From Modern to More Modern

Oakland Museum of California plumbs its mid-century design roots in $15M remodel
Fridays on the Homefront
The Oakland Museum of California's upcoming $15 million renovation is part of an $85 million 'All In' campaign for the 50th anniversary of the museum. The renovation includes some fairly major changes, adding two ramps to the existing one and removing a large concrete wall facing 10th Street. "We're turning that into a glass window, so that will really open up the space," says Lindsay Wright, associate director of communications for the museum, pointing out the mid-century modern influence. Pictured above: OMCA entrance today. Photo: courtesy the Oakland Museum of California; photographer: Matthew Millman

The Oakland Museum of California may not be the Guggenheim, but few other mid-century museums still extant are as modern-styled as OMCA. And yet…why not make it more so?

"We just want to make that even more apparent with the renovation," says Lindsay Wright, associate director of communications for the museum, speaking of mid-century modern influence on its ongoing, $15 million remodel.

The project is part of an $85 million 'All In' campaign for the 50th anniversary of the museum, which opened in 1969 with the merger of three early 20th century museums: the Oakland Public Museum, Oakland Art Gallery, and the Snow Museum of Natural History. Those sites are represented by the three core galleries alongside the Great Hall of rotating exhibits in the 110,000 square feet of gallery space.

Fridays on the Homefront
A detailed view of OMCA's site plan from an aerial perspective. Rendering courtesy Hood Design Studio

The 7.7-acre campus was originally designed by architect Kevin Roche, and Wright promises, "I would say the actual design is not changing that much."

The Irish-born Roche designed seven other museums, including the master plan for New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and an array of other public and private buildings, eventually winning the Pritzker Prize in 1982. A former staff architect for Eero Saarinen and Associates, he also won a 'Gold Medal' from the American Institute of Architects before dying last March at age 96.

In fact, the renovation does include some fairly major changes, adding two ramps to the existing one and removing a large concrete wall facing 10th Street.

Fridays on the Homefront
OMCA's new entrance along Oak Street includes new native plantings along the terraces. Rendering courtesy Hood Design Studio

"We're turning that into a glass window, so that will really open up the space," said Wright, who has been with the museum since 2016. She predicted that the glass wall will provide "that kind of indoor-outdoor California," adding, "I think our campus is a lot like that."

The last major renovation of the museum was a $58 million update in 2009 and '10 with its biggest impact on the galleries and interior space. This current one, focused elsewhere, is mostly designed by the San Francisco architecture firm of Mark Cavagnero and Associates, but as Wright said, "He's working primarily on the café conversion and interior elements."

"The whole café concept will really be revisioned," said the spokeswoman, explaining that the expansion will also bring in a new operator for the Blue Oak Cafe with the goal of becoming "a destination for dining" in downtown Oakland.