by Jerry ElengicalApr 30, 2022
Rising with strength and beauty like the sound of an orchestra through a concert hall, the new Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) in Costa Mesa, a city in California, is a structural composition that deftly combines sculpture and future-forward design thinking.
The OCMA focuses on 20the and 21st century art by artists with ties to California in the United States. In the mid-2000s, an expansion was planned and a suitable new home was identified: a portion of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, a massive campus of performance venues and public spaces.
Morphosis, the influential design studio founded by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne won the competition to design the facility in 2007 and construction finally began in 2019. The overall design of the building addresses the need for museum space to be functional as well as inviting and memorable. OCMA’s new expansion was to accommodate its permanent collection of important modern art and contemporary art. It also comprises educational spaces as well as open settings for the public where they can be enriched and included in the development of the community through art.
The low-lying entrance in the north façade, intentionally curves back from the Connector, an iconic 60 ft tall weathered-steel sculpture by Richard Serra, creating a plaza. This gesture positions itself as an inviting neighbour to the adjacent, eclectic mega structures of the Segerstrom Center. Glass doors give way to a soaring atrium, 50 feet high and topped with a clear skylight. The sudden shift in volume is dramatic and sets the tone for the entire spatial experience, where glass and concrete are constantly intertwined.
A few steps down is the main level, accommodating the major galleries. These spaces within the overall irregular mass all required uninterrupted sight lines, and are thus the long-span arenas arranged in complex configurations. Since it was originally an open field, the architects wanted to 'give back' the building to the community. “.. we[conceptually] lifted the field and inserted the museum under it,” explains Brandon Welling, a partner in charge. This created a 28000 square foot, “outdoor room” at street level, largely linear, with free access to the exhibitions, drawing visitors in and all the way out to the street towards the east. The main galleries are serene and tranquil white, lit by LED lighting overhead that replicates the feel of daylight.
There is also a ‘storefront’ gallery located along Avenue of the Arts—providing passers-by a view into the exhibition space. The Visionaries Gallery above is a smaller, more intimate space that connects to the mezzanine galleries via a sky bridge.
A massive set of stairs appears after the lobby and proceeds up to a large plaza that sits at the mezzanine level. The staircase was conceived as a versatile public space reminiscent of the Spanish Steps in Rome, but begins indoors and then passes through the façade to the outside, where it again meets the Connector. A spacious roof terrace, equivalent in size to 70 per cent of the building's footprint, serves as an extension of the galleries, with a sculpture garden and reconfigurable open-air spaces. Further, the Verdant Café and the Chalmers Pavilion event space, located on the art museum’s terrace level provide visitors with a chic dining experience in a bright and creative setting that overlooks the city.
According to Thom Mayne and Brandon Welling, “The strong relationship in the building between indoor and outdoor space will encourage visitors to immerse themselves in the celebrated climate of Southern California, where light, air, and space have influenced generations of artists.”
From the galleries, the asymmetrical, sculptural atrium is seen. Folding terracotta-clad forms and steel bridges crisscross the illuminated volume internally. The 900-square-foot Education Pavilion above is a partially cantilevered volume visible from a distance, purposefully allotted here to emphasise their priority of education. It contains spaces for educational programming and performance space that looks out through floor-to-ceiling glazing to the terrace level.
Primarily devised in concrete and steel, the curving forms painted white lend the building a sleek, modern feel. The high-performance façade design, a meandering terracotta tile-clad entity, swoops in and out of the structure, revealing glimpses of life inside. The dynamic exterior skin is an irregular form precisely manufactured using glazed terracotta and cutting-edge digital techniques. Using 6,534 tiles, fabricated by Boston Valley Terra Cotta through longstanding extrusion methods, the cladding has an internal cell structure, thereby reducing its weight but not its strength. This method of creation lends a distinctive hand-made feel to the skin, where the tint varies from tile to tile and mitigates it from being perceived as stark or indifferent. About 70 per cent of the tiles were made flat, while others were draped over wooden forms to create specific curves or bends.
“By creating a gradient of architectural intensity, from complex forms at the museum’s entry to rectilinear and flexible forms within the galleries, the building is a memorable and striking environment for formal and informal experiences with art," mentions the firm in a press statement.