Designs Within Reach 2014

Thanks to some big thinkers and talented designers, our region’s architectural profile is poised to rise in the next few years, both literally and figuratively. Here’s a preview of some of our faves.

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Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art

Estimated Opening: Spring 2016-17

The Shrem Museum’s aluminum canopy will provide shade as well as a virtual light show on the ground as the sun passes overhead.



Driving on Interstate 80 past Davis, it’s hard to miss the striking Robert and Margrit Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts. A model of architectural grace, it holds court on the highway like an epic roadside shrine to culture and serves as a symbol of the 5,300 acres of academic distinction hidden behind it.

But it’s about to be joined by another architectural icon that will both complement it and compete with it for attention.

In March, ground broke nearby on the new Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art, a $30 million project that will immediately impact the school’s physical presence.

The structure is the product of an international design competition won last year by New York’s SO-IL architects and San Francisco’s Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. And it will stand as a striking visual counterpoint to the Mondavi’s vertical design. Instead, the aggressively horizontal structure will span nearly 50,000 square feet, anchored by a flowing, free-form aluminum canopy that doubles as the roof for the 29,000 feet of indoor space and a cover for the equally important outdoor area.

Whereas the Mondavi is a cocoon that wraps visitors in a protected interior soundscape, the Shrem, according to its architects, is centered on two concrete concepts: being a place of active experience inside and out, and capturing the charismatic qualities of sunlight intrinsic to the physical setting of Davis.

Situated just off I-80 and next to the Mondavi Center, the museum will establish a new creative nexus at UC Davis.

Architect Florian Idenburg of SO-IL (the SO stands for Solid Objectives and the IL for his last initial and that of Jing Liu, his wife and the firm’s co-founder), says one of the key issues they faced was understanding how the building could best serve its student population—a group that not only keeps unusual hours, but embraces a culture of collaboration and often rejects traditional hierarchies.

“There has been a trend with super iconic buildings, in which the graphics and very explicit forms were the only things that mattered,” explains Idenburg, who also teaches architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. “There’s a move away from that visual culture and the way we assess our space from just the way it looks to the way it is experienced. We wanted a creative place that was much more a part of the way stories are told and something that was much more free and open.”

To achieve that, the building itself is composed of sweeping glass walls, with more glass partitions inside, allowing deep views from the outside. “If you come by the museum after hours, you can look inside the museum and [still] have a significant art experience,” says Shrem’s founding director Rachel Teagle. Similarly, the surrounding landscape will be visible to those inside the space as well.

At night, the building will be lit, and outdoor activities like film screenings will draw students even when the museum is closed.

While that transparency is a fundamental element, the defining piece of the Shrem is its canopy, made of perforated aluminum folded back onto itself multiple times so that the resulting triangular shapes can be five layers thick in some places and strong enough to serve a structural function rather than just a decorative one. The punctured metal is secured to white steel beams that form abstract geometric shapes overhead. The result is an ever-changing natural light display underneath, dynamically transforming the moving sun into a complex show of illuminated patterns on the ground. Idenburg says the inspiration for the canopy came from the campus itself, specifically the play of light through the lush treetops of the arboretum. At night, the canopy will be softly lit.

In the end, Idenburg says that when the museum opens sometime during the 2016-17 school year, he wants visitors to be so taken with the organic animation of the canopy and the energy that the space fosters, that the structure will be an afterthought. “What we hope is that the moment you enter the threshold of the canopy, you feel its richness and grandiosity,” he says. “What you see is the activity, not the building itself.” S