pretty good shape, though. More signage from SOM above the door.
    I'm a real sucker for the oak detailing set into the concrete of the building. Again I was put in mind of the Salk Center in La Jolla by Louis Kahn, who used a similar tactic. Much of the oak has been replaced though, as it hasn't weathered well. The more protected bits, and the stuff on the interior is in pretty good shape, though. More signage from SOM above the door.
  • 
  The California History gallery opted to keep the concrete walls as they were, though as you wend through the gallery you're often hardpressed to see them. The exhibition designers, led by Kathleen McLean, have used the walls like backdrops for busy dioramas. This gives the whole gallery the appealing feel of a bulging scrapbook, where at any time you could be face to face with a car, an old movie camera or a piano. In this section of the exhibit "Instant San Francisco" the new face of the concrete wall was slapped up, much like the city itself was in the Gold Rush days. I'm also told that all the typefaces used are historically accurate.
    The California History gallery opted to keep the concrete walls as they were, though as you wend through the gallery you're often hardpressed to see them. The exhibition designers, led by Kathleen McLean, have used the walls like backdrops for busy dioramas. This gives the whole gallery the appealing feel of a bulging scrapbook, where at any time you could be face to face with a car, an old movie camera or a piano. In this section of the exhibit "Instant San Francisco" the new face of the concrete wall was slapped up, much like the city itself was in the Gold Rush days. I'm also told that all the typefaces used are historically accurate.
  • 
  I was able to sneak into the Natural Sciences wing for a quick look around. It won't reopen until 2012, and is in the process of being redone. I utterly adored this mountainous California lightbox with taxidermy ram. The Oakland Museum was pretty revolutionary when it opened in 1969, not least for its Natural Sciences displays. They have others of seals, birds, an amazing scene of an eagle feeding a rabbit to her chicks, and a pair of foxes. I can't wait to see what they do with this part of the museum.
    I was able to sneak into the Natural Sciences wing for a quick look around. It won't reopen until 2012, and is in the process of being redone. I utterly adored this mountainous California lightbox with taxidermy ram. The Oakland Museum was pretty revolutionary when it opened in 1969, not least for its Natural Sciences displays. They have others of seals, birds, an amazing scene of an eagle feeding a rabbit to her chicks, and a pair of foxes. I can't wait to see what they do with this part of the museum.
  • 
  Here's the stunning view of Lake Merritt you get from the roof of the Oakland Museum.
    Here's the stunning view of Lake Merritt you get from the roof of the Oakland Museum.
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  Another appealing view from the rooftop of the museum is the Alameda County Courthouse which was erected in 1939 as part of a New Deal public works project.
    Another appealing view from the rooftop of the museum is the Alameda County Courthouse which was erected in 1939 as part of a New Deal public works project.

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