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Thom Mayne design unveiled for future home of Orange County Museum of Art

Thom Mayne design unveiled for future home of Orange County Museum of Art
Stairs that will join OCMA to an existing plaza are meant to serve as something of a gathering place at Segerstrom Center for the Arts, the architect said. (Morphosis Architects)

The Orange County Museum of Art unveiled plans Thursday for its future home, a Thom Mayne-designed building at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts that represents a move 10 years in the making.

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The new 52,000-square-foot building will increase exhibition space by 50% compared with the museum’s current location in Newport Beach, officials said. The 25,000 square feet of gallery space will be complemented with 10,000 square feet dedicated to educational programs, performances and other public events.

The view from the existing Argyros Plaza toward OCMA’s main entrance, located near the Richard Serra sculpture “Connector.”
The view from the existing Argyros Plaza toward OCMA’s main entrance, located near the Richard Serra sculpture “Connector.” (Morphosis Architects)

The modern building will have an open-air roof terrace covering 70% of the museum site. The plaza, with indoor art galleries tucked beneath it, will host film screenings and outdoor art installations, among other events. The outdoor space will be key to the museum’s identity, said Mayne, the Pritzker Prize winner who founded the Culver City-based firm Morphosis.

“Rather than building an icon, we chose to expand the public space, which the building supported. I’d say we gave the site back,” Mayne said, adding that his vision is for the museum to be intimately stitched into the Segerstrom campus, the largest arts hub in Orange County. The center includes three other buildings that together host eight performance venues, including the outdoor Argyros Plaza.

“The project was interested, very early on, in its relationship to the urban setting as well as its relationship to the community,” Mayne said. “It faces the plaza that connects us to the campus — we’re the last component of the cultural center we’re part of. So it’s part of a broader idea.”

OCMA’s ground floor and mezzanine will hold open, flexible galleries for permanent collection installations and temporary exhibitions.
OCMA’s ground floor and mezzanine will hold open, flexible galleries for permanent collection installations and temporary exhibitions. (Morphosis Architects)
In the entrance lobby, light-filled atrium space will be crossed by bridges to an educational hall and mezzanine galleries.
In the entrance lobby, light-filled atrium space will be crossed by bridges to an educational hall and mezzanine galleries. (Morphosis Architects)

Segerstrom Center is home to the Pacific Symphony, the Philharmonic Society of Orange County and the Pacific Chorale, and it also hosts major touring productions; “Hamilton” ended its Orange County run there Sunday. The center is also adjacent to the South Coast Repertory theater.

The new building will be “very site specific,” Mayne said. However, in designing the staircase that leads from Argyros Plaza to the art museum’s terrace, Mayne said, he took inspiration from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s entrance stairs, where visitors often gather for conversation.

The Met stairs, he said, are “a social conduit. It’s a very urban piece. And we were interested in developing a very urban idea in a suburban environment.”

The roof terrace at OCMA will provide a space for events and gatherings.
The roof terrace at OCMA will provide a space for events and gatherings. (Morphosis Architects)

OCMA Director Todd D. Smith called the museum design accessible and dynamic — “all the things you want of a 21st century art museum.”

The increase in exhibition space, he said, will allow OCMA to showcase work from its collection — more than 3,500 objects of modern and contemporary art from California and Pacific Rim artists gathered since the late 1960s — while simultaneously hosting traveling exhibitions.

“The story of this museum has only ever been told in episodes and moments, not in one story,” he said. “This is a much newer way to look at the collection, and trends emerging around it, and trends that preceded it. The new space gives us the freedom to show our collection as a core exhibition. And to have a core identity.”

A timeline was also part of Thursday’s reveal: The museum will close its home at 850 San Clemente Drive in Newport Center, by the Fashion Island shopping center, where it has resided for 41 years, on June 17. Groundbreaking of the new building will take place in mid-2019 with the goal of opening in 2021. In the interim, OCMA will present exhibitions and public programs starting Oct. 6 in a former retail space in South Coast Plaza Village in Santa Ana.

Hovering above the atrium lobby will be a dynamic space for education events and performances.
Hovering above the atrium lobby will be a dynamic space for education events and performances. (Morphosis Architects)

The sale of the Newport Beach property to Vivante Newport Center, a subsidiary of Nexus Development Corp., has been finalized — one step in a long road of challenges for OCMA.

Exhibition space has long been an issue at the museum, which has tried intermittently over the last 30 years to expand. Multiple building projects, for different locations, have been complicated by leadership changes, financing challenges and disagreements over architects, among other issues.

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The plan for OCMA’s move to Segerstrom was set in motion about a decade ago. In 2008, 1.64 acres of Segerstrom’s campus was donated to OCMA. But fundraising efforts were set back by the recession. In 2011, the project picked up steam and a second design was conceived.

In 2016, OCMA attempted to sell its land to Related California, which proposed building a high-rise condominium, dubbed Museum House, on the site. Proceeds from the sale would go toward the museum’s move to Segerstrom. But local activists opposed the plan and, in February 2017, following a petition by opponents, the city council revoked its development approval. Earlier this year, the city of Newport Beach settled two lawsuits involving the museum and local activists.

“But it’s important to remember: In 2016, works in our collection that went to exhibitions around the U.S. and Europe were seen by 1.2 million people,” Smith said. “There’s this whole other side to our history that hasn’t been allowed to shine because so much of the news has been about real estate. Now we get to start a new conversation about what our future looks like.”

The Times has reported previously that OCMA’s building and relocation costs were in the ballpark of $50 million. Smith said that figure refers to a previous design — the current one is Mayne’s third — and isn’t accurate. He would not comment on the cost of the new building or how much the museum has raised.

“We’ll announce the campaign and our progress on the campaign later this year,” he said.

In March 2015, OCMA laid off five staffers, including chief curator Dan Cameron. Today the museum has 13 full-time employees and about six part-time employees, Smith said. Smith said the staff will be growing as the museum assesses its needs.

“We’ll add to our curatorial team as we get further along in the interim period as we look to open the new building,” he said. “I can see, going forward, other curatorial positions we might add that are new to the museum and there’s an opportunity to build the educational team.”

The new location and added space will allow OCMA to play a more prominent role in the SoCal arts scene, Smith said.

That means giving young and emerging artists from California and around the Pacific their first U.S. exhibitions, he said, as well as ongoing exhibitions of its permanent collection and national and international traveling exhibitions.

“Our donors are very excited about the designs over the last few months and the museum’s ability to go forward,” Smith said, adding that the move will help to make Segerstrom “a world-class performing and visual arts complex.”

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