Museum of Contemporary Art redesign faces architects’ criticisms
by DAVE SCHWAB
Published - 09/07/18 - 11:00 AM | 14537 views | 0 0 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Coast Boulevard facade of MCASD. / PHOTO BY BLAKE BUNCH
The Coast Boulevard facade of MCASD. / PHOTO BY BLAKE BUNCH
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The Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s (MCASD) director and CEO defended the institution against a claim by international architects and historians who’ve branded work which will destroy the museum’s post-modern entryway as “a tremendous mistake.”

One of two MCASD campuses, the oceanfront La Jolla branch has been closed since January 2017.  An addition/retrofit, scheduled to begin in October, will quadruple its current gallery space from 10,000 to about 40,000 square feet. 

During reconstruction, the museum’s current entryway, designed by high-profile post-modern architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, will shift the entrance to the building’s south side, removing the signature columns and pergolas that have been there since 1996.

“We recognize the museum’s need to expand, but we ask that it do so without irreparably damaging a cultural landmark,” said a petition to MCASD signed by Harvard University architecture student Yaxuan Liu and about 90 others. “Brown and Venturi are widely recognized as among the 20th  century’s most important architects … this building remains a shining reminder of their enduring cultural contribution. This  well-loved  urban  space  is  now  threatened  by  the  museum’s  expansion  plan, which would  tear  down  much  of  the museum’s facade  as  well  as  their  dramatic  colonnade interrupting  the  urbane  rhythm  of  the  street  and  destroying  the  courtyard.”  

MCASD La Jolla’s expansion-renovation was designed by  Annabelle Selldorf of New York-based Selldorf Architects, who is leading the museum reconstruction project.

Kathryn Kanjo, the museum’s director/CEO, was puzzled by the petition drive’s timing.

“The building redesign has been in the process since as early as 2014,” said Kanjo, noting, “changes are planned to the facade removing the colonnade, the pergola and the oversized columns and re-orienting the campus entry path. We’re rethinking the entrance, not just for aesthetic experiential things, but because the center of activity for the building has shifted to the south, where we’re moving the entrance.”

Kanjo added the public “was often confused on where to enter the old building.” She said what MCASD has asked for was “for somebody to give us more flexible gallery spaces for our collection and to unify and bring some kind of clarity to our historical buildings.”

The museum’s administrator said the objective of the museum redesign was to “make a clear and welcoming building entryway that would draw people in and let them know it’s a museum.”

Kanjo added Seldorf’s plan is to reconfigure MCASD La Jolla’s entryway “to make it glassy and welcoming, not a forest of columns.”

Sherwood Auditorium and its 500-seat capacity is gone in MCASD’s retrofit, replaced by exhibit space. But Kanjo said reconstruction plans include a 250-seat classroom/lecture/theater space.

Answering the charge of critics that MCASD is ignoring its own architectural history in its redesign, Kanjo replied: “Their petition wanted us to consider the history of the building. We did. We’ve been very systematic in considering not just our architectural history, but how our audience and the community use this building.”

Opened in 1941, MCASD La Jolla has previously undergone several architectural expansions: La Jolla architects Mosher & Drew completed a series of expansions in 1950, 1960 and the late 1970s; and Venturi Scott Brown & Associates’ did an entryway renovation in 1996.

The dissenting petition by architects/historians disapproves of MCASD’s current La Jolla campus refit.

“It would move the museum ’s entry to a formulaic glass lobby that thumbs its nose at Gill ’s architecture... Demolishing the colonnade would prevent visitors from experiencing it in the way Gill intended… The new plan is a slap in the face to  Gill … it would reduce the ties between  Prospect Street and the museum… We ask that the museum does better, that it come up with a plan for expansion that is sensitive and respectful to the Village of La Jolla,” the petition read.

We ask that it avoid demolishing the colonnade and build its new galleries without harming the carefully planned existing circulation.”
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