Each contributed to last month’s dynamic Building Museums conference in San Francisco, presented by MAAM in partnership with WMA, IAMFA, ACM and AIA/SF. Themed around planning, building, and sustaining new, renovated, and expanded museum projects, this is the single conference, world-wide, attracting architects, museum and building professionals to discuss the challenges of this distinctive building type.
Extraordinary museums hosted at the Oakland Museum of California, Walt Disney Family Museum, The Old San Francisco Mint, Contemporary Jewish Museum, de Young Museum and the California Academy of Sciences. Each house displayed brilliant architecture, sustainability (in both the green senses) and community engagement achievements.
Oakland in particular, slightly off the beaten path, deserves a shout out. Opened in 1969, built entirely of concrete by the Eero Saarinen associate Kevin Roche on four city blocks with interior gardens over many galleries, it can be said that Oakland had a green roof decades before the term was coined. The build brought together three small museums of history, art, and science which have co-existed almost without change since that time. The current renovation respects the original architecture and mission (grounded in the radical upheaval of the time and place) and updates infrastructure, about 300,000 square feet of exhibit space, and all program offerings. All those leaky concrete roofs and garden beds are getting an upgrade, too. Now two blocks from the BART transit system, Oakland Museum is easy to get to and it is an extraordinary experience. If you can’t visit soon, I recommend Mark Dion’s The Marvelous Museum, an ambitious walk through the nooks and crooks of Oakland’s deep storage and realized in what is certainly the most marvelous publication on any museum done in decades.
We heard about the Herculean team work and flood recovery efforts of the National Czech and Slovak Museum and Library and the Kentucky Derby Museum. You can witness the move of the NCSM&L’s flooded building, 140-tons, happening now. Staging necessitated by climate extremes are just part of the story of the new, all-glass Anchorage Museum. Lessons learned from building a collection and a building for it, resulting in the Phoenix Musical Instrument Museum -- a project made in a decade from idea to delivery, gives new meaning to project management. The planned move of SF’s beloved Exploratorium had us thinking about returning to San Francisco when this museum opens in 2016.
The projects were given context with in-depth discussions of financial considerations -- from how to maximize earned income to raising money in the worst economic downturn ever. The balance between stewardship, sustainability and audience needs was thoughtfully discussed, as were the latest insights on day-lighting new building projects, where and how conservation of objects fit into this work.
The Smithsonian’s Donald W. Reynolds Center for American Art and Portraiture received the third annual Buildy Award, bestowed for outstanding construction which increases awareness within the field, and by the public at large, of the value of museums and the need for their ongoing rehabilitation and expansion to serve future generations. Claire Larkin brief inspiring acceptance speech can be read here.
Happiness, according to research from positive psychology, requires 1) meaningful work 2) mastery over the work 3) the opportunity to work with people you admire and respect and 4) a challenge that is larger than yourself. Every museum building project provides these criteria in abundance as we all learned in San Francisco.