An Addition that Doesn't Subtract

Rather than try to imitate a historic neighbor, the Building Team behind the addition to San Diego's Museum of Contemporary Art went for contrast.

August 01, 2007 |

Downtown San Diego has been experiencing record growth in recent years, with new condo buildings and office towers popping up everywhere. But that growth has also created a shortfall of cultural facilities. One such institution, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, suffered from limited gallery space in its historic 1914 Spanish revival building and clearly needed to expand.

The MCA's main site is in La Jolla, in what was once the residence of Ellen Browning Scripps, designed by Irving Gill and completed in 1915. That historic structure was renovated and expanded in 1996. The MCA San Diego was originally a baggage-handling center for the adjacent Santa Fe Depot, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The challenge for the San Diego facility was to add 30,000 sf of program space, new exhibition and event facilities, and an artist-in-residence studio to the existing downtown building—all on just $9.75 million from donors. The new structure also had to fit in with its historic neighbor and the growing steel-and-glass forest of condos, offices, and restaurants nearby.

Five years ago, the museum announced its expansion plans and chose architect Richard Gluckman, FAIA, of the New York firm Gluckman Mayner Architects, to design the new building and lead the interior renovations on the existing galleries at the former baggage building.

“Our vision for downtown was to provide an engaging atmosphere for people to experience contemporary art in a variety of spaces,” said museum director Hugh Davies.

Gluckman, whose previous work included Pittsburgh's Andy Warhol Museum and New York's Dia Center for the Arts, worked with local firm Heritage Architecture & Planning to restore the one-time baggage building, now renamed the Jacobs Building after donors Joan and Irwin Jacobs. The Building Team's plan included converting smaller galleries and administrative rooms into larger gallery spaces. They also designed the more modern three-story, 13,680-sf David Copley Building (named for another donor, the publisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune) for the museum's offices and event space.

“Given a classic historic structure like this, the best way to celebrate it, preserve it, and present it was to create an addition that was drastically different yet brought some of the aesthetic detail of it out,” Gluckman said. “The use of corrugated metal that looks like the train cars that pass through this hub on the exterior was one of those details.”

After cleaning the original terra-cotta roof tile on the Jacobs Building, the Building Team was able to match the color with that of the new building's corrugated metal exterior. Then Gluckman and his team looked for other modern building materials that would not clash with either the Jacobs Building or the surrounding neighborhood.

“We chose a technical-industrial exterior design with corrugated metal, channel glass, and concrete to set it off from the [original] building,” Gluckman said.

Seismic and acoustic requirements

The transformation of the Jacobs Building also required a seismic upgrade, as well as acoustic soundproofing to seal off the museum from the noise of the nearby trolley and train hub. To maximize installation space Gluckman opened up the interior space as much as possible and added new arched windows to allow natural light to penetrate and still not detract from the historic façade. MEP/structural engineer Arup and construction manager H.R. Weatherford added steel structural framing to the new, enlarged galleries and windows.

Three adjacent galleries totaling 14,000 sf can be divided and closed off. The systems upgrade also included projection and lighting wiring that will allow the museum to host multimedia exhibits. One of its first exhibitions upon reopening last February was a projected photography exhibit.

Gluckman housed all the event and office space in the new building, which allowed him to keep the focus of visitors on the historic structure as the more important of the two buildings.

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