Morphosis designes the Orange County Museum of Art
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Morphosis designs a fluid, open and welcoming building for the Orange County Museum of Art

The project in Costa Mesa, California, opens onto an open plaza dominated by a Richard Serra sculpture


Morphosis designes the Orange County Museum of Art
By Michael Webb -
Mitsubishi Electric has participated in the project

Morphosis won the competition to design a new building for the Orange County Museum of Art (OCMA) in 2009 but changes in the museum leadership and the $94 million capital campaign delayed construction.  It was well worth the wait. Design Director Thom Mayne, Partner-in-Charge Brandon Welling and Project Architect Crystal Wang have created a dynamic, three-level structure, that curves and flows to draw visitors into an open-plan lobby and a grid of eight lofty, interconnected galleries behind. Stairs rise into a tapered, top-lit vortex, traversed by three translucent glass walkways at different levels. Temporary exhibitions are installed at the mezzanine level, and the top floor café and restaurant lead out to an expansive roof terrace. To one side, serving as a key feature of the entry façade, is a soaring classroom with bleacher seating and a wedge of glass overlooking the plaza.


The museum and the sculpture by Richard Serra

Orange County Museum of Art - Morphosis © Mike Kelley, courtesy of Morphosis

OCMA is tightly sandwiched between a road to the east and Pelli Clarke & Partners’ Segerstrom Concert Hall to the west. It opens up to the north, where a monumental Richard Serra sculpture dominates an open plaza. To replace the green space that was formerly used for picnics by locals and concertgoers in this arts complex, the architects have transplanted street trees to the roof and installed a grand flight of steps that double as bleachers. The principal façades and interior are clad in custom-designed panels of pale terracotta: a material that is tactile and malleable, which contrasts well with the bowed glass frontage of Pelli’s concert hall and the blank concrete wall across the plaza.

Orange County Museum of Art - Morphosis © Mike Kelley, courtesy of Morphosis

The museum was founded 60 years ago and is now located in Costa Mesa, 70 km south of downtown Los Angeles. Formerly a farming town, it has grown eight-fold since its incorporation in 1953, becoming a residential and commercial hub and home to South Coast Plaza, one of the largest upscale shopping malls in the US. Early on, Isamu Noguchi was commissioned to create a sculpture plaza that’s walled off with office towers and parking garages. More recently Henry Segerstrom, a local developer, established the eponymous arts center, introducing Orange County to the novelty of inventive public architecture, even as Bohlin Cywinski Jackson realized their hotly contested design for the Newport Beach Civic Center a few kilometers away.


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A fluid, open and welcoming building

Orange County Museum of Art - Morphosis © Mike Kelley, courtesy of Morphosis

It was a bold move for the museum to commission Morphosis – a firm that does not compromise in its commitment to architecture as an art.  Their design team have responded with a building that is much more fluid, open and welcoming than their monumental Perot Museum in Dallas.

As Mayne recalls, “We spent ten years working with the board on the concept, offering them around 14 different schemes and persuading them that the museum should be stand-alone, not the base of a tower. We got lucky; the final scheme was the strongest. Like Jim Stirling’s Stadtgalerie in Stuttgart, which was a major source of inspiration, it has to engage the community and become a part of the city. My prime concern was creating public space that expresses the goals of a young institution which is still building its audience”.

Orange County Museum of Art - Morphosis © Mike Kelley, courtesy of Morphosis

The scale is modest but the 5,000-sq. m building has a compelling presence. The east side is extensively glazed to reveal a mural on a screen wall that shades the foyer from sunlight. Nearly half the floor space is devoted to galleries that are lit from ceiling louvers and divided by walls that are cut away. From the upper level you can look down and catch a glimpse of the exemplary collection of contemporary California artworks. And there is abundant space for presentations of sculpture on the roof terrace, though the Serra might overwhelm any work that dared to compete for attention on the entry plaza.


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Location: Costa Mesa, California (USA)
Completion: 2022
Architect: Morphosis
Design team: Thom Mayne (Design Director), Brandon Welling (Partner-in-Charge) e Crystal Wang (Project Architect)

Structures: John A. Martin & Associates
MEP: Buro Happold
Civil: KPFF
Sustainability: Buro Happold
Landscape: OJB Landscape Architecture
Signage / Graphics: Follis Design, Weidner CA
Lighting: Horton Lees Brogden Lighting Design, TM Light
Acoustics: Newson Brown Acoustics
Audiovisual / IT: Waveguide
Security: Exante 360
Façade: Walter P Moore
Code / Life Safety: Simpson Gumpertz & Heger
Specifications: Construction Specifications Inc.
Cost Estimator: Dharam Consulting
Commissioning: Integrated Commissioning Solutions
Projection: VT Pro
Geotech: Leighton Consulting

General Contractor: Clark Construction Group
Elevators: Mitsubishi Electric

Photography by Mike Kelley, courtesy of Morphosis

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