Bohlin Cywinski Jackson | SO - IL - Manetti Shrem Museum of Art
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Manetti Shrem Museum of Art

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson | SO - IL

Culture  /  Completed
Bohlin Cywinski Jackson | SO - IL
Defining the museum as a landscape of cultivation, the design of the recently established Manetti Shrem Museum on at the University of California at Davis captures the Central Valley’s spirit of optimism, imagination, and invention. Cultivation has a divergent etymology, on one hand rural, on the other urban bourgeoisie. The overarching 'Grand Canopy' seeks to embrace both contexts, extending a rolling form patchworked with aluminum beams over both site and building. An environmental silhouette, the design provides identity and awareness to multiple constituencies. The museum’s design-build competition integrated student and community involvement with donor, museum staff and artist engagement.

Beneath the canopy, the spatial and experiential qualities of diversity and transparency underscore the museum’s democratic stance. Casually taking root at the edge of the campus, the unique form of the canopy draws visitors from a distance. Public outdoor areas open the university to the community allowing visitors to be drawn to the building from across the campus and beyond. The subtle interplay of light and shadow across the public plaza helps blur the boundary between civic and institutional spheres. Inside, a glass-walled lobby invites interaction as the convergence of viewing, learning, and making areas. These interconnected interior and exterior spaces create informal opportunities for experiencing art and learning, supporting the museum’s mission to have all visitors become students.

Close attention to the museum’s many contexts led to the innovative organization of its social and physical components enabling the cultivation of relationships. The result offered a model for the museum that is neither isolated nor exclusive, but open and permeable; not a static shrine, but a constantly evolving public event.

The Manetti Shrem museum is free to the public supporting UC Davis’ education-first mission. Education is literally at the front of the museum with a lecture hall, research classroom and studios for art making. The openness and visibility of programming at the Manetti Shrem Museum set it apart from other university art museums. The glass-walled central lobby lounge opens dialogue between the three distinct volumes giving identity to the program types (art galleries, education, administration and visitor amenity). Strategic transparency throughout the project ensures occupants’ awareness of their location within the campus, landscape and the conditions outside. This dual directionality of visibility (from inside to out and vice versa) makes art approachable by multiple audiences, deconstructing the aura around museum space.

Flexibility and variety of spaces throughout the Manetti Shrem Museum allow activities of different types and scales to occur together or in parallel, supporting individual and collective, contemplative and conversational learning activities. The clear-span gallery area is reconfigurable and expandable so that it can host many different kinds of exhibitions and events. The Collections Classroom provides an intimate setting for small seminars to learn directly from actual art objects in the controlled museum environment while the Community Education Room provides flexible space for medium-sized lectures, workshops and events. The Making Yard provides an exterior activity space directly adjacent to the Art Studio, a place for wet art instructional activities. The Events Plaza hosts art performance day and night while providing a captivating entry sequence. Interconnection of spaces encourages interaction between users at the Manetti Shrem Museum. A single-story plan and central lobby lounge allow for barrier-free circulation to all programs. Typically back-of-house program is given windows into public areas, inviting the public to learn about operations and connecting staff to the public. The integration of defined spaces for art and education with flexible, open spaces for studying and gathering facilitates learning between peers, viewers and makers as well as students and teachers.

The project utilizes a spare and largely locally sourced material palette. Extensive shading and the careful calibration of openings in relation to solar orientation allowed the use of very transparent, low-reflective glass. Custom-built, perforated, triangular aluminum beams compose the 50,000 square-foot canopy—the product of an intimate knowledge of both technology and craft. Custom-designed, repetitive and reusable form liners give corrugated precast concrete panels an irregular patterning. Iterative mockups were used to achieve the smooth, even finish of the polished structural concrete slab. This process elevates techniques and materials familiar to the agrarian vernacular, producing artfully considered textural effects and ensuring long-term functionality.

The project employs a steel framed structure with precast concrete and a curved laminated glass façade, and the rolled steel HSS canopy includes bent perforated aluminum shades. From light studies through iterative prototyping and large-scale mock-ups, BIM modeling aided to maximize material efficiency, cut labor costs, and synchronize the design-build team. Straightforward connection details allow for ease of installation and adjustment of the canopy shading elements.

It is a LEED Platinum building--the highest certification level. All LED lighting reduces electrical and heating loads, and monitoring room occupancy further reduces energy use. The open plan facilitates ventilation throughout the single-story structure. Water-saving fixtures and native, drought-tolerant landscaping lessen water consumption in California’s parched Central Valley, and storm water run-off is retained and treated on site. The building incorporates locally sourced materials and ties into the university’s centralized photovoltaic farm.


 Davis, California
 United States of America
 University of California, Davis
 2700 mq
 SO – IL and Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
 Florian Idenburg, Partner, SO – IL; Ilias Papageorgiou, Partner, SO – IL; Jing Liu, Partner, SO – IL; Danny Duong, Project Architect, SO – IL; Karl Backus, Principal, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson; Ryan Keerns, Project Manager, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson; Helene Gregoire, Interior Designer, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson
 Graphic Design: Timothy McNeil, UC Davis, Professor, Design, Acoustics: Cunningham Engineering, Civil Engineer: Cunningham Engineering, Structural Engineer: Rutherford & Chekene, Lighting: Fisher Marantz Stone, Canopy Engineering: Front, Inc., Landscape Design and Construction: Office of Cheryl Barton, Designer Lutsko Associates, Landscape Competition: The Office of Cheryl Barton, Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing/Security/Sustainability: WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff
 Insulated Glazing Units: Oldcastle, Acoustical Plaster Ceiling: StarSilent by Pyrok, Acoustical Wood Slat Ceilings: Armstrong, Door Hardware: Blumcraft, Glass Garage Doors: C.H.I. Overhead Doors, Wood Floors: Armstrong
 Iwan Baan


SO – IL , an award winning architectural design firm, envisions spaces for culture, learning and innovation. Founded by Florian Idenburg and Jing Liu in 2008, the office is based in New York and currently led together with Ilias Papageorgiou. SO – IL partakes in the production of buildings, interiors, furniture and landscapes around the world. As a collective of diverse thinkers and makers, the office engages with the ever changing social, economic and natural environment through active dialogue that considers context, function, and opportunity.
Bohlin Cywinski Jackson is noted for elegant and humane design, ranging from modest houses to large academic, civic, cultural, commercial and corporate buildings. Their principals and staff are deeply committed to active collaboration with our clients, emphasizing thorough research and analysis of each situation's particular human, technical and economic circumstances. The result is exceptional architecture that resonates within its place.

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