A Game-Changing Museum Becomes a New Symbol of UC Davis
Set in the farmlands of California’s Central Valley, the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art opens on November 13 at UC Davis, both a repository of work by influential artists of the region and a community hub for events across different disciplines. The associated architects SO - IL and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, along with contractor Whiting-Turner, were the winners of an international design-build competition announced in 2013. Their vision for an undulating Grand Canopy—now an architectural statement visible from Interstate 80—integrates indoor and outdoor space and connects pavilions designed for a mixture of academic, exhibition, and public use. A harbinger of innovations in campus design, the Manetti Shrem Museum provides an interactive forum that goes well beyond the arts community.
The agrarian surroundings provided inspiration for the Grand Canopy, a sweeping roof whose aluminum infill beams create a texture echoing the topography of the Central Valley. "If you think of the agricultural landscape, it’s not a romantic landscape," says Florian Idenburg, founding partner and principal at Brooklyn-based SO - IL. "There’s a certain geometry. At the same time, the Sacramento River is a much more organic form, so we played with the sinuous and the gridded or striped to allude to that pattern." The canopy rises 34 feet high and dips to 12 feet high above the entrance, and the intricate patterns created by the beams almost never repeat. "As you fly over the valley, those lines are rarely consistent in their orientation," elaborates Karl Backus, principal at San Franciscan firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. "They’re quite varied on their angles. Picking up on that made the canopy texture even richer."
The permeable membrane of the Grand Canopy not only unifies over 44,400 square feet of interior and exterior space, but it also stands as an architectural metaphor for the goal of the museum. Its porosity, describes Idenburg, speaks to "the idea of introducing the arts as something that is not a fixed jewel box, but is something accessible and approachable. The landscape of the campus grounds continue under the roof." Indeed, the campus bleeds into an environment of changing light and shadow, creating a liminal space that can be adapted for open-air exhibitions, performances, and other events.
Four opening exhibits will welcome visitors on November 13—Hoof & Foot: A Field Study, a video installation by Bay Area artist Chris Sollars that speaks to the role of animals and agriculture in the UC Davis curriculum; A Pot for a Latch, an interactive sculpture by Mexico City-based artist Pia Camil; Out of Our Way, a collection showcasing the 12 artists Richard L. Nelson, founding chair of the UC Davis art department, hired during his tenure; and The Making of a Museum presented by SO - IL.
For more information about the Manetti Shrem Museum, visit the website.