PROJECT INFO

California African American Museum
Los Angeles, California
2011


Huff + Gooden Architects is the lead design architect along with executive architects, Hammel, Green, and Abrahamson to expand the California African American Museum while addressing the growth and development related to the Exposition Park cultural campus and California Science Center Master Plans. The project team formed by Huff + Gooden Architects was originally commissioned to develop an expansion study in order to define the goals, parameters and constraints for the museum expansion.

Following the expansion study, Huff + Gooden / Hammel Green Abrahamson were commissioned to design the new California African American Museum. The renovation and expansion will expand the existing museum from approximately 75,000 SF to 106,000 SF and will allow CAAM to better fulfill its mission to collect, preserve, and interpret for public enrichment, the history, art and culture of African Americans with emphasis on California and the western United States.

The primary goals of the renovation and expansion to the museum facility are to increase exhibition space, improve support components, provide better visibility and presence of the museum in Exposition Park, optimize flexibility in programming, exhibition and event activities, and to provide additional public event spaces to foster increased revenue opportunities.

The facade of the new galleries and administration area is composed of a dynamic glass scrim. The scrim, while at a distance may appear to be one thing; yet at a closer view, there is a different "reading". The scrim is composed of translucent panels whose appearance is altered by the atmospherics including sunlight, shadow, and overcast, so that the experience of the scrim is constantly changing.

The existing atrium space, conference center, and library are removed. Much of the new public area is situated in the triangular void of the removed atrium. New flexible gallery space is added to the second floor that forms an "L" and wraps around the public event spaces. The public spaces include the event space/lobby and theater and are contained by the new and existing gallery elements. Other programmed elements such as the visitor entry, retail shop, cafe, and library are arrayed at the ground level below the new gallery. The 300-seat theater will nest in the area between the new and existing galleries.

An open steel and transparent glass stair leads to the second floor floating Lightway, a suspended steel and concrete/glass floor walkway that literally floats between the new galleries and the two-story theater element. The Lightway provides a path to the second level galleries and education spaces and returns to the event space along another glass and steel open stairway.

African Americans have historically occupied an in-between space where things are not always what they seem as boundaries are under constant negotiation and identities re-affirmed. This condition has a particular complexity in Los Angeles, due to the synthetic landscape of American dreams of the West; conquering of the Western landscape; and the possibilities of forming new identities in the land of sunny Southern California. The architectural design exploits the ambiguities of the site, its polite fictions, and of the histories of African Americans relative to the issues presence, visibility, and identity to allow for a multiplicity of readings of this liminal condition.

The site strategy re-considers the museum's relationship to the synthetic landscape of Los Angeles, Exposition Park, and neighboring its institutions. A new ground plane, which is measured and scored, establishes a consistent material field to unify the building and landscape elements. Building and landscape elements serve as additional indexes of the new field condition while simultaneously blurring the boundaries between interior and exterior spaces.

The spatial strategy is derived from the conscious and unconscious experience of being on the "threshold" or "in-between" two or more different existential planes ---between subject and object, between inside and outside, between near and far, and between precise mis-readings of nuanced conditions. Within the layering of surfaces and planes, a multivalency of readings are produced as space, surface, language, and experience fluctuate between simultaneously advancing and receding positions.

Translucency and reflectivity of glass enmeshes reflections of sky and earth with language allowing the museum to appear and to disappear, and its voice to project loudly or to recede softly as atmospheric conditions (sunlight, overcast, fog, mist) change throughout the day, the seasons, and the years. The mis-appearance of the museum gives presence to the unspoken spaces of race and place --- innuendo, ambiguity, double-speak, and polite fiction.