Oakland Museum of California

Architype Dialogue presents

Mark Cavagnero

What was the most difficult issue about working within this building type or the most unexpected challenge that may have influenced new thought in your project?

The building is an important building beloved in the community of Oakland, and within the larger San Francisco Bay Area. Changing and adding onto it brought a level of responsibility that we took very seriously. At the same time, numerous programmatic, code, engineering, circulation, wayfinding, exhibition and functional aspects of the museum needed to be changed in significant ways. At a minimum, the museum wanted additional enclosed exhibition space, a clear strong entry on Oak Street and enclosures over the exterior stairways, all of which required dramatic changes to the building. Making significant changes yet retaining the original feel of a building, which is at once a museum and a garden, was the single largest challenge.

Since the project required that we work episodically across the vast site of the museum, we developed and adhered to a language of lightness and transparency as counterpoint to the rugged quality of the all concrete original design to ensure and maintain an overall coherence and consistency to the project.

The unexpected challenges were related to the monolithic concrete construction of the structure. Ductwork, for instance, was cast in place, yet too small for current HVAC demands. There was no place to conceal new electrical power or light tracks, etc. Systems and infrastructure challenges were everywhere, and we had to work with our team of engineers to find creative solutions that worked within the confines of what was architecturally possible.

Did this project expand or evolve your role as an architect in any way? In general, do you feel that the role of the architect is changing on current projects?

As the project developed, we assumed the role of exhibition designer in the art galleries on the third level. In so doing, we integrated architecture, preservation and exhibition concerns with more typical design direction and responsibilities of lighting, graphics and mechanical/electrical systems. As the existing building is both powerful and highly exposed, all interventions were by definition manifest and therefore needed to be highly studied, integrated and resolved. It was simply too cumbersome to have multiple designers working in such close quarters in such exposed conditions.

The project also involved a deft handling of a public/private partnership in our working closely with the City of Oakland and the museum foundation in weaving together a project that satisfies each of their needs.

At the same time, the museum needed to raise a considerable sum of money amidst an economic downturn. We were part of a team which met with Board members and potential institutional donors to convey the enthusiasm and opportunities of the project to enable its fulfillment.

How is your building possible today in a way that it may not have been before and how have trends in technology and society inspired new thought and solutions?

The extensive network of planters that make up the ‘green roof’ of the museum has over the years been a maintenance challenge in ensuring a dry gallery environment that resides beneath the rooftop terraces. The roofing technology of today has allowed us to work to the inherent horizontality and minimal slopes of the existing building.

Our stainless steel roofs have extremely shallow slopes to reflect a minimal approach to the intervention of new forms into the large existing complex. These roof attachment systems remain watertight despite their shallow slope.

In the context of this project, how is your office and design process being influenced by current trends in academic curricula and incoming young architects? In turn, how are current projects and processes guiding the ongoing reformulation and development of academic curricula?

We are able to use three-dimensional software to study form and the intervention of new forms into a complex existing building from the project inception. Moreover, we used these software tools to study the lighting qualities of the materials we were considering. Our new design proposed stainless steel inserted into concrete courtyards and the quality of light reflection was very important to overall project success.

Also, in the context of the discourse on sustainability, we approached the project with an attitude of design restraint in finding optimized and alternative solutions that accomplish more with less: less structure, less material, less mechanical devices and generally less infrastructure.

Architype Review thanks Mark Cavagnero for his interview and for contributing to this collection of Architype Dialogue.

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