UC Davis Selects Art Museum Design Competition Finalists


All images copyright UC Davis

In the early 1960’s, the University of California, Davis began building an arts department with relatively unknown artists such as Wayne Thiebaud and Robert Arneson and forever changed the world of modern art.  In 1984, Jan Shrem of Clos Pegase in Napa Valley, together with SFMOMA, organized the first design competition for a winery and changed the world of wine.  On April 3, UC Davis unveiled the three finalists in the first design-build competition in the country for a new museum underwritten by the Shrems, carrying on the groundbreaking legacies of both.

The Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art will be located on a prominent 1.6 acre site highly visible to the busy Interstate 80 corridor and will include art galleries, classroom, office and public spaces.  The finalists were selected for creating innovative spaces that foster free-thinking and interaction among students, faculty and the community while advancing the bar for sustainable design set by the Mondavi Institute at UC Davis, the first LEED Platinum certified brewery and winery in the world completed in 2010.


A bold icon:  The Slant

Design architect: WORKac, NYC 

Executive architect: Westlake Reed Leskosky 

Contractor: Kitchell 


View from Interstate 80

From above, the Slant is shaped as a neat parallelogram skewed to the diagonal property line to the south but from the ground, the Slant is sleek with an aeronautic look that signals forward movement.  Opposite corners are lifted up to 50 feet and opposing corners swooped down almost to the ground to create an efficient envelope against solar gain.  Sunlight invades the space through strategically placed cutouts protected with glazed surfaces.


Model Photo, Museum Entry

In contrast to the boldness of the light metal clad main building, Dan Wood of design firm WORKac described the front entrance as “more friendly and intimate, with lots of glass.”  The lifted canopy opens directly to the Quad and the Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts across the street, with “the two buildings talking to each other.”


The Art Tribune

An art-filled “tribune” of steps and platforms creates what WORKac architect Amale Andraos called “a new way to appreciate art in a casual way.”  The tribune leads up to informal art spaces, classrooms and light-filled terraces, while the formal galleries are downstairs.


Fields of Creativity:  The Canopy

Design architect: SO – IL, NYC 

Executive architect: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson

Contractor: Whiting-Turner 


Aerial View

The design of The Canopy resonates deeply with UC Davis’ agrarian and creative roots.  It represents the work of both SO-IL and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, the latter known for designing Apple Stores worldwide – including its iconic 5th Avenue glass cube – and Pixar Studios.

SO-IL design architects Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu were inspired by Wayne Thiebaud’s landscapes of the surrounding Delta farmland.  It’s not a single building but a patchwork of low-profile buildings and meandering spaces unified under a rising field of variegated, permeable cover.  Like the surrounding farmland, the extensive outdoor spaces would change with the seasons and daylight, creating fertile ground for innovative thoughts.


Perspective from Under the Roof


In designing such an open, dynamic and brightly lit space, SO-IL considered how the public views art today, through virtual platforms like tumblr or ambling through abandoned buildings.  In a digital world, Idenburg said, museum curators dictate the narrative with static images.  In a modern world, through openness of design, students and visitors create their own narrative.


Model of the Canopy

The outdoor spaces were designed to showcase art installations under, and from, the canopy overhead, creating a locus of activity for students and visitors.


Modern Stature:  The Leaf

Design architect: Henning Larsen Architects, Copenhagen 

Executive architect: Gould Evans 

Contractor: Oliver and Company


View from Campus/Building Entry

Henning Larsen’s Leaf is the most formal of the three designs, befitting the stature of UC Davis in the world of research, education and the arts.  A clean, modern building topped by a flat, leaf-shaped roof canopy, the glass-fronted northern face freely engages with the Quad in front of it.  The galleries were designed around the art collection, according to Henning Larsen architect Michael Sorenson, two-thirds of which are small works.  Four adjacent galleries are separated by pivoting walls that can adjust to UC Davis’ changing needs. 


View of Lobby and Donor Bookshelf Wall


The double-height entry gives presence for the main art galleries on the first floor but sections of the interiors are also designed for informal student space.


View of “Hangout” Ramp under the “Leaf”


The formality of the exterior design is also balanced by the whimsy of an outdoor “hangout” ramp of irregular steps covered by a cantilevered section of the roof.  Sorenson said “it’s like the Metropolitan Museum, but in a UC Davis kind of way.”  The ramp leads up to an outdoor courtyard created by a large opening in the canopy, further integrating the museum with its environment and creating multiple opportunities for ad hoc gatherings.


Model of the Leaf entrance with alternate view of the Ramp

The winning design will be announced in mid-May.  Descriptions and images of the designs are on the Shrem Museum and facebook sites and, along with detailed architectural models, at the Nelson Gallery at UC Davis now through May 19.  Open daily except Friday by appointment, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., free admission.


More news: