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“Grand Canopy” Design Wins UC-Davis Museum Competition

Exterior rendering of the Shrem museum which includes the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts
The Shrem museum will complete the south end of a quad that also includes the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. Courtesy of SO-IL and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, associated architects

A 50,000 sq ft steel canopy linking indoor and outdoor spaces will provide a home to little-seen art and invigorate a California campus.

June 25, 2013—With an innovative design featuring a massive steel canopy hovering over “seamless” interior and exterior spaces, a team of architects, engineers, and builders has solved a problem plaguing the University of California-Davis (UC-Davis) for years: how to properly display its 4,000-piece collection of art.

Ground is scheduled to be broken in February 2014 on the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, designed by the Brooklyn, New York-based architecture firm SO-IL, in conjunction with the Baltimore-based construction firm Whiting-Turner, and architect Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. The museum is designed to showcase thousands of pieces in the school’s collection that haven’t been given proper display for years. By the time the $30-million project is completed sometime in 2016, it will cap a fine arts-oriented section of campus that also includes the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts; the entire complex will be visible by passing motorists on Interstate 80, the east-west highway that links Davis with Sacramento and San Francisco.

Although Davis is a small city of 60,000—a population that increases by 50 percent when school is in session—it will have a world-class museum designed by a firm that won the 2010 Museum of Modern Art Young Architects Program prize, SO-IL. “We’re a young firm,” says Ilias Papageorgiou, an associate principal of SO-IL. “[The project] is very important for our firm’s next step in the U.S. To be able to realize our ideas on a bigger scale, in the setting of this very important campus in the U.S., [is] a great opportunity.”

And for Julianne Nola, RA, LEED-AP, the assistant director of design and construction management for UC Davis and the museum project’s manager, the building offers an exciting opportunity. “How many people get to work on an art museum?” she asks. “They don’t come along that often. We have some amazing artists who have been kept under cover a bit. So it will be great for the university to have our artists recognized and appreciated by the campus, the alumni, the current students, and the faculty.”  

 Aerial view rendering of the Shrem museum which includes the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts

 The museum on the Davis campus will be visible as motorists
pass by along Interstate 80 between Sacramento and the San
Francisco Bay area. Courtesy of SO-IL and Bohlin Cywinski
Jackson, associated architects

The SO-IL team began work on its proposal in late 2012 and was called in for an interview in the first part of 2013. By April, Papageorgiou and his team were given a chance to face off with two other challengers for the museum’s design. The competition called for the use of the design/build project delivery method, so each team had to be complete before entering, and the members had to have an agreed-upon budget and work structure in mind before submitting a final proposal.

“There was good chemistry from the beginning,” says Papageorgiou of his team. “It was an integrative and collaborative process. There was a very open flow of information between the three firms.” The team learned it won the competition on May 1, and since then it has been refining elements of its proposal, affectionately called “The Grand Canopy” by the university. The refinements aren’t geared toward adding any additional elements, Papageorgiou says, but on developing the canopy design in greater details. “In a way, it’s like zooming in,” he says.

The 50,000 sq ft steel canopy will hover over 29,000 sq ft of interior space as well as exterior space, creating a welcoming transition zone that takes advantage of the region’s favorable climate. The area encompassed by the canopy will be used to display works of art, host social events, and provide a teaching venue.

Clayton Halliday, the assistant vice chancellor of the university and the campus architect, says that the university and the designers are working to determine which sections of the canopy should be designed in a way that admits some sunlight, and which sections might require a rain shield. The appearance of the underside of the canopy as visitors gaze upward is still under discussion, as is the actual height of the canopy, both at the point at which it meets the entryway of the museum structure and at its highest point. The canopy will be supported on slender columns, and much of the structure will be fabricated off-site, Halliday says. A high-quality, rust-inhibiting paint will be used for the exterior steel structure.

 Night rendering underneath the museum's canopy

The canopy cutouts allow for direct sunlight, views of the night
sky, and ample room for tree growth. Courtesy of SO-IL and
Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, associated architects

“As far as the design itself, for us it was important to both have a presence from the freeway [and] to have it fit within the campus well,” says Nola. “We wanted it to sit within the campus context and yet still look like it was something besides an academic building. Out of the three designs, this one most truly represented the operational needs of the museum. This one really had the program and morphed the building around it.”

Thus far, funds have been raised to support just under half the project’s budget. The remainder will be financed using tax-exempt bonds. The school has pledged not to use student tuition or state funds for museum construction.

While news of decreasing construction and increasing tuitions within the University of California system has made recent headline—fallout from the recent economic downturn—there has still been plenty of construction on the UC-Davis campus, due in part to donations. The Shrems’ gift of $10 million came in December 2011 and took the museum from concept to its 2014 groundbreaking. Now Nola’s challenge is to make the museum’s construction as seamless as possible for the campus.

“This is actually a relatively easier job site,” she says. “We’re on the outskirts of what we consider our inner campus. It’s the difference between building in an urban environment versus building in the country. “It [should be] pretty easy, but we have provisions in place for how the contractors will access the site, safety measures, and protection of the site itself.”

Due to the climate-control requirements of the artwork, the building will need to have various mechanical temperature-control systems installed. Nola says the university will be sure that whatever system it chooses has as “green” a footprint as possible.

When the museum is complete UC-Davis will have its landmark and SO-IL will likely have a jewel in its United States portfolio. “This will be right up there as far as projects that are really cutting-edge,” says Nola.


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    It is surely a remarkable piece of architecture. The idea of making it with steel and making its interior and exterior seamless is unique. The design of canopy allows to display 4,000-piece collection of art. Its steel body and seamless structure make it spacious and bright. I found some interesting writing ideas and services here I hope you like it. Thanks for sharing impressive design.

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