Noted architect Robert Venturi unveiled plans for an $11-million expansion of the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art on Wednesday that museum officials say will fill a critical need for space while preserving the neighborhood’s architectural integrity.
Venturi, who has been praised and vilified as the “father of post-modernism,” plans to expose and reconstruct parts of the museum building’s original Irving Gill architecture that are now hidden within the facade. He also plans to restore the graceful pergolas and arches similar to those Gill designed in 1916 for newspaper heiress Ellen Browning Scripps. Scripps donated her house in 1941 to the institution that became the museum.
Museum director Hugh Davies called Venturi’s plans “a brilliant design” and said the renovated museum will become “the largest piece of sculpture we will ever acquire.”
One of Venturi’s chief concerns was to ensure that the museum remains harmonious with other key buildings in the neighborhood, an officially designated cultural zone. Speaking at a Wednesday news conference at the museum, Venturi praised the work of Gill, an innovative turn-of-the-century Southern California architect. Gill also designed the La Jolla Woman’s Club, the La Jolla Recreation Center and the Bishop’s School, which are part of the tiny cultural zone.
“Nowhere does an architect have this opportunity,” Venturi said of the cultural zone buildings that Gill designed so close to each other. He praised the Scripps house as being “very, very ahead of its time. It was so abstract in its form. The combinations and proportions make it a building that has zing. You have to be careful not to make a caricature” of the expansion.
Venturi said the arches will be bigger, but he considers that fitting for the public institution that the house has become.
Venturi’s 30,000 square-foot-addition includes four more galleries, doubling the museum’s exhibition space. It will also expand the museum’s educational space, storage space, bookstore library and restaurant. It will transform the garden into an outdoor exhibition space for sculpture.
“With the new exhibition galleries, we will at last be able to share our permanent collection on a continual basis with museum visitors and provide ample storage of these works of art,” Davies said.
The museum now has only 10,000 square feet of exhibition space. Once expanded, the museum will have 23,500 square feet of exhibition space indoors and another 10,000 square feet for sculpture outside.
To enclose the space he needed, Venturi had to expand the building outward towards Prospect Street and backward down a slope. Besides the pergolas and arches, a key feature of the remodeled building will be a central interior court. The court, which will be topped with an elliptical clerestory, will serve as a point of departure for the galleries, bookstore and restaurant.
“The new central exhibition court will provide important space for sculpture and commissioned works,” Davies said.
Venturi is considered a major 20th Century architect even though he is both praised and vilified. His 1966 book, “Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture,” is considered a milestone in architectural theory.
Among other projects, he is working on a prestigious commission to design a wing for England’s National Gallery.
“I think some of the museums being designed lately are a little too exciting architecturally,” Venturi said, underscoring his intention that the architecture serve as a background for the art.
The designs unveiled Wednesday must be approved by city planners, the Coastal Commission and the La Jolla Town Council before the projected ground breaking can occur in 1990.
The museum has launched a fund-raising campaign to pay for the construction and create an endowment. Venturi’s design plans will be on display in the museum until August.