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Mingei International Museum Renovation and Extension

The Esthetics of the Everyday

LUCE et studio

Mingei International Museum Renovation and Extension
By Luca Maria Francesco Fabris -

The Mingei International Museum in San Diego is one of those heart-warming American stories serving as a warning but also as a stimulus to improve our own lives. It has been a story of women from the outset, in 1978, when Professor Martha Longenecker, a well-known expert in the world’s craft traditions down the centuries, established the museum to show the consummate skills all civilizations on the planet have employed to create useful, innovative but also beautiful everyday objects.

People’s love of beautiful things was once met by long-forgotten craftsmen who produced exquisitely crafted objects. Today, we have handed the task to designers. The Japanese neologism mingei, or “art of the people”, led to a school of thought that is as relevant today as it was in 1921, when philosopher Sōetsu Yanagi adopted it as the name of the first folk-craft museum founded in Seoul. A historian of Japanese ceramics but also an esteemed potter, Longenecker took the same concept of mingei to set up her own museum.

Housed in a 1915 Spanish Colonial-style building, originally constructed for the Panama-California Exposition and remodeled in 1935, the museum is conveniently located close to Balboa Park, San Diego’s first public park opened in 1868 and still today the city’s largest public green area with over 485 ha. When, in 2015, the museum’s Board decided to make a dozen minor renovations, Montreal-born architect Jennifer Luce, a long-term resident of San Diego, got involved. Founder of the well-known LUCE et studio and fully aware of the Mingei International Museum’s value and potential, Luce decided to make a counter-proposal: a thorough, rather than piecemeal, renovation of the museum that although maintaining the historic aspect of the original building would revolutionize existing spaces, add new ones and bring into service unused areas. As well as modernizing the layout of the existing...

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